WEST PARIS – The majority of 42 employees of Midwest Price Co., suppliers of wood chips to the NewPage Mill in Rumford, are expected to be back on the job by mid- to late May, a manager said Friday.

Employees at the Route 26 facility were laid off three weeks ago when the NewPage paper mill in Rumford announced a series of temporary full and partial shutdowns earlier in the month to deal with the economic downturn.

Midwest Price is the exclusive supplier of wood chips to the mill. It has been in business since 2001.

“There were periods of time that we could have laid off and got by, but we never have,” Midwest Price Manager Bruce Perkins said. “But with NewPage shutting down, we needed to do something.”

Four employees and two truck drivers were retained, and as of Friday an additional 15 employees were brought back, Perkins said.

NewPage spokesman Tony Lyons said the facility produces wood chips solely for NewPage using wood from the mill.

“They are a dedicated contractor for us,” Lyons said. “We own the land they are on. They process our wood into chips for us.”

Lyons said this does not mean that all employees are temporarily out of work. While some have been laid off, others are doing maintenance on the crane at the West Paris facility.

“They have elected to use this down time to do this work,” Lyons said.

Others are working on trucks that ship wood chips to other markets, he said. Midwest does not ship wood chips to facilities other than NewPage, but it does provide trucking services to sawmills and other wood chip facilities.

Lyons said he anticipated some mill production would occur in several weeks. “We’re not sure how much at this time. Midwest depends on what our wood needs are at this time.”

Perkins said Midwest has a policy of not laying off employees, but there are limits.

“To say (employees) are not nervous, they are, not knowing what the paper mill will do,” he said.

The shutdown has affected other suppliers to the mill, such as those that supply the raw clay and chemicals from other parts of the country and wood suppliers from Maine and New Hampshire.

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