DOVER-FOXCROFT – Thanks to the sound defeat of the forestry referendum, the owners of Pleasant River Lumber Co. in Dover-Foxcroft are moving forward with a $7 million modernizatin and expansion plan.
The expansion, which could create as many as 35 jobs at the random-length sawmill on Route 16, likely would have been scrapped had Mainers supported the move to limit forest practices. Company officials told Dover-Foxcroft residents earlier this year that the company had to make an investment to preserve the assets or the mill should be sold. But the forestry issue clouded its future.
“I had to do some tap dancing because of the referendum because the owners were very reluctant to do it,” Kenneth Lavoie, general manager of the company, said this week.
His enthusiasm and push for the project helped in the creation of a tax increment financing district approved by Dover-Foxcroft residents and kept the project viable for its Canadian owners.
“They [the owners] were real pleased that the forestry question was soundly defeated,” Lavoie said. Without that threat overhead, he said the owners approved the project and began the first of six modernization and expansion phases.
Dover-Foxcroft officials also are pleased the company is proceeding with its expansion plans. Any time new jobs can be created or old ones retained it’s a plus for a community, said Tom Lizotte, a selectman and former president of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council. Currently, the company has about 60 employees.
Lizotte said the expansion at the mill, which produces finished lumber, is exactly what the town needs. The project not only will provide some good-paying jobs with improved working conditions, but the spinoff will help the local economy, he said.
Construction began in early October on a 36-foot-wide, 315-foot-long and 35-foot-high building to house the trimmer-sorter project. The building now is about 90 percent complete and some equipment is being moved inside the two-sided structure. This phase is expected to cost $2.5 million, according to Lavoie. He expects the new trimmer will be linked to the current mill process in January
This move will greatly increase the company’s efficiency and profitability and reduce down time, Lavoie said. Before, he said, employees and the equipment were exposed to the elements.
The second and third phases of the renovation project likely will be done together in September 2001, the general manager said. These phases, at a combined cost of $1.2 million, will include constructing a wood room for the debarking process and the addition of kilns.
Debarking is the process used to break down round wood. This will enable the mill to sort by size and improve the quality of both saw logs and wood chips used in papermaking.
The fourth phase of the project will be the addition of a $1 million edger optimizer, which scans wood and positions it into an edging machine. This phase also will include the addition of a stress machine that will increase the value of wood by determining its strength. This process would provide better grading of the wood and bring higher market values for some of the wood, Lavoie said.
The last phase will involve an upgrade of the planner system and site improvements, such as paving.
Much of the renovation project involves state-of-the-art technology, some of which still is in the development stages, Lavoie said. He said the changes will replace human decisions with decisions madeby process computers. The new trimmer, he said, will have a capacity of up to 100 pieces of wood per minute compared to the 35 pieces of wood per minute now processed at the plant.
Lavoie said the company likely will exceed $7 million in investment before the projects are complete. The cost is being financed through Fleet Bank and retained earnings, he said.
Depending upon market conditions, Lavoie said the company probably will hire employees for the new positions by December 2001.
The general manager said he was looking forward to the improvements being made at the mill. “It will certainly improve working conditions and improve the safety conditions [employees] work under,” Lavoie said.