JAY — Verso Corp.’s announcement Tuesday that the Androscoggin Mill would idle a key papermaking machine and lay off 190 employees sent shock waves through the community and the state over the prospect of another struggling Maine mill on the edge and hundreds of jobs on the line.

By midday, news of the layoffs – amounting to about one-third of the mill’s workforce – had cemented an uneasy and all-too-familiar feeling of uncertainty for this town of about 5,000 people, which is still reeling from 300 layoffs at the mill a year ago.

“It’s definitely going to hurt. The mill is our bread and butter,” Jay native Deana LeSuer said Tuesday while working the counter at her parents’ business, Riverside Kwik Stop, which is just down the road from the Verso mill.

Tennessee-based Verso, which just emerged from bankruptcy three months ago and has about 560 employees, said in a news release Tuesday morning that the Androscoggin Mill will idle the No. 3 paper machine temporarily, reducing annual coated-paper production capacity by about 200,000 tons. That reduction is scheduled for early next year, the company said.

Verso said it will “continue to evaluate market conditions to determine if and when the No. 3 paper machine” at the Jay mill should be restarted.

The layoffs add to a string of setbacks for Maine’s paper industry. Five mills have closed in the past two years – including the Madison Paper mill this spring, putting more than 200 people out of work – and more than 2,300 workers have lost their jobs since 2011 as the industry reels from declining global demand for paper. In 2014, Verso closed its Bucksport mill, eliminating 500 jobs.


Workers outside the mill Tuesday afternoon declined to comment.

A wood hauler leaving the mill, Ed Edmondson, had not heard a lot of information about the layoffs. Edmondson said he has lost $20,000 this year since cutbacks at the mill resulted in his deliveries going from an average of 20 loads per week to five per week.

“This is not good,” he said.


Lloyd Irland, a Maine-based forest products industry consultant, called Verso’s layoffs a blow to the industry, but said it’s not unheard of for mills to restart idled machines.

“Sometimes to ensure long-term viability you have to shut down things that are bleeding cash and don’t show an obvious prospect for turnaround,” Irland said. “The hard part is, how long do you hold out hope?”


Coated paper like the kind made on the No. 3 machine is used for catalogs and newspaper inserts. Once No. 3 is idled, the mill will have just two operating machines – one for coated paper and another for specialty paper. If the No. 3 machine isn’t restarted, the 190 jobs likely will be eliminated.

“It’s critical to Verso’s long-term success that we balance the supply of our products with our customers’ demand for them, and we currently have more coated paper capacity in our mill system than we can fill,” Michael A. Weinhold, Verso’s senior vice president for sales, marketing and product development, said in a written statement Tuesday. “Verso made the decision to temporarily idle the No. 3 paper machine and transition the machine’s production to lower-cost machines in our manufacturing system to help us stay ahead of the curve and move the entire company toward sustained profitability.”

Weinhold said the company’s human resources staff would immediately start meeting with affected employees.


Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, was disappointed to learn about the layoffs, but said he was not surprised by the announcement. In addition to the 190 mill workers, Saviello said he is concerned about the trickle-down effect that people such as Edmondson are seeing as a result of mill production cutbacks.

“It’s going to ripple through the economy of the area,” Saviello said.


The Professional Logging Contractors of Maine echoed that concern Tuesday, saying in a written statement that the Jay mill’s actions “will immediately hurt hundreds of loggers across Maine.”

Because the value of Verso’s mill has declined, Jay’s property tax rate increased from $17.25 to $21.10 in 2016, said Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere.

With the first payments on tax bills due last month, LaFreniere said Tuesday’s news came as a “punch in the stomach” to the town, which is still coping with previous mill turmoil.

“We were hoping that with the changes they made last year, the downsizing they had done and going through the bankruptcy and coming out of that, that maybe that would put them in a better position so we wouldn’t be facing (layoffs) again so soon,” she said.

Verso entered bankruptcy protection in January, emerging six months later after shedding $2.4 billion in debt and closing its mill in Kentucky.

The company announced at the time that it would increasingly focus on the production of specialty papers for food packaging and labels. Almost half of the 450,000 tons of paper currently produced at the Androscoggin Mill is the coated paper used for catalogs and magazines. Specialty papers only make up 12 percent of its production volume, according to Verso financial filings.


Former Verso mill employee Cindy Naaykens, of Wilton, is skeptical about how much longer the mill will remain viable with its trend of shutting down machines. Naaykens was one of the roughly 300 people laid off late in 2015.

“(The mill) is kind of down to basically nothing,” Naaykens said Tuesday. “That mill used to have five machines running. If they go down to two, it’s not going to be the most profitable mill.”


Sen. Angus King was traveling Tuesday in Maine when he heard about the layoffs.

“It’s a shame and I hope they’re going to be able to bring those people back,” King said during a made-in-Maine tour of manufacturing plants in Somerset County. “Usually those decisions are based on demand for the product, and I know that demand for coated paper is way down worldwide, but I don’t know the specifics of this one.”

LaFreniere, the town manager, said that after the last round of Verso layoffs, the town worked with the state Department of Labor to put together a resource fair for those who needed assistance.

As a town, LaFreniere said, officials will continue to do what they can to help.

“We do have a close-knit community. I think the people want to help each other out, and sometimes it’s hard to know how to do that,” she said. “It’s one of those things. How do you help people?”


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