Governor seeks to intervene in Verso mill sale

BUCKSPORT — Governor Paul LePage is seeking to intervene in the proposed sale of the local paper mill by Verso Paper Corp. to AIM Development, a metal scrapping firm headquartered in Montreal.

In a letter dated Dec. 23, LePage requested that the state’s chief energy regulatory body — the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) — “carefully review” Verso’s sale agreement to ensure it doesn’t violate a 2011 agreement the company made to provide renewable electricity to Central Maine Power (CMP).

Verso also owns and operates a gas and biomass power plant on the Bucksport site. Approved by the PUC, the 2011 contract stipulated Verso would provide power to the southern Maine utility through 2016, giving CMP renewable energy tax credits.

It’s widely believed AIM plans to demolish the Bucksport mill, despite the hope of state, local and union officials that it might be repurposed to produce another paper or good.

In his letter to the PUC, LePage pointed to language in Verso’s 2011 contract that suggested it was motivated by a desire to support papermaking at the mill. He argued those terms might preclude the sale of the 85-year-old plant to a company that intends to junk it.

“While the contract unfortunately does not explicitly prevent the company, or subsequent owner, from demolishing the paper making assets, the intention of the above market contract appears to have been to support paper jobs at the mill,” LePage wrote. “It is offensive that ratepayers could potentially be subsidizing a firm that could demolish papermaking at Bucksport.”

LePage’s letter is the Governor’s first effort to intervene in Verso’s sale of the local mill, which ended papermaking in early December. One of the unions representing Bucksport mill workers also has sued Verso in an effort to block the sale, which it argues could give the Memphis company a monopoly in the coated paper market.

Federal regulators also are reviewing a merger of Verso and NewPage Holdings. If successful, the new company would become North America’s largest coated paper producer.

Charles Eichacker

Charles Eichacker

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Charles Eichacker covers the towns of Bucksport, Orland, Castine, Verona Island, Penobscot, Brooksville and Dedham. When not working on stories, he likes books, beer and the outdoors. [email protected]

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