When Verso Paper announced it was closing its Bucksport mill, the company cited flagging demand for paper and continued high energy costs. According to one of the mills’ unions, however, there may be another reason — to limit competition for Verso as it merges with its largest rival, NewPage Holdings.

It is hard enough to stomach the loss of the Bucksport mill to the larger economic forces that have for years taken a toll on Maine’s traditional industries, and that have little to do with the quality of work done in Bucksport. It’s much worse to think the mill may have closed — and disrupted the lives of hundreds of workers, suppliers, contractors and others who relied on it — simply so that its soon-to-be-former owner doesn’t have to worry about competing with that product later.

Federal antitrust officials approved Verso’s purchase of NewPage last week. The company will pay $1.4 billion for NewPage, and is required to sell its mill in Rumford and another in Wisconsin. The company now controls a significant portion of the market in coated paper, the kind that was produced in Bucksport. The company says the Bucksport mill was never part of the merger.

That’s not entirely true, according to a union representing Bucksport mill workers. The union has sued Verso, arguing that the company misrepresented the mill’s financial situation in order to convince the officials overseeing the merger that the closure in Bucksport was financially necessary.

Instead, the union argues, Verso wants to send the Bucksport mill to the scrap heap so that another operator doesn’t boot it back up and bring more coated paper into the market.

It’s unclear whether this is actually the case, and hearings on the lawsuit have yet to be scheduled.

However, the Bucksport mill should be given every chance to reinvent itself under a different owner, but the quick sale to the scrap metal company, Montreal-based AIM Development, indicates that didn’t happen.

Verso has every right to take steps to “create a stronger, more stable company that will be better positioned to serve our customers and compete in a competitive global marketplace,” as the company said in a statement announcing its merger with NewPage. It’s obligation is to its shareholders, not to the people of Bucksport.

But this is no ordinary business. The mill is not a storefront in a mall that changes regularly, from one chain store to the next, interchangeable and largely indistinguishable. It could not have been built just anywhere — the mill needed the river, the trees and the people of Maine to make it, and it survived more than 80 years and through five different owners. That shouldn’t be thrown away easily.

Mills are going to close, and the ones that stay open are going to operate with fewer and fewer people. We can no longer depend on the mills to drive our state’s economy. That’s the way of the papermaking world now, and we have to accept it.

But we don’t have to accept the loss of a mill, and all that comes with it, for reasons other than natural competition.

Gov. Paul LePage rightfully opposes the sale of the Bucksport mill to AIM, and is trying to block the transfer of its power generation contract in order to scuttle the deal. He should continue this obstruction until it is clear that there is no papermaking in Bucksport’s future.

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