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Owners of Jay mill won't rebuild digester destroyed in April explosion

Pixelle Specialty Solutions says it will continue to operate 2 paper machines using paper from other mills, but will not rebuild the third machine or pulp mill.

JAY, Maine — A pulp digester that exploded at the Pixelle Mill in Jay on April 15 will not be rebuilt, nor will the pulp mill.

Pixelle Specialty Solutions LLC said in a release Wednesday that it will continue to operate two paper machines using pulp sourced from other mills, including some in Maine, but will not rebuild the third digester nor the pulp mill.

Pixelle said it would "continue to utilize more than 250 full-time employees."

At the time of the explosion, the mill employed more than 500 workers. Since then, 177 workers have been laid off.

   

Pixelle CEO Timothy Hess said in part that the plan keeps "a large number of employees working" and said the company would continue to invest in the mill. Specifically, the company will invest $1 million in retraining former mill employees displaced as a result of the explosion.

No one was injured in the incident, which stopped manufacturing at the mill for eight days.

Dana Doran, executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, said Wednesday that the Jay mill represented about 23 percent of the pulp market for the state and added $619 million to the Maine economy in 2017. He said the loss of the machine has already contributed to a 30 to 40 percent reduction in wood markets for most members of the trade association, and the permanent loss of the digester would compound "severe revenue losses, layoffs, loss of clients, reduced productivity and inability to plan for the future."

Doran said the association hopes Pixelle will reconsider once the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on markets subsides. He also urged lawmakers to support federal and state financial assistance for loggers as it has for other industries.

"The best path forward for the Jay mill is to continue to operate our two specialty machines using purchased pulp," Mill Manager Eric Hanson said. "The mill’s employees -- former and current -- have been extraordinary. In 2020, they encountered the COVID-19 pandemic followed by the pulp digester rupture. Despite these challenges, they restored the mill, operated it safely and in an environmentally responsible manner, provided exceptional product quality and service to our customers, and transformed the mill into one that will be competitive for the long term.”

Maine lawmakers said Wednesday afternoon that they were disappointed and concerned by the news.

"We will work harder than ever to stabilize and diversify our critical forest products industry and expand and strengthen markets for the forest products supply chain and the Maine people it employs," Gov. Janet Mills said, in part.

Maine Senate Republicans said they hope "a better economic outlook in the future will result in a change of plans for the digester and third machine."