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White Mountain Paper Co. Reports on Economic Viability

Published Thursday Sep 7, 2023

Author Edith Tucker, Berlin Sun

Gorham meering

Meeting Aug. 28 in Gorham to discuss the status of the paper mill at Cascades and the Androscoggin Valley Regional Refuse Disposal District’s landfill gas-to-energy proposal are (from left, front row) White Mountain Paper Co. mill manager Matt O’Day and special machine consultant Randy Rand, of Maine, and company spokesman Alex Ritchie. Standing in back row, from left, selectmen chairman Mike Waddell, selectman Judy LeBlanc, selectman Yves Zornio and Town Manager Peter Gagnon. (EDITH TUCKER PHOTO)

GORHAM — Town officials met Monday night with leaders of the White Mountain Paper Company to discuss the paper mill's economic viability and plans for its success. 

The Board of Selectmen and Town Manager Peter Gagnon heard a presentation from longtime White Mountain Paper Co. spokeswoman Alex Ritchie, mill manager Matthew O’Day, of Randolph, and former interim manager and now special machine advisor, Randy Rand, of Maine. Seventy-five people are employed at the mill located in the town's Cascade Flats area.

Ritchie said that 2022 had been a transitional year, in which many of the root causes of the paper mill's challenges were specifically identified. Once diagnosed, a remedial plan to address each was then developed.

“Upon completion of implementation, there is no reason the mill should not be successful in the long-term,” Ritchie said.

The sole, relatively new, tissue machine that remains in operation in the mill was so woefully neglected for more than a decade that the new equipment which has been on order for eight months will soon be installed, she explained.

White Mountain Paper Company was acquired by Behrens Investment Corp., led by Evan Behrens, on Dec. 31, 2020.

“We’ve been diligently implementing multiple stabilization initiatives, addressing years of neglected maintenance, buying “critical spares” and making up lack of capital investments. Our efforts also include key hires, intensive apprenticeship training, continued recruitment, key performance indicators, plus cost savings," Ritchie explained.

The White Mountain Paper Co. is already seeking to implement future initiatives, Ritchie said.

Topping its list is expanding its operations into converting, that is, taking the parent tissue rolls it now manufactures and diversifying the mill’s further operations while retaining another in-house revenue stream.

Continuing to intensify the mill's training efforts, she said, is another goal. "We need to support continuous trainings for our existing workforce to ensure they have the required skill sets for the mill’s successful operations," said Ritchie.

Further, a comprehensive demolition plan is needed. She spoke of right-sizing the mill. "We must establish a proportional footprint for today’s operations, improving operating efficiencies, properly proportion our overhead costs and increase overall plant safety," Ritchie said.

And, decommission the lagoons to improve the mill’s environmental footprint and unlock 40 acres for future industrial development.

AVRRDD concerns

Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier, who until recently sat on the Androscoggin Valley Regional Refuse Disposal District (AVRRDD) board when he served as a Coos County commissioner, also came to talk with the Gorham selectmen at its Aug. 28 meeting. He, like Gorham board chairman Mike Waddell, believes the AVRRDD landfill-gas-to-energy-project should be used “to sustain the local economy" and that two local companies should be given more consideration.

Selectman Yves Zornio, the town's representative to AVRRDD, has not been able to share any of the highly confidential information he has learned at AVRRDD meetings that have dealt with the natural landfill gas-to-energy project.

While the AVRRDD board has said it has not made a final decision on to whom it will award a contract, the local companies — White Mountain Paper Co. and Burgess BioPower — were not placed in the top two of the finalists who responded to the requests for proposals that AVRRDD administrator Sharon Gauthier said the district issued in December 2022 to finance, design, build and operate a landfill gas-to-energy plant.

Eleven proposals were received by the February deadline.

Gauthier hired two independent engineering firms — CMA Engineers of Portsmouth and SCS Engineers of Suffern, N.Y. — to evaluate the proposals and rank them based on a number of objective criteria.

At its June 22 meeting, the AVRRDD board said that it preferred the landfill gas be refined into natural gas for export into the nearby Portland Natural Gas Transmission System pipeline but would consider other options on a case-by-case basis.

Also at the June 22 meeting, the AVRRDD board went into non-public session to discuss the landfill gas-to-energy proposals and then voted in public in a unanimous vote to continue discussions with two of the companies that submitted proposals, Northern BioGas and Ameresco.

Grenier went to AVRRDD’s July 27 board meeting and urged its members to reconsider excluding the paper mill in Gorham and the biomass plant in Berlin from consideration. 

AVRRDD is made up of the member communities of Berlin, Gorham, Dummer, Northumberland Stark, Jefferson, Randolph, Milan and the Unincorporated Places of Coos County.

Reporter Barbara Tetreault contributed to this article.

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