U.S. Sen. Susan Collins walks out of the Androscoggin Mill in Jay on Wednesday afternoon after touring the damage, background, caused by an explosion April 15. With Collins: state Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, center, and state Sen. Russell Black, R-Wilton.

JAY — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and two state senators credited “courageous” employees at the Androscoggin Mill for preventing more damage after an explosion April 15 that destroyed a large wood pulp digester.

Collins, a Republican, and state Sens. Russell Black, R-Wilton, and Jeffrey Timberland, R-Turner, were at the mill Wednesday to thank workers, see the damage and receive a briefing on the investigation and an update on operations from mill manager Jay Thiessen.

Mill employees worked day and night to get two of three paper machines restarted, Collins said, as she, Black and Timberlake stood on the side of Riley Road to hold a brief news conference outside the mill gate.

Unidentified workers are dwarfed by the twisted machinery Wednesday afternoon at the Androscoggin Mill in Jay as the cleanup and investigation continue two weeks after am explosion at the paper mill.

The two machines that were restarted April 23 are running specialty paper products 24 hours, seven days a week, Alan Ulman, spokesman for Pennsylvania-based owner Pixelle Specialty Solutions, said in an email Friday. The owner is bringing in pulp from two of its mills and getting it from other sources.

One machine that had run commodity paper products is not running, Ulman said.

The three politicians also discussed with Thiessen rebuilding the digesters so the mill could once again accept pulp wood and get the pulp side of the mill going, Collins said.

“Maine’s forest economy has long played a vital role in our state, and it is essential to many rural communities,” she said. “I am committed to working with industry and community leaders to help the Androscoggin Mill in Jay as they determine next steps.”

The mill is a crucial part of central Maine’s economy, she said. There are many loggers, truckers and others who depend on the mill, she said.

The senators all agreed after watching the video of the explosion that it was a miracle there was no loss of life. Black referred to the mill as the “lifeblood” of central Maine, and said its employees are among the best papermakers in the world.

“My family has worked here for generations,” Timberlake said.

When he watched the video of the explosion, he said, his heart sank. He was relieved, however, to learn no one had been hurt in the blast.

Collins said the 2017 tax reform bill could help mill owners rebuild the mill.

Thiessen, the mill manager, told the senators that the mill was having a great year until the explosion,  Collins said.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins displays her protectiove face mask, made at the New Balance factory in Norridgewock, as she tours the Androscoggin Mill in Jay on Wednesday afternoon. At left, state Sen. Russell Black, R-Wilton.

The company has hired a forensic team to help determine what caused the explosion, she said.

Black and Timberlake pledged to help the mill in any way, including expediting the process for any permits needed, including environmental, without cutting corners.

“There is not going to be a lot of money to help,” Timberlake said.

Added Black: “This mill is so crucial to central Maine. I’m not going to rule out anything. We need this mill functioning. We need to get this mill up and running” at full capacity.

With COVID-19 and the economy struggling, Black said he did not know what could be done.

Black said mill officials told the politicians the company had paid $300 million in employee taxes and millions in property taxes.

This especially affects the state, Franklin County and town of Jay, he said.

For now, Pixelle Specialty Solutions is continuing to assess the situation and decide the future plans.

“Recovery planning, including employment planning, raw material planning, capacity planning, are all long-term processes,” Ulman said in Friday’s email.


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