Maine legislative leaders from both parties and Gov. Paul LePage emerged from a meeting Tuesday with contrasting comments on dealing with the pending closure of the Madison Paper Industries mill and other challenges to the state’s forest-products industry.

In a letter sent to legislative leaders, LePage asked lawmakers to welcome more capital investments and to help create a pro-business atmosphere.

“When is the Legislature going to wake up?” he wrote. “I’ve been saying it for years: High energy costs, high taxes and more onerous regulations from special interest groups are killing the jobs Mainers so desperately need.”

Madison Paper’s owners, UPM-Kymmene Inc. and Northern SC Paper Corp., had announced the May closure in a news release Monday, citing a decline in demand for supercalendered paper, the glossy magazine paper made at the mill.

The mill’s future remains unclear. Rosaire Pelletier, a forest products industry liaison for the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, said in an interview Tuesday that he has discussed the closure with mill officials, who said they did not want to sell the mill to a competitor who would also make supercalendered paper.

Russ Drechsel, president and CEO of Madison Paper Industries, did not return calls seeking comment Monday or Tuesday. In Monday’s news release, the company said it plans to sell the 27-megawatt hydropower generation facility associated with the mill but made no reference to the papermaking machinery or the mill itself.

Madison will become the fifth paper mill across the state to close in the past two years, a situation that U.S. Sen. Susan Collins called an “economic crisis” Tuesday and that U.S. Sen. Angus King likened to a force of nature, an economic “hurricane.” After Madison closes, there will be just six operating paper mills left in Maine.

At Tuesday’s meeting in Augusta, LePage told legislators the Maine Department of Labor’s rapid-response team had been sent to Madison to help the affected workers plan for the mill’s closure.

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, said in a written statement afterward that they were encouraged to discuss the issues with LePage but they remain concerned about the future of the 214 mill workers who will lose their jobs.

“Unfortunately, the governor offered little in the way of constructive ideas and instead used the meeting as an opportunity to rant and rave about how the Legislature doesn’t like his ideas about taxes and energy,” Eves said in the statement. “The governor pointing fingers doesn’t save jobs or ensure that families can put food on their tables. While the Legislature continues to pass bipartisan measures to stem this economic crisis without the governor, we must do more. Our mill workers and their families deserve better.”

After the meeting, House Republicans released their own statement, in which Rep. Brad Farrin of Norridgewock said he was surprised that Eves and McCabe “would characterize the meeting as unproductive and attack the governor.”

“When the meeting broke, it seemed that we had made some progress on a few issues and were planning to meet again to further the discussion,” Farrin said. “We need to focus our work on passing policies that make Maine more business-friendly in order to compete nationally. We must lower the corporate income tax rate, lower energy costs and promote proper forestry management and tree growth here in Maine if we hope to stop this trend and attract businesses and job growth to Somerset County and all across Maine.”

Sen. Rod Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, who represents District 3, which includes Madison, said in a written statement that he was pleased with the meeting and “we shouldn’t make this political, but we must have real policy discussions about lowering taxes and energy costs.”

“What I don’t want to get lost in the crossfire of policy debate is the difficult time the employees and their families are going through as they deal with this news,” Whittemore said.

Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, also released a statement, saying he was pleased the governor had convened the gathering.

“The hundreds of families staring down unemployment because of the Madison mill closure, and all the others who will be affected, don’t need politics,” Alfond said. “They need Augusta focused (on) keeping Mainers at work and helping Maine’s manufacturing sector thrive.”

One local manufacturer, Cousineau Wood Products, which makes laminated gun stocks in Anson and has been expanding over the past few years, expressed sympathy Tuesday on Facebook for the workers facing layoffs and invited Madison employees to apply for jobs.

The company has openings now for an inventory and data specialist and for first- and second-shift press operators. It is looking to add 25 to 50 jobs by the end of the year, Vice President Brody Cousineau said in an interview Tuesday.

“I’ve called a couple of state senators and left messages to see if there’s help out there for capital projects, grants or something to that effect,” Cousineau said. “We have the business. We just need help getting everything set up.”

Meanwhile, Scott Daubenberger of Madison recalled the text message he received from a co-worker Monday morning telling him that the Madison mill would be closing and they would both be losing their jobs.

“We are done,” the message said.

His 8-year-old granddaughter celebrated the news, happy that she would have more time to spend with her “Grump,” or grandfather. But for Daubenberger, his wife and his son Patrick – who also works at the mill – the message was harder to process.

“We’ll all get through it, but it’s going to be tough,” said Daubenberger, 52, who has worked there for 11 years. “We’ve lost our jobs, and they were very good-paying jobs.”


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