The volunteer organization working to redevelop the former Great Northern Paper Co. mill in Millinocket is one of three Maine groups that will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from the federal government to assess and clean up contaminated industrial and commercial sites.
Our Katahdin has been awarded two grants totaling $850,000 through the federal Brownfields program to conduct an environmental assessment of the 1,400-acre mill site and clean up its former administration building, which is contaminated with chemicals and heavy metals.
The other two Maine grantees were the city of Portland and the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments. Portland has been awarded $250,000 to conduct environmental assessments and develop cleanup plans in the Bayside neighborhood, with emphasis on a two-block area currently being used as an open trailer lot and scrap yard, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Androscoggin Valley group will receive $300,000 to conduct environmental assessments and develop cleanup plans for a community housing project in Lewiston, the former St. Louis Church in Auburn and the former Holy Savior School in Rumford, the EPA announced.
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In Millinocket, the funding will also help Our Katahdin to seek public input on the mill site’s redevelopment. It is receiving a $500,000 grant for the cleanup of the administration building — which was first built in 1913 — and $350,000 for the larger environmental assessment of the mill, which closed in 2008, according to the EPA.
During a virtual news conference Thursday morning, director Sean DeWitt said the funding will help the group as it tries to redevelop the site into a multi-use industrial site. For now, the group is pursuing a few different new uses of the property, including as a saw mill and a data storage center.
“It’s hard to understate the importance of that administration building,” DeWitt said. “Having a functional office space where people can root their operations and start to do their construction is going to be really important. It’s also really important to the community. Again, this is kind of the heart and soul of our community. This is the building you can most visibly see from the town.”
DeWitt said his group previously applied for two other similar grants, but was deemed ineligible because of an old $1.5 million debt to the IRS that it inherited when it bought the site for $1 from Cate Street Capital LLC in January 2017. It settled that debt last summer by agreeing to pay off $450,000 of it.
In late 2018, the lien forced the withdrawal of a North Carolina firm that had tentatively agreed to launch a $30 million factory at the mill site making cross-laminated timber. That company, LignaTerra Global LLC, is now working to develop its first Maine factory down the road at the former Lincoln Paper and Tissue mill site.
Papermaking operations at the Millinocket mill site stopped in 2008.