AUGUSTA – Doctors, fishermen, college students, Lewiston city officials and legislators joined environmentalists Wednesday asking that a bill be passed that would prompt paper mills along the Androscoggin River to do more to clean up.

They were opposed by the industry, paper mill bosses, workers, union representatives and paper-mill-employed legislators who all said L.D. 99 would achieve little and cost millions of dollars and possibly thousands of mill jobs.

Still others, including the Androscoggin Chamber of Commerce and the Sportsmen Alliance of Maine, urged all parties to do what Gov. John Baldacci is asking: agree on how to further clean the river through new discharge licenses that the state will issue by June 15. Even without the bill, the new licenses will reduce the amount of waste mills can dump in the river in the next five to 10 years, said Andrew Fisk of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Dozens of citizens waited for hours to testify on Rep. Elaine Makas’ bill, which states that pollution allowed in the Androscoggin would have to be cut so that the river meets its Class C standards.

“Under my bill, International Paper would be restricted to a maximum of approximately three tons of waste per day by the year 2010,” Makas said. “Three tons per day is certainly a generous allocation of usage to one particular plant along the river that belongs to all of us.”

Jeanethe Falvey of Phippsburg was among 50 varsity Bates College rowing team members who spoke for the bill. “I spent every fall afternoon and early spring morning rowing up and down the most polluted section of the Androscoggin,” she said. Early in the morning, the river is calm, sunlight pierces through the fog, the river is “almost surreal, because what lies beneath the surface is lifeless, polluted water,” she said. When the rowers lift the boats out of the water, there are “brown lines down the hull,” she said. She asked that the Androscoggin not be used as a “dump” any longer.

Opposing the bill, paper machine tender Bruce Roy of Jay said if it passed, all 250 jobs at the Otis mill in Jay owned by Wausau Paper would be in jeopardy. “We haven’t made a profit in years. We’re just starting to make a profit,” Roy said. If the mill had to pay for more environmental changes, “it would be cost-prohibitive. We’d be right back in the hole.”

Fran Dragoon of Rumford, who represents the Pulp and Paperworkers’ Resource Council, said the legislation would put the mills at further competitive disadvantages. “We already have enough going against us with higher energy costs than in other states and higher taxes. We don’t need the added burden of a costly regulation that has no environmental benefit,” she said. “Please take into consideration the thousands of jobs that could be affected by this proposal.”

On the other hand, Bob Bachorik, who said he retired six years ago from International Paper as manager of technical services but has remained an IP shareholder, asked that the bill be passed because it would help boost profits.

At the Jay mill, one of his jobs was to meet a new state law to reduce color, odor and foam in rivers. Changing the papermaking process to meet that law “eliminated the major source of dioxin, and reduced operating costs substantially,” he said. That made the Jay mill more profitable, he said, adding that it would never have happened without the law.

L.D. 99 presents another opportunity, Bachorik said, because it would prompt the mill to invest in technologies that would make it “more energy-efficient, better able to compete in a world market especially as energy costs increase, and continue to provide jobs for Maine workers.”

Opposing the measure, Rumford Selectman Jolene Lovejoy recalled how water quality has improved compared to when she was growing up in Mexico. Paper mills and municipalities deserve much of the credit, she said, but passing L.D. 99 would hurt the mill.

“The bottom line is 17,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the last three years,” Lovejoy said. “At a time when Maine’s mills are closing and thousands of jobs are being lost, I and others believe that it would be legislatively irresponsible to mandate new environmental requirements that serve no real purpose.”

The bill is scheduled to be taken up by the Natural Resource Committee on May 11.

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