OLD TOWN (NEWS CENTER Maine) — One of Maine’s empty paper mills may be saved from the wrecking ball. A group of Maine businesses announced Wednesday they had bought the mill in Old Town, and have plans for it to become a center for making new products out of wood.
The former Georgia Pacific paper mill shut down in 2006, and since then has had several owners try to use it as a pulp mill or to make bio-fuel. But those companies all failed, and the mill was at risk of being torn down. New owners OTM Holdings plan to recruit other businesses to set up manufacturing in the old mill buildings.
"It all boils down to using this facility to consume low-gradee forest products that are abundantly available in Maine, that’s what it comes down to," said Everett Deschense, who brought the buyers and the deal together. "Now whether we use it for biofuels, biochemical, bio-carbon, laminated timbers, there’s a whole gamut of products we can produce here."
Deschenes said they already have companies interested in locating in the mill, in part because of the large space and industrial power, but also because the University of Maine’s Forest Bioproducts lab is already located there. The lab has been a tenant in a former mill warehouse since 2012, where it has developed ways to extract chemicals from wood fibers – even converting them to a form of crude oil.
The lab also tests cellulose-based products being developed by private businesses.
"Wood is nature’s best-engineered material," said Dr. Hament Pendse, director of the UMaine Bioproducts project. He said he has no doubt businesses will want to locate at the mill site to take advantage of UMaine's work.
Deschenes said the new owners believe there will be a "synergy" between the lab and the new businesses that locate at the mill. He also said having owners in Maine should make a big difference, because they all know what has happened to Maine mill towns, like Old Town, in recent years.
"They’re local, Maine people," he said of the owners who make up OTH Holdings. "And the vision was to have the facility owned by local people. We all know what happens when someone from away owns it."
Now that they own the property, Deschenes said the owners will spend the next several weeks planning the next steps before providing more details on what will happen and when.
"We have a lot of interest, we have a list of companies waiting for our response," he said.