Excavators raze part of the East Millinocket paper mill site in 2017. Credit: Nick Sambides Jr. / BDN

A new round of grants announced this week will help a handful of Maine mill towns repurpose their former manufacturing sites for new businesses.

Millinocket, Lincoln and Ashland will receive $20,000 each, while East Millinocket and Madison will receive $30,000 each to fund projects such as engineering and site planning studies and offset state permit costs as each town continues repurposing former mill and manufacturing sites for new businesses.  

The Northern Border Regional Commission and Maine Rural Development Authority provided the grant funds through a program that has doled out $1.2 million to help Maine transition from traditional timber products like paper and revitalize the state’s forest economy.  

The Maine Development Foundation and Maine Forest Opportunity Roadmap program announced the awards Wednesday.

The five towns that received funding include four that have seen paper and pulp mills shutter in the last 15 years, leading to the loss of hundreds of jobs. Redevelopment plans are in various stages, as local leaders have attracted new businesses and industrial tenants to the former mill sites.

Millinocket will use its award money for electrical and heating studies in unused buildings to determine potential future uses on the site of the former Great Northern Paper Co. mill where paper production stopped for good in 2008. Local nonprofit Our Katahdin, which owns the mill site, signed an agreement last summer with Nautilus Data Technologies to open a data center on the property, its first tenant since buying the mill in 2017.

Our Katahdin is also actively seeking aquaculture tenants, the group’s president, Sean DeWitt, said earlier this week.

East Millinocket plans to use its grant money to complete site planning on its own mill site, which the town bought in July 2020. The town received a $292,000 grant last month from the Future Forest Economy Initiative to prepare the site for its first tenant, Standard Biochar, a Portland startup that takes wood chips and turns them into biochar, a sustainable alternative to fertilizer.

Lincoln plans to use its award to update state environmental protection permits for several facilities on the site of the former Lincoln Paper and Tissue mill. The town reached a tentative agreement last July with Biofine Developments Northeast Inc. to allow the company to open a biofuels refinery development on the property.

LignaTerra Global LLC, a North Carolina cross-laminated timber company, also announced plans in 2019 to open a $31 million factory on the Lincoln mill site, though those plans slowed due to the pandemic.

Madison will use its $30,000 award for work that would allow for the conversion of agricultural and municipal waste into renewable natural gas and power at the former Madison Paper mill site.

GO Lab, a Belfast office building products manufacturer, received $85 million  in bond funding in December from the Finance Authority of Maine to build a wood fiber insulation factory at the former Madison mill site, which would be fully operational in October 2023, according to bond documents.

Ashland will use its $20,000 award to conduct engineering studies that would allow new uses at a 94-acre former manufacturing campus that the town bought last year.

The Aroostook County town has long been home to a sawmill that has seen investment in recent years from its owner, Canadian forestry company J.D. Irving, since the operation reopened in 2014 following a six-year closure.

In 2019, the town lost its biomass electric generation plant, which was its largest commercial taxpayer.

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Lia Russell

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to LRussell@bangordailynews.com.