A federal judge declined to rule Tuesday in a case seeking to block Verso Paper Corp.’s planned sale of its Bucksport paper mill to a scrap metal recycler, suggesting he needs more time to make a decision.

The Bucksport chapter of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents 59 hourly employees who worked as mechanics at the paper mill, filed a lawsuit in early December after Verso announced an agreement to sell the mill to AIM Development LLC, a subsidiary of American Iron and Metal, a Montreal-based scrap metal recycler.


The union claims Verso’s sale of the mill to AIM Development is a deliberate and illegal attempt to limit the supply of coated paper on the market, so it breaks antitrust laws. The union is seeking an injunction that would halt the sale of the mill and create an opportunity for another buyer to be found and continue the papermaking operation, preserving more than 500 local jobs.

U.S. District Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. ended a hearing Tuesday afternoon in Bangor without making a decision.

John Carr, a spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said the judge needed more time but did not indicate when a decision should be expected.

Last week, Gov. Paul LePage issued a news release expressing his frustration with Verso Paper over the state’s efforts to line up a buyer that would maintain the papermaking operation. LePage said he had received information from a company that “had expressed genuine interest in acquiring the Bucksport asset,” but he never got a response from Verso.


Woodcock appeared concerned about Verso’s “hurry-up-and-decide” approach to the sale, Carr said, but was not convinced that there was a viable purchase offer from a company that wanted to continue making paper in Bucksport, or that Verso’s sale to AIM Development violates antitrust laws. Carr said a more formal declaration from the state, including evidence that another paper manufacturer expressed interest in buying the mill, is needed to sway Woodcock.

“It was clear that what the state gave us fell short of what the judge really needs,” Carr said Tuesday afternoon. “We walked away with a clear understanding that until the state gives us a declaration saying just that – there is a viable buyer, this is who it is – it’s going to be really hard for him to rule in our favor under those circumstances.”

Carr said the ball is in the governor’s court.

“The person in the best position to save that mill, that little community and those workers is the governor’s office,” he said.

Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s spokeswoman, could not be reached Tuesday afternoon for comment.

In December, Bennett told The Associated Press that “if there is anything the state can do to step in, we will do so in the best interest of the employees.”


Bill Cohen, Verso’s spokesman in Maine, said, “While the judge has the case under advisement we would not make any public comment.”

Woodcock could rule by Monday, The Associated Press reported.

Verso has not set a date to close the sale of the mill to AIM Development.

Verso announced in early October that it was closing the Bucksport mill, citing high energy costs and decreasing demand for coated and specialty paper. The mill produced its last roll of paper on Dec. 5 and laid off the last of its roughly 540 employees on Dec. 31.