The Old Town mill

Steam rose from a smokestack at the Old Town pulp mill last week more than three years after the mill that used to employ nearly 200 workers went idle.

The mill’s new owner said it was firing up a package boiler for the first time since it bought the property in October 2018 and announced plans to reopen the pulp-making facility. The restart of the boiler marked an important step toward restarting the mill in the coming months, the owner said.

Chinese paper company Nine Dragons Paper (Holdings) Ltd. has previously said it plans to have the Old Town mill running by the end of the first quarter of 2019. The facility will start producing unbleached wood pulp used in paper manufacturing once ND Paper updates equipment at the idled mill, said Ron Harriman, Old Town’s economic development director.

“This is one of the most important things to happen in Old Town in a long time,” he said. “They’re helping us to revitalize our community.”

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

ND Paper’s planned $100 million investment, including the construction of an office building and the creation of at least 100 jobs, is welcomed in Old Town, Harriman said. Nine Dragons has said it plans to expand the mill’s pulp production capacity, eventually producing 275,000 air-dried metric tons of pulp each year, up from the 155,000 air-dried metric tons the mill produced before its last shutdown in 2015.

ND Paper has posted a number of Old Town job openings on its website. Late last year, the company qualified for $12 million in state tax credits over the next seven years through the Maine New Markets Capital Investment Program.

Old Town is the company’s second location in Maine, after the company bought the paper mill in Rumford from Catalyst Paper in June 2018. The Rumford facility produces coated and specialty papers. Old Town is the company’s fourth mill in the U.S.

A company spokeswoman declined an interview request, saying that ND Paper will share more information as “we build toward the reopening.”

Harriman said he is happy about the prospect of a long-term owner for the mill site.

It has been years since the mill has had stable ownership. Its recent history is marked by multiple idlings and bankruptcy.

The Old Town mill’s most recent experience with short-term ownership and operation started in December 2014, when Wisconsin-based Expera Specialty Solutions bought the pulp mill for $10.5 million and announced its shutdown less than a year later.

A liquidation firm, MFGR LLC, bought the mill in January 2016. It sold the property two years later, in January 2018, to OTM Holdings LLC, which announced plans to use the mill site as a “wood fiber-based complex” with multiple tenants.

OTM Holdings sold the property to ND Paper later in the year.

“I don’t think we could’ve hoped for any better company to purchase the mill,” Harriman said.

“Unlike some of the other companies we’ve seen come and go at the mill, ND Paper’s told us that they have a 100-year plan.”