The silo-shaped pulp digester is destroyed in April in an explosion at Pixelle Specialty Paper’s Androscoggin Mill in Jay. The company announced Wednesday it will not rebuild the digester. Sun Journal file photo

JAY — The Professional Logging Contractors of Maine is disappointed by Pixelle Specialty Solutions’ announcement Wednesday that the pulp digester destroyed in an explosion at its Jay mill in April will not be rebuilt, according to a news release issued.

Pixelle announced it would permanently idle its third paper machine as a result of the ruptured digester and would not rebuild its pulp mill at the Androscoggin Mill.

About 177 jobs have been eliminated since the explosion on April 15.

Owners of the logging business Kimble & Son’s in Poland were uncertain about their future in April when one of two digesters ruptured. The large silo acted as pressure cooker, breaking down wood chips mixed with water and chemicals under high heat and pressure into pulp for papermaking.

“It’s not going to be good,” Randy Kimball, co-owner of Kimball & Son’s Logging and Trucking in Poland with his wife, Chrissy, said in April.

None of the paper machines were damaged. The mill plans to continue operating two paper machines to manufacture specialty paper products.

The trade organization is also “alarmed” by the effect the permanent loss of the digester will have on Maine loggers and forest truckers.

“We are deeply concerned for those, including many of our own members, whose livelihoods will be affected by this announcement,” Executive Director Dana Doran said in a release. “The Jay mill represented about 23% of the pulp market for the state of Maine, and that market is critical both to the financial survival of Maine logging and trucking firms and to their ability to properly manage forest health. Both will suffer from its loss.”

Most contractors who are members of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine are reporting a 30% to 40% reduction in wood markets this year.

“Many are suffering severe revenue losses, layoffs, loss of clients, reduced productivity, and inability to plan for the future,” the release states.

The loss of the Pixelle Specialty Solutions pulp mill in Jay has been a major contributor to these challenges, which are also compounded by the severe economic effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to Doran.

Wood pulp has always been an anchor of Maine’s forest economy, until recently providing a large and reliable market for wood unsuitable for lumber or other high-grade products. The pulp market has also allowed loggers to better manage forest health by making it financially possible for them to selectively thin forest stands to achieve the best long-term outcomes rather than targeting only the largest and straightest trees for saw logs.

“We are hopeful that Pixelle will revisit this decision once the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on markets subsides,” Doran said. “Once markets recover there will be tremendous pressure on kraft pulp sales and it seems likely Pixelle’s demand for pulp will exceed the supply available for sale. With Maine’s vast forest resource and experienced logging and trucking workforce close at hand, we believe restarting pulp production in Jay will make good financial sense for Pixelle but it will also be a lifeline to so many who are impacted by their announcement today.”

“We also hope that this announcement reminds Maine’s elected officials how challenged Maine’s loggers and truckers are at the present time,” Doran continued. “Federal and state assistance is needed now if we hope to see Maine’s forest industry recover and it’s time to treat loggers and truckers with the same respect that has been afforded other legacy industries like farming and fishing.”

Maine’s loggers are a vital part of the state’s forest products sector, which is worth an estimated $7.7 billion annually, he said.

The logging industry contributed an estimated $619 million to the Maine economy in 2017, supported more than 9,000 jobs directly or indirectly, generated $342 million in labor income, and pumped an estimated $25 million into state and local tax coffers.

Founded in 1995 with a few members who were concerned about the future of the industry, the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine has grown steadily to become a statewide trade association, which provides independent logging contractors and truckers a voice in the rapidly changing forest products industry. Board membership consists of only loggers, making it an organization that is run by loggers on behalf of loggers, according to the release.

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