News that Verso Paper will sell its Bucksport paper mill to a scrap-metal recycler has killed what little hope millworkers and community members had that the mill would ever make paper again.

Verso revealed on Monday afternoon that it had signed a sales agreement for its Bucksport paper mill and attached power plant with AIM Development, a subsidiary of Montreal-based scrap-metal recycler American Iron and Metal, for $60 million in cash. The announcement makes it hard for the 540 people who worked in the mill to remain hopeful that a papermaker would buy and reopen the mill, according to Emery Deabay, a boiler operator at the power plant and president of the mill’s largest union, United Steelworkers 1188.

“The bottom line is they’re a demolition kind of outfit, so that’s weighing heavily on a lot of people’s minds right now,” Deabay said Tuesday. “The optimism has gone out of the group. There was hope a paper company would buy the mill. … We watched as Rumford got saved and Old Town got saved and it looks like the outfit that bought us isn’t in the papermaking business for sure.”

Neither Verso nor AIM Development will comment on plans for the mill. The gas-fired power plant, however, is expected to remain in operation.

The news that the pending sale is to a scrap recycler is “devastating,” said Mike Hamilton, 59, who has worked in the mill’s maintenance department for 30 years. He has given up all hope the mill, which rolled off its final sheet of paper on Friday, will ever make paper again.

Hamilton was standing around with some fellow millworkers on Monday evening when one of them got a text message that the mill had been sold. Everyone perked up at the news, Hamilton remembers, but no one recognized the name of the buyer.

“I said, ‘Don’t everyone go out and buy a new truck,'” Hamilton said Tuesday. “It was tongue-in-cheek because the name didn’t stand up as being a paper company.”

Everyone rushed home, Hamilton said, but it wasn’t on the news until the 11 p.m. broadcast. In the meantime, Hamilton had looked up the company on the Internet and realized what was in store.

“Everyone had a spark of hope and this puts the stake right in the heart, you know?” he said. “It’s kind of like watching your house burn. You have a lot of memories and stuff there and … it’s your heart and soul. Now that ray of hope is nonexistent.”

The sale is not final. Verso intends to complete the deal with AIM Development in January. Verso has promised to pay all its Bucksport employees through the end of the year, as they finish cleaning and closing the mill.

American Iron and Metal is the same company that bought Verso’s Sartell mill in Minnesota last year, demolished it, and has plans to redevelop the site. That mill had suffered a deadly explosion and the company deemed the damage was too extensive to repair.

One question still unanswered, however, is when the Bucksport millworkers will receive their severance pay. While state law says that workers should receive it one pay period after employees receive their last paycheck, Verso’s collective bargaining agreement with its unions states the payments would be made three months after employees receive their last paycheck.

Julie Rabinowitz, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Labor, said the state has informed Verso that state law takes precedence over the collective bargaining agreement because state law offers the most protections.

“If (employees) were offered a larger amount and paid sooner, (then) theirs could take precedence over ours,” she said.

The state will take legal action on behalf of the workers if the company does not comply, she said.