OLD TOWN – A high-ranking Georgia-Pacific Corp. official was in town Thursday to sign a three-prong purchase and sales agreement for the defunct pulp and paper mill that involves the company, the state and a group of private investors who intend to redevelop and manage the massive site.
While TV cameras rolled, Philip Ellender, G-P senior vice president of public and government affairs, Gov. John Baldacci and state Economic Development Commissioner Jack Cashman signed the agreement, which is expected to bring jobs back to the riverfront site.
“At the end of this month, people will go back to work,” Baldacci said after signing the paperwork. “They’re going to hire immediately 54 workers from the union list.”
After an engineering study is completed, an additional 75 to 100 people will be put to work, he said.
Representatives from Red Shield Environmental, a group of private investors who will manage the site and finance the operation of the facility’s biomass boiler, and the Maine Rural Development Authority board signed the agreement Wednesday.
The facility will be sold to the Maine Rural Development Authority for $1 under the agreement, and the development authority will then transfer the site’s ownership to Red Shield for another $1, the governor explained.
“The goal here is to get good-paying jobs and benefits,” Baldacci said after the press conference. “This is going to be a template of what you can expect to see at other [closed] mills.”
Three companies will lease space from Red Shield to operate their businesses at the former G-P site, and at least two other companies have shown interest, Cashman said.
Tamarack Energy, a renewable-energy developer that will operate the biomass boiler; Lamtec Inc., a maker of pressure-sensitive labels; and Hallowell International LLC, a low-temperature heat pump manufacturer, have already signed on to be tenants at the approximately 900,000-square-foot property.
“There should be more people working there by the end of [one] year than before,” Cashman said.
G-P shut its doors March 16, displacing 450 workers. The final closing on the 67-acre facility is scheduled to be completed Oct. 27.
The goal is to have four or five different companies operating at the facility within the next couple of years that will employ more than 1,000 people in total, Cashman and Baldacci said.
In the six months since the tissue-making facility closed, company officials have worked with state and community leaders to find a solution or a buyer.
“As others looked at the site, they came to the same conclusion we did: Economically, it’s not viable,” Ellender said.
Once the final sales agreement is signed, G-P no longer will be responsible for property taxes that made up 34 percent of Old Town’s tax base last year and totaled $3.3 million. The company will be free and clear of any responsibility for environmental issues associated with the site, he said.
The governor stressed that the phase I and phase II environmental studies conducted by the Department of Environmental Protection show that “this is a pretty clean facility.”
In addition to the Old Town site, four wood-chip mills that supplied raw material to G-P also are included in the sale, along with the former mill’s wastewater treatment facility, which will be operated by Red Shield.
The companies have agreed to hire former G-P workers first, but will not give preference to union members and all workers likely will go through an application process.
“We’re ready to work with the new management to make their businesses successful,” Dan Bird, vice president of the Local 80 papermakers union, said Thursday from the union hall.
Bird said the union is currently negotiating with Red Shield.
Jeff Feero, a 22-year veteran millworker, said he’s just happy to hear the facility will be operational again. “It’s been a long time coming,” he said.
After the signatures were on paper, many at Thursday’s press conference thanked Baldacci for his hard work, including Ellender and Peggy Daigle, Old Town’s city manager.
“I’ve never worked with a governor more … persistent in closing this deal,” the G-P official said. “We at Georgia-Pacific know it’s been some time to get this done. I’m certain we’ll all agree [that] it was worth the wait.”