A massive explosion at the Androscoggin Mill last week left the paper mill unable to produce pulp, which it requires to make paper. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

There is at least a chance that owners of the Jay mill that sustained a major explosion last week may decide to keep making paper there while they figure out what to do over the long haul, industry insiders said.

The part of the Androscoggin Mill that makes pulp was mostly or entirely destroyed, officials said, but the machinery that turns pulp into paper was largely untouched by the blast. But without pulp, the mill can’t make paper.

While the Pennsylvania-based Pixelle Specialty Solutions quietly weighs its options, others are pointing out that it could perhaps work out a deal with competitors ND Paper in Rumford and Sappi in Skowhegan and Westbrook to truck in pulp for its papermaking lines.

Former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine said during a radio interview this week that he spoke with executives at all three companies. They’re talking about the possibility, he said.

Eric Kingsley, vice president of Innovative Natural Resource Solutions, which has offices in Portland and Antrim, New Hampshire, said Wednesday that the entire industry is speculating about what could occur, but it “makes a lot of sense” for Pixelle to buy pulp in Maine that would allow the use of its papermaking machinery.

Kingsley said he has no personal knowledge of what occurred at the mill, but he’s heard that one of its two digesters was destroyed but the other might be repairable, though it’s not clear it would be worth doing.

Poliquin said during his WVOM radio interview that he was told both digesters are ruined. They are like giant pressure cookers that turn wood chips into pulp with a mix of heat, water and chemicals.

Without the digesters, the company can’t produce its own pulp.

“You gotta have pulp,” as Poliquin put it.

Pixelle, which did not respond to questions Wednesday, said last week that a digester “was significantly damaged and as a result the mill will be unable to produce pulp for a significant period.”

“We are not in a position to estimate the exact timing of restarting any part of the mill,” it said.

Kingsley said the Jay mill has two basic operations that are connected by a pipe. One makes the pulp. The other makes the paper.

The reality is there are paper mills that don’t make their own pulp. In fact, Pixelle owns four specialty paper mills, including the one in Jay, and only three of them also make pulp.

None of its pulp-making operations are anywhere near Maine, though, so shipping its own pulp to Jay is probably too costly, experts said.

Poliquin said the Jay mill has some pulp available, but once it runs out, it would have no means to make more.

Kingsley said there “are folks in Maine” who can sell it to Pixelle.

Roxie Lassetter, human resources manager at the mill, hinted at the talks with other producers last week when she said Pixelle is “exploring options to resume paper machine operations as soon as possible to serve our customers.”

Its only option for resuming operations is to get pulp from somewhere, either from one of its plants in the Midwest or from another company.

Both Poliquin and Kingsley said they don’t know whether the mill has insurance that could potentially pay for new digesters at the mill. Both said if there is money paid out, the company will have to decide what makes financial sense for it.

It may decide to invest it in the mill in Jay, but it can use the cash for whatever it wants.

“A lot of it depends on the new owners,” Poliquin said.

Poliquin, who represented the area in Congress from 2014 to 2018, said that’s a good reason to make the case to Pixelle that Maine is a good place for its investment.

He said there are a lot of people whose livelihood depends on the decision, including the 500 workers at the mill, but also many land owners where trees are grown, forest managers, harvesters, truckers and more.

Kingsley said that while everything is sorted at the mill and financially, Pixelle is unlikely to make any long-term decision. It’s just too early to know much, he said.

Investigators from the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are looking into the cause of the explosion, which sent debris far into the sky and left a tangled mess of machinery in its wake.

Poliquin said he was told that nobody was seriously hurt, in part, because it was lunch hour when the blast took place and many employees who might have been in the area otherwise were eating at the time.

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