For such a giant building, Bates Mill No. 5 is awfully easy to ignore. In the months since a city task force issued its report on the mill’s prospects, there’s been little progress deciding the big mill’s fate.

Nobody should expect an instant solution to this long-standing quandary. But there are several new, pressing factors at play that should kickstart thinking about what to do with the 365,000-square-foot edifice.

The first is energy prices. Lewiston taxpayers fund keeping Mill No. 5 vacant, at a variable cost dependent on occasional mill revenue. Even with drained pipes, heating the mill minimally is needed for its structural integrity.

Just like everybody in Lewiston-Auburn, the city is not immune from rising energy costs. The cold-weather months could mean big bills for taxpayers already facing a winter of uncertainty.

But offsetting this cost, possibly, are record prices for scrap metal, as detailed in Friday’s Sun Journal. As a whole, the mill is a collection of valuable commodities which are now fetching ransoms on the scrap market.

In gauging the mill’s potential for re-use, the city should consider its scrap value, and how this might help offset the daunting price of demolition. By doing so, the city would be exploring every avenue for the mill, as promised.

And, in doing so, it would also be keeping up with new competition – the third, and perhaps most important new factor influencing the future of Mill No. 5.

In Augusta, city officials are moving forward with plans for the disused and dilapidated American Tissue complex, an eight-building anachronism on more than 18 acres along the Kennebec River.

Unlike Mill No. 5, there is an immediate plan for taking the complex: bring it down, sell the scrap, and pursue redevelopment.

Granted, Augusta’s situation is different from L-A’s. American Tissue’s buildings are abandoned, vandalized and fire damaged, and are adjacent, but not central, to the city’s downtown. Yet the prospect of 18 acres of former mill space opening to development so near is too important to overlook.

Mill No. 5’s blessing and curse is its uniqueness. While this makes the mill attractive, it also makes it vulnerable to competition. Perhaps the tissue mills, if destroyed, will make the existing Mill No. 5 more saleable as a rehabilitation project.

Or, perhaps this will further marginalize the building, as an open site offers a preferable option.

Either way, Augusta’s plans should factor into the Mill No. 5 debate.

Officials, developers, businesspeople, engineers and citizens have all voiced strong opinions about Mill No. 5 in the past few months. But while the mill remains unchanged, the environment around it is in constant flux.

Therefore, so is its future, until the city finally makes a decision.


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