BUCKSPORT

In a brief letter filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Bangor, a New York company said a memo delivered to the court this week expressing interest in buying the Verso Paper mill in Bucksport was sent without its knowledge or approval.

Kamala Rajan, who describes himself as “the sole shareholder and CEO” of Minimill Technologies Inc., based in East Syracuse, New York, told Judge John Woodcock in the undated letter that the company is investigating who may have been behind the prior communication. The letter was filed in the federal court record on Thursday.

“Through media releases that were brought to my attention today, it is being reported that someone claiming to be acting on behalf of [Minimill Technologies] has advised the court that [the firm] would have an interest in evaluating the acquisition of Bucksport Mill,” Rajan said in the letter. “I wanted to immediately write the court to respectfully advise that this letter was not authorized by [Minimill], its officers and/or Board of Directors and that [Minimill] has never expressed such an interest and/or has such an interest in evaluating a potential acquisition of Bucksport Mill.”

The author of the memo declaring Minimill’s interest in the Bucksport mill, Stephen Read, could not be reached Thursday for comment.

A lawyer for Minimill said Read submitted the memo without conferring with the company. Bucksport, state and union officials told the Bangor Daily News that they had no contact with Read — who is Cc’ed in Rajan’s letter to the judge — before or after he submitted the initial Jan. 19 memo in federal court.

In the memorandum, which was filed in court on Monday, Read identified himself to the judge as a senior advisor and development partner with Minimill. He indicated in the memo that Minimill has a “strong interest” in evaluating the Bucksport mill, which it would convert to a different type of product other than coated paper so as not to compete with Verso.

“It is our hope that we have an opportunity to evaluate a potential acquisition of the Bucksport Mill and, in doing so, would be prepared, upon consummation of a purchase transaction, to move rapidly forward with the implementation of a conversion plan that would revitalize the mill, and position it in a stable and growing sector of the industry that would ensure long-term viability and employment for the people of Bucksport, Maine, and surrounding communities,” Read said in the memo.

Rajan’s letter does not state whether Read is employed by or working with the company. A lawsuit filed in 2013 against Rajan and Minimill does identify Read as the president and CEO of the company.

Lynn Smith, a Syracusebased attorney for Minimill, said Thursday afternoon that Read, whom he described as an independent contractor, submitted the memo without first conferring with Minimill officials.

“He didn’t advise Minimill what he was doing,” Smith said. “We didn’t know about it until we read about it in the paper.”

Smith reiterated Rajan’s point in letter filed in court on Thursday that Minimill is not interested in acquiring, operating or redeveloping the Bucksport mill.

“We are on a different track,” Smith said.

Smith described Minimill as a technology consulting firm that designs, builds and reconstructs paperboard manufacturing facilities in the pulp and paper industry, including the Greenpac Mill in Niagara Falls, New York. He added that Rajan is a former executive with Solvay Paperboard.

Read’s memo and subsequent letter were filed in court as part of the record in an antitrust lawsuit that the International Association of Machinists’ union filed in federal court last month against Verso and American Iron and Metal, which has since purchased the shuttered mill for $58 million.

The union, which had about 60 members among the mill’s 500 or so employees, alleged that Verso ignored offers from other paper companies and sold the mill to the scrap-metal dealer in order to reduce competition in the North American coated paper market.

On Tuesday, Woodcock allowed the sale to go forward after he ruled that the union had not demonstrated that Verso and AIM had violated antitrust laws. The judge rejected the union’s request to block the sale, permitting AIM to take ownership of the 250-acre waterfront property.

AIM officials have indicated that, if the company has a chance to make a profit after having spent $58 million to acquire the mill, it would consider leaving it intact and re-selling it to another papermaking company.

Rosaire Pelletier, senior forest products adviser to Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, has been working at the behest of Gov. Paul LePage to try to find another paper manufacturer to acquire the mill, which shut down operations last month.

Pelletier has indicated that he has worked with two serious potential buyers for the mill, one of which submitted a formal offer to Verso and signed a confidentiality agreement that prevents that company from publicly identifying themselves.

When contacted Thursday evening, Pelletier said he has had no contact either with Read or with Minimill officials.

Pelletier declined to comment further about the confusion over the company’s interest in the shuttered Bucksport mill.

John Carr, spokesman for the machinists’ union, said Thursday that the confusion was “unfortunate” and said that the union also has not had any contact with Read or Minimill about the Bucksport facility.

On Thursday evening, Derik Goodine, Bucksport’s town manager, said the lack of interest from Minimill, after their apparent interest three days ago, was a “letdown.” He said the confusion does not help soothe the nerves of the hundreds of former millworkers who lost their jobs at the end of December.

“I mean, really, these are hard-working people that just want to make paper, and this is a very unfortunate event,” Goodine said.

The town manager said despite the clarification from Minimill, he still has hope that another company, such as Kejriwal Singapore International or Fibre Technologies Inc., each of which also submitted court letters expressing a possible interest in acquiring the mill, will get the chance to evaluate the property and make a promising offer.

FOR MORE, see Bangor Daily News at www.bangordailynews.com



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