By Ramona du Houx
The Madison Paper Industries mill in Madison will close by the end of May, putting about 214 employees out of work. The paper business will end and hydro-power assets at the mill site will be sold.
“More than 200 workers were blindsided by this news. I met with workers just last week and heard no hint of this,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan.
Some employees will remain beyond May to maintain buildings, operate the hydro generating facilities and support final activities related to the closing.
“Despite everyone’s best efforts, the difficult decision has been made to cease paper production at Madison,” said Ruud van den Berg, senior vice president of UPM Paper Europe and North America. “Demand for supercalendered papers declined significantly in 2015 and the decline is expected to continue. The Madison mill is not cost-competitive and has lost a significant amount of sales in the recent past.”
The mill is one of the largest employers and the largest property tax payer in Madison.
"I'm saddened to see yet another Maine mill closing, leaving hundreds of people out of work. The Madison mill was a longtime landmark in the community and a critical job creator for the entire region,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “My thoughts are with the families who will be affected, including many in my District—I will do whatever I can to ensure that they receive federal assistance to help find work again."
In 2014 a drop in tax value at Madison Paper of $150 million forced the town to seek a $2.5 million line of credit and make several adjustments to its municipal budget.
In recent years many Maine mills have closed. The Lincoln mill, the Millinocket mill, the Jay mill, the Bucksport mill and now Madison's mill. As many of these industries were their town's largest employer, the people and businesses of these towns are now suffering. Mills have long been a tradition in Maine, but their era is at an end. During the Baldacci administration Governor John Baldacci put in place workers safe guards to help workers transition into new lines of employment.
He also started Pine Tree Development Zones to help businesses start and/or expand in areas of need. Local saw mills started up in the Second CD. In Solon a business manufacturing wood flooring expanded with PTDZ help. And Madison has become famous for Backyard Farms tomatoes, who also used the benefits PTDZ certification gave them.
Baldacci also helped jump start alternative energy industries in the state. It is hoped that the wind farm, the state's largest, to be built in Bingham might be somewhere Madison mill workers can find new employment.
Gov. Paul LePage has not focused his policies to help areas in the Second District where the mills have closed As a result, the Second District has a higher unemployment rate and stagnant growth.
On March 14th LePage held a meeting with legislative leaders.
“I was pleased that the governor reached out to the Legislature to discuss how we can all work together to preserve and strengthen Maine’s traditional lumber, pulp and paper industries,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland.
“But the hundreds of families staring down unemployment because of the Madison mill closure, and all the others who will be affected, don’t need politics. They need Augusta focused keeping Mainers at work and helping Maine’s manufacturing sector thrive. Maine still has six remaining mills and four remaining biomass facilities. We must work for short- and long-term policy solutions that protect Maine jobs.