OLD TOWN – The room fell silent Monday as Gov. John Baldacci approached the podium to reveal the names of the parties that have signed on to redevelop the Old Town mill.
“You don’t need a cup of coffee this morning to get excited about what’s happening,” Baldacci said.
After being closed for more than six months, the mill has been sold for $1 to Red Shield Environmental, a group of private investors who intend to develop and manage the site. Red Shield will finance the operation of the facility’s biomass boiler.
The other companies will lease space from Red Shield to operate their businesses.
“It’s not that simple,” state Economic Development Commissioner Jack Cashman said Monday of the purchase price. “There’s a lot of components and moving parts to the deal.”
The buyer will be responsible for any environmental cleanup or improvements that need to be made at the site in addition to other provisions that will be outlined in the final sale documents, he said. The closing tentatively is set for Oct. 25.
The Department of Environmental Protection already has successfully completed the first two phases of environmental studies, according to Cashman.
“It’s one of the cleanest mill sites in the state,” he said.
Included in the sale are the four associated chip mills that G-P [Georgia-Pacific] shut down simultaneously with the mill closure and the mill’s wastewater treatment facility that will be operated by Red Shield.
“They’re going to need wood chips, so the chip mills are part of the deal,” Cashman said.
In addition to Red Shield, businesses involved in the mill redevelopment, announced today at a press conference at the Old Town Public Library, are:
. Tamarack Energy, a renewable energy developer that will operate the boiler.
. Lamtec Inc., a label-making company.
. Hallowell International LLC, a low-temperature heat pump manufacturer that will continue with its current business plan in Bangor and operate a second branch in Old Town.
The Red Shield jobs have been identified as union jobs. While the other companies have agreed to hire former G-P workers ahead of others, they won’t give preference to union members, and all workers likely will go through an application process.
The city has developed an entity called Great Works Development LLC that will be the vehicle the municipality uses to further its economic development endeavors and diversify the local economy.
“There are great works that are happening in the city of Old Town,” City Manager Peggy Daigle said Monday.
When G-P announced on March 16 that it was closing the mill, the company agreed to work with the state to find a buyer.
“When one door closed, another door opened,” Baldacci said.
Over the last few months, deadlines have come and gone, but Baldacci, Cashman and a host of others have continued to work to find a new owner.
“It’s been a long struggle, but finally we’re here today, I think, with some good news,” Duane Lugdon, a representative of the United Steelworkers union, said Monday. Unionized millworkers belong to the steelworkers union.
Of the approximately 50 people who attended Monday’s press conference, there were a handful of area residents with concerns about the sale, primarily regarding environmental issues surrounding the biomass boiler operation.
“People with concerns are here,” Paul Schroeder of Orono said after the event.
Schroeder is a member of We the People, a group that opposed the state’s purchase in 2003 of the former G-P landfill in Old Town that now is the first state-owned landfill in Maine. Schroeder expressed his concern that the public had no say in the landfill deal or the mill sale.
“Again, all of this occurred month after month behind closed doors,” Schroeder said.
The landfill sale took place three years ago when the G-P mill previously was faced with closure. Money from the sale was used to purchase and modernize a used biomass boiler designed to cut energy costs.
“We didn’t have a word about the landfill. It was supposed to save the mill. The boiler was supposed to save the mill,” Schroeder said. “We have a lot of questions here.”
“It’s just a much more environmentally friendly operation than a pulp and paper mill,” Cashman said.
The boiler has passed a number of emissions tests, according to Marc Cone, senior environmental engineer with the DEP’s air quality division.
“The carbon monoxide emissions from the boiler were not what was expected from the get-go, so we had been trying to figure out with G-P how to get them to be lower more to what we were expecting,” Cone said. “There are a number of different ways to solve this problem. We’ve been trying to give whoever bought it, the company, some flexibility to work with whatever the future of this facility is going to be.”
The boiler can be brought into compliance, and although only natural gas and clean wood chips have been burned so far, G-P was permitted to burn construction and demolition debris wood waste, Cone said.
“We eventually expect lower emissions from the boiler when it gets up and running under this new company,” he said.
The University of Maine is playing a part in the biomass boiler operation.
UM recently received a $10.35 million grant to conduct research on using wood to make ethanol, plastics, industrial chemicals and other products now made with oil. The grant is being managed by UM professor Hemant Pendse, chairman of the university’s department of chemical and biological engineering.
“There are many pathways that can be run parallel, and we can do that while protecting air quality,” Pendse said Monday.
With the three-year grant, which consists of $6.9 million from the National Science Foundation and another $3.45 million in matching money from the state, UM researchers will help determine the kinds of products that could be made from wood byproducts, how to make them, and how to market them.
“I think this is going to put Maine back on the map,” Pendse said. “A lot of people don’t realize the skills and ability we have that make us unique.”
As another part of the deal, Red Shield plans to operate the former mill’s wastewater treatment facility. That could be a bonus for landfill operator Casella, which since the mill closed has had to transport its runoff to Brewer to be treated at the city’s plant.
“We had always hoped that we would get back to a location closer than Brewer because there is a considerable cost there,” Don Meagher, Casella manager of planning and development, said Monday.
He expects to go over other details with state officials after the closing, such as Casella’s agreement with the state to provide wood waste fuel for the boiler and disposal services to G-P or any subsequent mill owners.
The mill’s redevelopment remains in the early stages, but all parties expressed Monday that they’re excited about the possibilities that lie ahead for former millworkers, the city and the state.
“There is a bright future. There is a light at the end of the tunnel … and all our eggs aren’t going to be in one basket,” Baldacci said. “At the end of the day, it’s the workers, it’s the state, it’s the communities that are going to benefit from all this hard work.”