U.S. Sen. Susan Collins walks out of the Androscoggin Mill in Jay on Wednesday afternoon after touring the damage, background, from a massive explosion April 15. At far right is state Sen. Russell Black of Wilton and state Sen. Jeff Timberlake of Turner, center. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

JAY — A U.S. senator and two state senators credited dedicated and “courageous” employees at the Androscoggin Mill for preventing more damage from an explosion that destroyed a large wood pulp digester April 15.

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins along with state Sens. Russell Black, R-Wilton, and Jeffrey Timberland, R-Turner, were there Wednesday to thank workers, see the damage and get a briefing on the investigation and an update on operations from mill manager Jay Thiessen.

Mill employees worked day and night to get two of three paper machines restarted, Collins said, as she, Black and Timberlake stood on the side of Riley Road to hold a brief news conference outside the mill gate.

Unidentified workers are dwarfed by the twisted machinery at the Androscoggin Mill in Jay on Wednesday afternoon as the cleanup and investigation continues two weeks after a massive explosion at paper mill. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The two machines that were restarted on April 23 are running specialty paper products 24 hours, seven days a week, Alan Ulman, spokesman for Pennsylvania-based owner Pixelle Specialty Solutions, said in an email Friday. The owner is bringing in pulp from two of its mills and getting it from other sources.

One machine that had run commodity paper products is not running, Ulman said.

They also discussed with Thiessen rebuilding the digesters so the mill could once again accept pulpwood and get the pulp side of the mill going, Collins said.

“Maine’s forest economy has long played a vital role in our state, and it is essential to many rural communities. I am committed to working with industry and community leaders to help the Androscoggin Mill in Jay as they determine next steps,”  she said.

The mill is a crucial part of central Maine’s economy, she said. There are so many loggers and truckers among others who depend on the mill, she said.

The senators all agreed after watching the video of the explosion that it was a miracle there was no loss of life. Black referred to the mill as the “lifeblood” of central Maine. There are some of the best papermakers in the world here, he said.

“My family has worked here for generations,” Timberlake said. When he watched the video of the explosion he said his heart sank, but when he learned no one was injured he was relieved. He is really looking forward to working with the company, he said.

Collins said the 2017 tax reform bill could help mill owners rebuild the mill.

Thiessen, the mill manager, told the senators that the mill was having a great year until the explosion,  Collins said.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins wears a mask made at a New Balance Factory in Maine as she visits the Androscoggin Mill in Jay on Wednesday afternoon. In the background is state Sen. Russell Black of Wilton. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The company has hired a forensic team to help determine what caused the explosion, she said.

Black and Timberlake pledged to help the mill in any way they could, including expediting the process for any permits needed, including environmental, without cutting corners.

“There is not going to be a lot of money to help,” Timberlake said.

“This mill is so crucial to central Maine. I’m not going to rule out anything,” Black said. “We need this mill functioning. We need to get this mill up and running” at full capacity.

With COVID-19 and the economy tanking, Black said, he didn’t know what could be done.

Black said mill officials told them they paid $300 million in employee taxes and millions in property taxes.

This especially affects the state, Franklin County and the town of Jay, he said.

It is fortunate they had insurance but the mill is noncommittal, Timberlake said.

“Recovery planning, including employment planning, raw material planning, capacity planning, are all long-term processes,” Ulman said in Friday’s email.

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