LIMESTONE – Lamb Weston Inc., a leading french fry manufacturer based in Washington state, won’t be coming to Aroostook County to build the $80 million French fry processing plant, at least not at this time.
The company allowed an option to purchase 165 acres on the Loring Commerce Centre to expire last month. Howard Cicon, a Lamb Weston official, told Brian Hamel, president of the Loring Development Authority, that “poor worldwide market conditions in the french fry processing industry” was the reason the company halted its plans in The County.
Hamel informed the LDA of the decision Wednesday at a meeting.
The plant was to have been constructed on a former military housing site, known as South Wherrey Housing. Fourteen months ago, the LCC’s zoning board had approved a zoning change for the site from commercial to industrial use.
The project, first proposed to the LDA in October 2000, was to have created 200 jobs and use 12,000 to 15,000 acres of potatoes. Construction of the plant was to take eight months, according to original plans.
The plant originally was planned for construction one year ago. An extension of the option was granted last year for another six months. The option expired Dec. 12.
“All construction in the french fry industry is on hold,” Hamel told his directors. “There is one plant, only 3 years old, that was recently sold for 25 cents on the dollar.
“They [Lamb Weston] expressed a continued interest in Aroostook County and Loring,” Hamel said. “They will be in a position to readdress the construction of a plant at Loring in approximately two years.”
Officials of the Maine Potato Board were attending industry meetings in Texas on Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.
Officials of the company were in Maine last month to update the potato community, the Department of Environmental Protection and the LDA on its proposal for Loring.
“They did not deliver the message that we all hoped for,” Hamel said.
There was not total gloom in his announcement.
“There is a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ between us,” the LDA president said. “They still want a plant on the East Coast, and we want it here.”