A brief history of the Bucksport mill


BUCKSPORT — It is hard to imagine this town without a paper mill in it, because its presence has been a constant for more than eight decades.

Though its name has changed multiple times — Maine Seaboard Paper Co., St. Regis, Champion, International Paper and Verso — the mill itself has been a constant through wars, recessions and weather of every sort.

What follows is a history of the mill, from its birth at the start of the Great Depression to the announcement last week of its permanent closure.

Fall of 1929: Business interests led by Central Maine Power (CMP) announce plans to build a paper mill in Bucksport. CMP is in the midst of building a massive dam on the Kennebec River at Bingham, in hopes of selling the hydro power out of state.

Maine law prevents that, however, and Maine voters — afraid of becoming a “power colony of Massachusetts” — balk at repealing the law. In need of places to send the power in Maine, CMP opts to build the Bucksport mill.

Winter of 1929-30: Details of the mill are announced in The Ellsworth American. With a price tag of $10 million, the mill is described as “gigantic” and “one of the greatest industrial projects undertaken in the New England states in recent years.”

With two paper machines “of the latest type,” the mill is projected to make 800 miles of 8-foot-wide newsprint every 24 hours. Some of the equipment is made by the Portland Co. in Portland.

The mill is projected to use one-third of the power produced at the dam in Bingham (now known as Wyman Dam).

November 1930: The mill, known as Maine Seaboard Paper Co., opens and makes its first paper on Thanksgiving Day — less than a year after construction started. Initial production is reported at between 250 and 270 tons of newsprint a day.

1930s: Workforce grows to 450.

1942: Employment grows to 690 jobs. Output stands at 100,000 tons of newsprint and 5,000 tons of specialty products annually.

1946: Time Inc. buys the mill and hires St. Regis Paper Co. to operate it on a lease-purchase basis. St. Regis exercises its purchase option in 1947, and goes on to become the company that owns the mill the longest (37 years).

1959: Between 700 and 800 people have jobs at the mill.

1979: Four local unions, representing 927 hourly workers, go on strike May 15. Workers at what is then the county’s largest employer seek better benefits, which they say are in line with what workers at other St. Regis mills receive.

The company says its offer is the best possible under government regulations. The strike continues until June 22, when the unions vote to accept a contract ironed out with the help of state and federal mediators.

1984: St. Regis merges with Champion International Corp., meaning a new owner for the mill. The merger of the two companies is precipitated by a hostile takeover bid for St. Regis from Rupert Murdoch.

Late 1980s: Employment peaks at about 1,350 workers.

1999: Production is reported at 482,000 tons of lightweight coated magazine stock on four paper machines.

More than 50 years after selling the mill, Time Inc. remains a large customer. Other companies using Bucksport-made paper include Good Housekeeping, Victoria’s Secret and L.L. Bean.

2000: International Paper (IP) buys Champion.

2002: With more than 1,000 workers, the mill is now the county’s second-largest employer (The Jackson Laboratory tops that list with 1,100 employees at the time). Total wages and benefits at the Bucksport mill are about $90 million.

2005: IP seeks a buyer for its coated-paper division, including the mill in Bucksport and one in Jay. About 800 people have jobs in Bucksport, and wages and benefits total $80 million.

2006: IP agrees to spin off its coated-paper division in June, and Verso Paper Corp. is born.

2008: In September, Verso announces plans to convert the No. 1 paper machine in Bucksport to manufacture lightweight specialty papers. Among the products the company produces is the paper used to make yellow-colored packets for the artificial sweetener Splenda.

2010: In November, Verso launches a $40-million renewable energy project in Bucksport.

The centerpiece of the project involves converting the No. 8 boiler to burn almost exclusively biomass, generating electricity for the mill and selling the excess to the grid.

The goal: a 90 percent decline in fossil fuel consumption.

The mill employs more than 730 people, and Verso says the project demonstrates its commitment to the mill. The project goes online in November of 2012, but two years later has yet to operate as anticipated.

2011: In October, Verso announces the shutdown of three paper machines — two at its mill in Sartell, Minn., and one in Bucksport (the No. 2 coated groundwood machine, which makes paper for catalogs and magazines).

The move reduces the Bucksport mill’s workforce of just over 700 employees by 125 jobs, or more than 15 percent. Company officials cite decreased demand for the product as a factor in the decision.

2014: In January, Verso announces its intent to acquire NewPage, an Ohio-based paper producer. The deal remains unfinished.

That same month, the company announces it has purchased a controlling interest in Bucksport Energy, LLC. The 175-megawatt, natural gas-fired power generation plant sends power to both the mill and the New England grid.

On Oct. 1, the company announces plans to permanently close the Bucksport mill by the end of the year, leaving its 570 workers without jobs.

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Reporter at The Ellsworth American,
Steve Fuller worked at The Ellsworth American from 2012 to early 2018. He covered the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast's Republican Journal prior to joining the American. He lives in Orland.
Steve Fuller

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