Verso Corp. announced plans Thursday to upgrade the shuttered pulp line and No. 3 paper machine at its Androscoggin Mill in Jay, bringing back an estimated 120 jobs and enabling the company to restart its equipment for the manufacture of packaging products.

The paper machine and associated pulping capacity were idled temporarily in January 2017 and shut down in July of that year as a result of declining demand for the graphic paper products formerly produced on the machine, the company said in a news release.

With an anticipated completion date in the third quarter of this year, the project will help Verso continue to diversify its product mix into growing market segments and is expected to create about 120 full-time jobs at the mill and additional jobs throughout the Maine forest products supply chain, according to the company.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere said the good news of the return of jobs and activity at the mill will be shared by many.

“The past several years have been a definite challenge for the Androscoggin Mill, so we are very pleased to hear the news from Verso today,” LaFreniere said. “It is welcome news to our community to learn that some of the jobs previously lost are being restored. We’re certain that the dedication of Androscoggin Mill’s management and employees made Verso’s decision to invest in Jay the right one.

“We are also very pleased to hear that the state of Maine, through the Maine Technology Institute, is supporting and investing in the success of the mill. We look forward to continuing to be the home of the Androscoggin Mill and hope that this is the beginning of many great changes for them.”

Terry Bergeron, chairman of the Jay Board of Selectmen, said by phone Thursday afternoon, “Naturally, it is fantastic news.”

“The workers and the management proved again ‘Mainers’ never give up,” said Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton.

The total capital cost of the project is estimated at $17 million, $4 million of which will come from a Maine Technology Asset Fund 2.0 challenge grant administered by the Maine Technology Institute. Funds from the grant will become available as certain milestones in the project are reached.

“Verso identified this upgrade and restart of the No. 3 paper machine and associated equipment at the Androscoggin Mill as part of our continuing development of a holistic strategy that includes repositioning of certain assets, and we want to thank Governor LePage and the Maine Technology Institute for their support in helping to make it possible,” Verso Chief Executive Officer B. Christopher DiSantis said in a statement. “When this project is completed, the Androscoggin Mill will be more competitive in the global marketplace and better positioned for future success.”

Contacted by phone Thursday afternoon, Lloyd Irland, a consultant and longtime observer of the Maine forest industry, said he was pleasantly surprised by the Verso announcement.

“Wow — well, how about that for news,” Irland said. “It’s good news really for the whole region, because it depends on those jobs, and those people don’t all live in the same village. At one time they did. That’s going to be a big thing for that whole area.”

Irland said he hopes the news Thursday will remove the uncertainty at Verso that has worried people for months. He said the repurposing of the equipment to diversify its product mix is good news for the future.

“This is most welcome, most welcome,” he said. “It’s always a surprise when they make a big announcement, because you never know which way it’s going to go or when it’s going to come. I’m probably not going to be the only one that’s surprised and certainly not the only one who’s pleased to hear it. That’s huge.”

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, applauded on Thursday the creation of 120 jobs in Jay with the restart of the Verso mill’s No. 3 machine.

“This is terrific news for the entire region and I am thrilled with the creation of 120 jobs in Franklin County,” Poliquin said in a statement. “I’m hopeful this new investment will bring about sustained growth and reliable jobs for the entire region for years to come.”

Maine Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said in a statement Thursday afternoon that he believes Maine’s paper industry is turning a corner.

“This is great news for not only the people of Jay, but for the entire state,” Thibodeau said in a news release. “Maine is second to none in the forest products industry. We have the most talented workers in the nation who are quickly adapting to an ever-evolving paper industry. I believe this development shows that we are turning a corner and are on our way back.”

Verso Corp. announced last July that it would shut down the No. 3 paper machine at its Androscoggin mill in Jay, resulting in the elimination of 120 jobs there — nearly a quarter of the workforce.

Verso’s struggles have been part of an ever-growing string of closures and layoffs that have plagued Maine’s paper industry in recent years. Five mills have closed in the last few years, including Verso’s closure of its Bucksport mill in 2014, with more than 500 jobs lost; and the Madison Paper mill closure in May 2016, which put more than 200 people out of work. More than 2,300 Maine workers have lost their jobs since 2011 as the industry reels from declining global demand for paper.

The Androscoggin mill laid off 300 employees in 2015 as part of a plan to reduce production capacity. Verso then emerged from bankruptcy in the summer of 2016, when it had about 560 employees. The mill’s No. 5 machine was refitted to produce specialty paper, a departure from the coated paper the mill historically produced, and its performance led to an evaluation of the Androscoggin Mill for additional capital investment.

Nevertheless, in September 2017, stakeholders, frustrated that the value of their holdings was not increasing, wanted Verso to explore the possible sale of the mill, which led to the formation of a committee that would help the company explore “strategic transaction alternatives.” Since that time, the value of common stock has climbed from less than $5 a share to Thursday’s close of $16.77.

The Maine Technology Asset Fund challenge grant administered by the Maine Technology Institute are general fund bond dollars provided through public law approved by the Maine Legislature and signed by Gov. Paul LePage in 2016 and approved by Maine’s voters in June 2017.

The intent of the funding grants is to fuel capital equipment or infrastructure projects that will lead to holding and gaining market share, increased revenue, expanded employment and retention of jobs, according to the website. The Maine Technology Institute was established by the Legislature in 1999.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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