The idling of production at the Dragon Cement plant in Thomaston may lead to a domino effect of higher prices and more complicated environmental regulations in Maine.
Dragon Cement, one of the largest producers of cement in New England, announced its plans earlier this month to idle production in Maine by 2025 and lay off about 65 workers. There are other cement plants in the Northeast and in Canada that can supply the material in Maine, but several businesses here depend on Dragon.
Some in Maine are already worrying that the plant’s loss will ripple through the sector and push costs higher for companies and those that hire them, including the public agencies and institutions that make up two-thirds of construction sales here. The effect on the overall market is uncertain for now, with regional voices saying there are enough suppliers to make up the gap.
Most of the companies that work with Consigli, a Portland-based construction management company that operates down the Eastern Seaboard, use Dragon’s cement in their mix, Matt Tonello, who runs the firm’s Maine operations, said. He’s worried they are going to have to source cement from elsewhere, perhaps Boston or overseas, which could drive up prices.
“Schools, libraries, every building that’s constructed, has got concrete in it, and we’re all going to feel it,” Tonello said.
There could be a particular effect on the transportation industry, said Eric Ritchie, a vice president of the Orono-based regional construction firm Sargent and the president of the Maine Better Transportation Association. Dragon supplies type 2 cement, which is the foundation of a lot of infrastructure construction, so costs could spike and raise taxes or tolls.
But Sargent no longer uses Dragon, and Jonathan Kuell of the Northern New England Concrete Association said there are enough cement suppliers through Boston, Canada and overseas to supplement Maine’s industry. He said he doesn’t see the imports increasing any prices.
“From a supply standpoint, I don’t think anyone’s going to be waiting for concrete,” Kuell said.
Kuell added that the concrete and cement industry is growing. Expert Market Research projects that the U.S. cement market will continue growing through 2028.
But Dragon is one of the only producers of type 1L cement in the region, which is more eco-friendly than regular cement, Tonello noted. It uses finely ground limestone to reduce the need for high-temperature furnaces that use up more fuel and produce more carbon. Consigli has clients that are depending on this kind of cement for green purposes.
“We’ve got a couple of environmental goals on some projects which are counting on the type 1L, and we’re going to have to rewrite those or change them,” Tonello said.
But it will be hard to know how exactly Dragon’s closure could affect the construction industry in Maine until it actually stops production. Tonello said he won’t know for sure how much anything will cost until he receives quotes from suppliers.
In a statement, the Associated General Contractors of Maine said the industry will have to adjust to ensure cement deliveries and the group is “obviously concerned” about the closure. Last month, Gov. Janet Mills said she hoped to talk with the owners of Dragon Cement and that its output was needed in Maine, a sentiment that Tonello shared.
“I think we have got to find a way to keep the place open,” he said.