JAY — Pixelle Specialty Solutions officials announced Wednesday they will permanently idle the paper machine that has been offline at Androscoggin Mill following the April 15 destructive rupture of a wood pulp digester connected to the machine, as part of its long-term strategic plan.

The company will continue to operate two paper machines to manufacture specialty papers, according to a release from Alan Ulman, spokesman for Pixelle.

The explosion halted manufacturing for eight days and initiated months of recovery and strategic planning to ensure the mill would operate successfully and competitively.

Pixelle Specialty Papers announced Wednesday it will permanently idle its third paper machine and not rebuild its pulp mill following April’s rupture of the pulp digester. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The mill will continue using pulp sourced from other mills, including Maine-based facilities. The company will not rebuild the pulp mill, according to the statement.

The mill’s third paper machine produced commodity grades prior to the digester rupture.

In its ongoing configuration, the mill will continue to utilize more than 250 full-time employees, Ulman said.

About 177 jobs have been eliminated at the mill since the explosion.

The mill’s specialty papers product portfolio includes bleached and natural kraft products for food packaging, pressure-sensitive release liners and labels, packaging tapes, insulation backing for building materials and wet-strength and grease-resistant products.

Pixelle, based in Pennsylvania, also announced that it has established a $1 million fund to support job retraining for former mill employees displaced as a result of the pulp digester explosion. Pixelle said it will also develop an ongoing program to further support former employee job retraining, while at the same time continuing its current program to assist with tuition expenses for the company’s active employees.

“We are committed to providing support to our dedicated employees who lost their jobs as a result of the digester rupture, and we hope that the training assistance we are announcing today will prove valuable in relaunching their careers,” Pixelle Chief Executive Officer Timothy Hess said in the release.

“We were grateful to hear the news that Pixelle has a long-term plan to continue the operation of the Androscoggin Mill,” Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere said. “Their intent to provide resources for product development and their plans for future investment in the facility indicate their dedication to the viability of this mill. At the same time, we are disappointed that they will not be rebuilding the pulp mill and restarting the idled paper machine. We recognize the impact this will have on our extended forestry community and our thoughts continue to be with those that are affected.”

As the town moves forward through the valuation process of the mill this spring, the impact of this change will be recognized in significantly reduced taxable value, LaFreniere said.

“As we have in the past, we will be working through the state process again to seek relief from this impact on our taxpayers,” she said.

“This long-term plan keeps a large number of employees working to meet our customers’ needs for excellent products and services. It also benefits many in Maine impacted by the pulp digester incident by sourcing pulp from Maine-based providers,” Hess said. “The Pixelle mill in Jay, Maine, is a vital part of our four-mill specialty paper manufacturing platform. We intend to continue to invest in the mill to enhance its position as a supplier of choice to our customers.”

In the release, Mill Manager Eric Hanson said “The best path forward for the Jay mill is to continue to operate our two specialty machines using purchased pulp. The mill’s employees — former and current — have been extraordinary. In 2020, they encountered the COVID-19 pandemic followed by the pulp digester rupture. Despite these challenges, they restored the mill, operated it safely and in an environmentally responsible manner, provided exceptional product quality and service to our customers, and transformed the mill into one that will be competitive for the long term.”

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