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Androscoggin Valley waits for news of paper mill's fate


November 03, 2010
GORHAM — Everyone is talking about the word on the street that the higher of two bidders for the Fraser mill is a salvager. That higher bidder has reportedly submitted a much higher offer to the bankruptcy court in Toronto, Canada, than the potential buyer from New Jersey, who says he would like to operate the now-shuttered Fraser Papers paper mill at Cascades.

Many Androscoggin Valley residents are waiting with bated breath to see what happens, but elected and union officials as well as other stakeholders are apparently doing what they can to tip the decision toward retaining local jobs.

"Naturally, the state's position and the town's position is that we prefer a person who continues to operate the facility," said state Sen. John Gallus of Berlin in an e-mail exchange. "The decision-maker, I am sure, is aware of our position, and we will continue to push that position forward."

Sen. Gallus added, however, that the realities are somewhat bleak when dealing with a system that is designed to recover as much of the asset value as possible for Fraser's creditors who want payment to cover unpaid bills.

The salvager would likely remove all the metals from the paper mill and sell them and then tear down all but the relatively new warehouse.

Fraser Papers must be the source of any public information on the number of qualified bidders, said Commissioner George Bald of the state Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED). "I can confirm that Gov. John Lynch and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen have called often to stay on top of where we are," he said.

Because New Hampshire is a stakeholder in what is ultimately decided in the Canadian bankruptcy court handling the Fraser case, Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier said in a Saturday telephone call that he remains optimistic that the court will select the bidder that wants to tap into the region's papermaking expertise and work ethic.

Union spokesman Eddy DeBlois of Wentworth's Location explained in a Sunday morning telephone interview that he expects that the bankruptcy court will most likely announce its decision this week.

Mr. DeBlois has high hopes that what he understands to be the state's position that an environmental cleanup would be required if the mill were to be ripped down but not if it were to be reopened will tip the scales in the direction of the lower bidder. The low bidder, who has talked with both Governor John Lynch and Mayor Grenier, appears to have a viable business plan and has presented himself as someone who is very knowledgeable about the paper industry, Mr. DeBlois said.

"We need to keep these 240 jobs in the North Country," he explained. "There's no one knocking on our doors to bring these kind of good-paying jobs up here, and it would be a serious blow to lose them along with the jobs they support."

Gorham selectboard chairman Paul Robitaille noted at the Oct. 25 meeting that "if the worst happens and a dismantling company is the successful bidder for the mill," that he would like the select board to stand firm that it "does not want that location to be left as a rubble-filled toxic waste dump. It should be left in its pre-1900 pristine farmland state."

According to the minutes, the Gorham selectboard agreed to send letters stating its concern/requirement to all appropriate officials.

In a Sunday afternoon phone interview, chairman Robitaille said, "I'm still confident that there is money to be made at that paper mill, given the crew's operating knowledge base. The mill is viable if someone buys and then runs it with an eye toward developing its sales."

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