Two suitors to pursue Old Town G-P mill

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OLD TOWN (AP) – An out-of-state paper company and a Maine-based investor group have emerged as the two parties interested in continuing negotiations to buy the Georgia-Pacific pulp and paper mill that will be shuttered in two weeks.

The investor group met Monday’s deadline for responding to Georgia-Pacific, and GP granted some extra time to the paper company for its response, said Jack Cashman, commissioner for Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development.

Eight to nine parties toured the paper mill but the two parties were the only ones who chose to pursue a deal, said Cashman.

Cashman said he is acting as a mediator between the parties as the discussions continue. He declined to name the potential buyers.

May 15 marks the end of the 60-day period in which GP agreed to keep the mill operational to allow the state time to find a buyer. Cashman said he’s optimistic that a deal will be struck, but he said it may not fall within that timetable.

“I feel that if you have a willing buyer and a willing seller, you can put the deal together. It’s just a matter of working through the details,” he said.

More than 400 workers have been left without jobs since GP announced on March 15 that the mill would close unless a buyer came forward. Four wood chip mills in Costigan, Milo, Portage and Houlton that supplied the mill also were closed.

The decision came months after GP was purchased by Kansas-based Koch Industries Inc. The $12.6 billion deal was completed in December.

The Old Town mill didn’t fit into Koch Industries’ long-range plans because it’s relatively small by modern standards and there’s growing pulp capacity with additional plants coming online elsewhere around the world, Cashman said.

“That’s not to say it’s not a viable mill,” Cashman said. “It just doesn’t fit into their long-range plans.”

The state has had success in finding buyers for other mills.

Eastern Fine Paper Co. closed mills in Brewer and Lincoln, displacing 750 workers in 2004. The Brewer mill remains closed but the Lincoln mill later reopened under new ownership.

Great Northern Paper’s mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket, which together employed 1,110 workers, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2003. Both mills later reopened under new ownership with a smaller work force.

While Cashman said he’s optimistic about the Old Town mill, he said workers know there’s the possibility that a deal could fall through. Some workers, he noted, have already begun looking for new jobs.

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