JAY, Maine — As the news of the decision to close the Androscoggin Mill in Jay continues to sink in, the community is considering the fallout of losing a business that has provided jobs to the region for six decades.
Pixelle Specialty Solutions LLC plans to shut down operations during the first quarter of 2023.
Sen. Russell Black, who represents District 17, said the paper mill has been the driving force of the greater Jay community's economy since it was built more than half a century ago.
"When it was built it was, you know, the largest pulp mill in the world, and it was very efficient," Black said.
Following Tuesday's announcement, he said he imagines most of the mill workers saw it coming.
"It wasn't really a surprise, you know, I was hoping it wasn't coming for a while," Black said.
Tom Saviello, a former state legislator and retired Androscoggin Mill worker, said many of the workers felt like they were on borrowed time ever since the massive pulp digester explosion happened at the mill in April of 2020.
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"It's bittersweet for me, I always was worried, but when the digesters went I just knew it was going to be a matter of time," Saviello said.
No one was hurt during the explosion, but it ripped apart one of the mill's digesters, which forced Pixelle to have pulp shipped to the facility from other Pixelle mill locations in order to still make paper, rather than making the pulp themselves.
Saviello said the Jay mill couldn't survive very long doing that.
"Because they're not making their own materials to bake into paper ... And it becomes extremely expensive, and I'm sure the expenses started to get them," Saviello said.
The mill once employed as many as 1,500 people at its peak, but that number has dropped drastically over the years.
The closure means more than 200 people will retire before they planned to, or will have to look for another job.
"I would imagine some of them retire, you know, some of them are going to have to look for jobs in other trades, maybe a few of them will be able to move into a couple of the other mills," Black said.
But finding another job may mean relocating, or accepting a longer commute.
"A lot of paper mill jobs are twelve-hour shifts so if you add an hour, hour and a half of travel on top of that, that's a long day," Randy Richards, a former employee of the Androscoggin Mill, said.
Shiloh LaFreniere, town manager of Jay, said the closure will have ripple effects on other towns and businesses in the area. There's also the fact that 22 percent of Jay's tax revenue comes from the Pixelle mill.
"It's a pretty significant piece of our tax base," LaFreniere said.
But, LaFreniere said the town is prepared to support the workers however it can.
"There are jobs out there, there's opportunities available, so hopefully the workers that are being displaced will be able to find that work and find a fit for them without having to move away from the community," LaFreniere said.
"I feel like they're gonna rebound, the people here are very resilient, Mainers are very resilient. They find a way to make it happen," Saviello said.
The Maine Department of Labor said in the coming months it will be working closely with leadership at the mill to make sure to provide unemployment support to all employees who will lose their jobs once the mill closes.