JAY — For the second time in two years, the town and workers at the Verso Androscoggin Mill have received bad news about jobs.

Company officials announced Tuesday morning that they will temporarily idle the No. 3 paper machine and lay off about 190 workers. The move is meant to reduce papermaking capacity by about 200,000 tons. If Verso does not restart the No. 3 machine, it expects to make the layoffs permanent, according to a company statement.

Verso intends to implement the capacity reduction beginning in the first quarter of 2017. The mill will also idle a digester and recovery boiler that support the No. 3 paper machine. Most products produced on the No. 3 paper machine will be transitioned to other machines in Verso’s highly flexible manufacturing system with no expected disruption to customer orders, according to a company statement.

Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere just shook her head Tuesday when asked to make a comment on the announcement.

“It is very disappointing, saddening,” she said. “I think we had hoped changes made last year and coming out of bankruptcy would put them in a position that we would not have to be facing this again so soon. Our thoughts and prayers are with the employees and their families that will be affected.”

At the end of 2015, Verso eliminated 300 jobs and shut down a paper machine and pulp dryer as it tried to balance its revenue sheet.

That brought the workforce to 560 at the Jay mill.

Jay selectpersons reached an agreement in April to give Verso $4 million over the next three tax years in six credits to settle a tax dispute for years 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Verso emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July and was restructured to reduce the company’s debt by $2.4 billion.

The declining value of Verso’s mill and the tax settlement resulted in the town’s tax rate for 2016 increasing to $21.10 per $1,000 of valuation, $3.85 higher than last year’s rate.

“The biggest tragedy I see in this is it always trickles down to the working-class people,” retired Verso employee Cindy Bennett of Jay said. She worked for the mill for 40 years and was out on strike for three years during a labor dispute the union had with former mill owner International Paper.

“I do not see any salary cutbacks in top management,” she said. “Maybe there is, but I’m not privy to that information.” 

Bennett was at the Jay Town Office conducting personal business Tuesday.

“The other sad part is that the workers kept the company profitable and strong,” she said. “It’s too bad. What is it going to do to our taxes?”

Farther down Riley Road from the mill, workers at Riverside Kwik Stop had just learned about the layoffs.

“This mill is a big part of our business and it is going to hurt,” Manager Deana LeSuer said. “We always catered to mill hours and whatever happens, we’ll adjust.”

Bob Berry, president of the Jay, Livermore, Livermore Falls Chamber of Commerce, said members were thinking about mill workers and the mill.

“The JLLF Chamber of Commerce read today’s news about coming layoffs at the Verso Androscoggin Mill with concern for the well-being of both employees and our long-standing member business Verso Paper,” Berry said.

“Our region has seen recent gains in our economy,” he said. “We will be working with both Verso Paper and area businesses to both assist displaced workers with other employment and to minimize the impact to our regional economy. Our thoughts and prayers go with all involved.”

Berry added, “Remember that the bark is always worse than the bite. Fear of a thing is always worse than the thing itself. You can combat this with a positive attitude and relentless work ethic. The general economy is up, and there are businesses looking for positive, skillful, productive people.”

Tuesday’s announcement is further illustration of an industry in flux as market demands shift and R&D spawns innovation, according to a statement from the Maine Pulp & Paper Association. “Today, our thoughts are with those whose livelihoods are directly affected by the announcement, and with the Town of Jay and surrounding communities, where Verso will continue to serve as one of the area’s largest employers, with more than 350 on the rolls even after the idling of the A3 machine.

“On the cusp of important elections across the state and the nation, the Maine Pulp & Paper Association continues to call for concerted support of our state’s important manufacturing assets, for a renewed look at the cost of energy, and for a re-doubling of efforts to ensure the health of our state’s vitally important forest products industry, which, even in spite of changing external conditions and a spat of closures, continues to serve as a top economic exporter and key employer here in Maine,” the statement said.

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