BUCKSPORT — Three companies have stated an interest in restarting Verso’s shuttered mill, filing letters notifying a federal judge that they would like time to evaluate the facility, which is set to be sold to a scrap dealer.

Each of the companies filed letters before a hearing Tuesday where U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock will decide whether Verso violated any federal or state antitrust laws in selling its mill to Canadian scrap metal dealer American Iron & Metal, or AIM, for $58 million.

Late Monday, representatives from the Pennsylvania-based Fibre Technologies LLC and New York-based Minimill Technologies filed letters stating they potentially could find a way to repurpose the mill to operate in new markets.

The two letters were filed in court after Rahul Kejriwal, of a New York-based affiliate of Kejriwal Singapore International, wrote of his company’s interest in the mill Sunday.

None of the letters state that the companies made formal offers to Verso after it announced in October it would shut down the mill, which made the type of paper used in magazines and catalogs.

Kejriwal and Fibre Technologies penned letters to Woodcock on Friday but Fibre’s letter was not made public in the court record until Monday afternoon. The Minimill letter was dated Monday.

Robert Pederzani, writing as owner of Fibre Technologies, said that his company was not aware Verso contemplated the mill could be repurposed and that, to his knowledge, the company did not conduct a formal sale process after the closure announcement.

“This intense and necessary process provides for the disclosure of, and vigorous vetting of, all information required to fully inform potential buyers,” Pederzani wrote. “Such a process was never established, to my knowledge. It could simply be that Verso did not know that there were any other uses for the mill. Fortunately, perhaps, there are.”

Stephen Read, a representative for Minimill, wrote that his company has built and designed new mills and converted old mills for new uses. He wrote there is a precedent for converting paper machines like those in Bucksport to make container board and paper packaging materials.

The letters of interest come before a status conference in an antitrust lawsuit the machinists union brought against Verso, alleging that the pending sale by Verso to AIM violates federal antitrust laws. A status conference in the union’s lawsuit is scheduled for 8 a.m. Tuesday in Bangor.

A pleasant surprise

David Milan, Bucksport’s economic development director, said Monday he was “pleasantly surprised” by news that Kejriwal Singapore International was interested in the mill. Letters from the two other companies were filed publicly later in the day, around 6 p.m.

Kejriwal was not one of the papermaking firms he heard had tried to contact Verso to inquire about buying the mill before Verso announced its sale to scrap dealer AIM Development USA.

A letter sent Jan. 16 by Rahul Kejriwal to Judge Woodcock indicates that the firm learned of the pending sale sometime last month and, after making inquiries, was told the mill had been sold to AIM.

Speaking just about Kejriwal, Milan said it is not clear the company had tried to contact Verso directly and, if so, if it did before the Dec. 5 sale agreement between Verso and AIM.

Milan, who has had a front-row seat to what he described as “the ongoing saga” of what the mill property’s future may hold, said that even if Kejriwal did attempt to contact Verso before Dec. 5, the Asian company’s interest likely would not play a role in Woodcock’s eventual decision. But even so, if Kejriwal is sincere and offers more than the $58 million that AIM has agreed to pay, AIM feasibly could sell the mill to Kejriwal, the economic development director said.

Jeff McGlin, a representative for AIM, said in a written statement to the court that the company is considering using the site as a scrapyard for access to the deepwater port, but that it would consider selling the mill to a papermaker “if it represented a better economic opportunity than salvage of the mill.”

Still, Milan said, the timing of new interest is not crucial for making an argument that Verso may have deliberately ignored offers from other papermakers in order to reduce competition in North America for making coated paper.

“We know there are other companies interested in operating the mill and who reached out to Verso unsuccessfully,” Milan said.

Rosaire Pelletier, a forest products specialist with the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, said Monday that Kejriwal was not the only company interested in the mill, but he did not name any others.

“There were definitely other potential buyers,” Pelletier said. “(Kejriwal) was willing to step forward because they didn’t sign the confidentiality agreement with Verso.”

In a letter to Woodcock, Pelletier said that he has worked with two serious buyers for the mill, one that submitted a formal offer to Verso and signed a confidentiality agreement that prevents that company from discussing details.

Verso spokesman Bill Cohen, contacted Monday afternoon by email, declined to comment on the matter, citing the litigation between Verso, AIM and the machinists union.

Officials from Verso and AIM have steadfastly maintained that Verso did not receive any other viable offers to buy the mill from any paper manufacturer and that the mill had for years been unprofitable in producing papers used for magazines, brochures and other products.

Turnaround possibilities

Pelletier said he believes the mill was unprofitable and that a new buyer would have to convert paper machines to make other products.

“I would look at all the options they have to run the assets, and these machines can be converted into other products,” Pelletier said.

All three of the writers with interest in the mill specifically stated an interest in converting its papermaking machines to new uses. The mill’s machines could produce about 350,000 tons annually of magazine and catalog paper and about 55,000 tons of paper for specialty applications, such as adhesive labels and packaging.

In his letter, Rahul Kejriwal wrote that the company is the largest manufacturer of recycled paper products and one of the largest newsprint manufacturers in Asia.

Pederzani wrote that the market for Bucksport’s primary product has been dwindling but that his company has been able to repurpose similar lightweight paper mills to make packaging products. Read, with Minimill, said his company in 2012 converted a mill in Louisiana for KPAQ Industries to produce packaging materials.

Kejriwal was the first potential buyer to come forward as rumors swirled about who may be interested in buying the mill. Pelletier said the company has been interested in developing a presence in the United States.

In January 2014, a new company registered in New York, using the same address that Kejriwal indicated in his letter to Woodcock, at 72-35 112th St., Suite 8D, Forest Hills, New York. That company, Kejriwal Newsprint Mills LLC, did not list a registered agent.

Milan said that last week was a frustrating week because those firms have nondisclosure agreements with Verso that prevent them from contacting the court to confirm that they made inquiries and offers to Verso.

Despite the town’s interest in having papermaking operations resume at the mill, Milan said it is working with AIM and trying to make sure the prospective owner has the chance to maximize the potential reuse of the 250-acre waterfront site.

About 500 people worked at the mill through December, when they were laid off by Verso. About 70 people are still believed to be working at two power-generation facilities on the mill property.

Attempts since Friday to contact other town officials in Bucksport have been unsuccessful. The town office was closed over the weekend and on Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Attempts to contact officials from the Fibre Technologies, Minimill and Kejriwal also were unsuccessful Monday.

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