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Congressman Kuster visits Gorham paper mill

Mill manager Willis Blevins was pleased to show Second District Congressman Annie Kuster the new tissue machine in operation on Friday afternoon at Gorham Paper and Tissue (GPT), thanks to substantial investments by Patriarch Partners LLC, a New York private-equity firm headed by Lynn Tilton that bought the Gorham mill in May 2011. Photo by Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
January 16, 2013
GORHAM — Rep. Annie McLane Kuster, a Democrat of Hopkinton, made her first foray on Friday into the Second Congressional District since being sworn in. After stops in Plymouth, Littleton and Lancaster, she toured Gorham Paper and Tissue, LLC, (GPT) where three paper machines were running.

Mill manager Willis Blevins updated Kuster on GPT that she had visited last when the new four-story building to house the ABK Italia tissue machine was under construction. The new machine produced its first commercial run of white toweling on the night of Oct. 3, 2012.

"American-made tissue has a competitive advantage over that made in China and South America because it is both lightweight and bulky, making it expensive to ship, and because the market is growing around the world as the population and living standards rapidly rise in places like China, India, and parts of Africa," Blevins explained. "The industry expects that three to six tissue machines will be installed per year until 2020."

GPT tissue and away-from-home toweling sales are robust. "I wish I had another tissue machine right now," the mill manager said.

Blevins said he has told Patriarch Partners' CEO Lynn Tilton, who holds GPT in her portfolio, that the mill could support three tissue machines. Current thinking, he said, however, is that one tissue machine would be located at GPT's sister mill Old Town Fuel and Fiber in Old Town, Me., which produces pulp, and the other at GPT.

A rewinder designed to slit rolls of paper into narrower widths is already stored at the mill site in four containers. "It's just a matter of time and weather as to when a new building will be constructed to house that," said Willis, noting that this would require demolition of an old structure.

Patriarch's decision to use its own financing to tap into the Portland Natural Gas Transmission System (PNGTS) mainline that brings the Canadian energy source to New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts, has led to a dramatic reduction in the mill's use of costly oil, Blevins said. Although there have been some machinery problems at the Mt. Carberry end of the Androscoggin Valley Regional Refuse Disposal District (AVRRDD) landfill gas project, gas is expected to flow this week to GPT, its sole customer.

Retirements of longtime workers are now kicking in, including that of production specialist Don Arguin, who worked 41 years, six months, at the mill; colorist Roger Rousseau, 39 years, nine months; and longtime machinist Dennis Bilodeau.

A machinist's position is posted that pays $21.35 an hour. Whenever positions are advertised, scores of applications pour in.

Four salaried positions will open up in the next month or two, also due to retirements of longtime employees.

Kuster pledged that she and her staff, both in Washington, D.C. and in Concord, would help in any way possible to help GPT take advantage of any economic development opportunities. "If there are difficulties with working through the federal government, we're ready to help get challenges resolved," she said. "I know the North Country well as a place where my family and I have enjoyed recreation — skiing and hiking. But it's the people here that are extraordinary and their history and culture. I'll do whatever possible to help preserve and protect it."

Willis praised the state Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) and state officials who he described as both very helpful and responsive, especially as compared to their counterparts in Wisconsin and Ohio.

"We're a small state, and we know each other — we care about each other," Kuster said.

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