White clouds of steam and smoke billow out from the ND Old Town Mill July 1, 2021.

OLD TOWN, Maine — Community members are still processing ND Paper’s decision to shut down the Old Town pulp mill for an extended period and what it means for the city in the coming weeks.

ND Paper, which is owned by Nine Dragons Paper Limited paper manufacturing company in China, announced the decision Tuesday. Spokesperson Jay Capron cited the rising cost of fiber, along with energy costs and market conditions, as reasons.

“We’re just shocked,” said Samantha Ryan, whose husband, John Ryan, has worked at the mill since 1987. “We really haven’t thought too much about what’s next. We’re just trying to digest this right now.”

Samantha Ryan, who works at the Old Town Public Library, said Wednesday her husband has worked through various transitions and owners over the years because his full-time position as a machine tender is considered a good, well-paying job. She believes this is the fourth time the mill has shuttered during his time there.

When ND Paper announced the extended downtime, which will begin in mid-April, it left some employees and community members with more questions than answers. It’s clear that for the just under 200 Mainers with jobs at the facility, work will cease. Some were offered positions at the Rumford mill and other locations, Capron said.

But the effects of the decision on local families and municipal operations are murky.

“This affects not just the families who work there, but the whole town,” said Lynn Sanborn, a library clerk. “This is really the main employer and a big tax base for the town. So for a place like the library, everybody in the town office is looking at their budgets.”

The city is just starting to work through scenarios on budgets, which will take time, City Manager Bill Mayo said.

ND Paper will evaluate market conditions to determine whether the mill can restart, Capron said. He did not provide a timeframe. Mayo was informed Tuesday that the shutdown would last over the next 60 to 90 days, he said.

Gus Nevells, who owns a barber shop on Main Street, learned about the shutdown from a customer Tuesday. His customer was “pretty stunned, but he’s already found a new job and applied to other places,” he said.

“That’s the thing,” he said. “If they reopen, who knows if anyone will even go back.”

About 15 customers with jobs at the mill immediately came to mind for Nevells, though there are probably more, he said. This isn’t the first time that the mill has closed during its long history, but he was surprised that it happened as quickly as it did since ND Paper took over in 2019, he said.

In an email to staff members and families Tuesday, Regional School Unit 34’s superintendent wrote that he was saddened to learn about the mill’s shutdown and what it could mean for friends, neighbors and community members who work there.

It’s too soon to jump to conclusions, but the district’s offices have begun to seek clarity on the short and long-term implications, Superintendent Matthew Cyr wrote.

“We know, though, that we have one of the most resilient, resourceful and hard-working communities one could imagine, and we will get through this together as we have before,” he said in his message.

The mill produces unbleached softwood kraft pulp and recycled market pulp, manufactured from old corrugated containers, according to its website. The products are used in retail inserts, magazines, flyers, brochures, books, corrugated boxes and in other ways.

Old Town is working to form a transition team to leverage community and regional resources to assist workers, Mayo said. That way, they’ll have an access point for support during the next 60 to 90 days, he said.

City Council President Linda McLeod and Vice President Christian Pushor were not immediately available to comment Wednesday.

Although Ryan’s family has experienced this before, she said this time feels different. 

“They’re being very mindful about how they shut down,” she said. “In the past, [employees] found out they’re shutting down and it was basically their last day at work. But it’s always sad when it happens.”