Bright Future for Old Town
by Ramona du Houx
Not many workers previously
employed at the Georgia-Pacific mill thought about the tremendous potential for
Maines economic growth when the announcement was made regarding the transformation
of the mill site last September. After months of worry and doubt, most were just excited
and relieved that there would be employment at the site with retraining provided.
The reality is that with the
governors announcement Old Town is poised to become a leader in the production of
Most people are not aware
that biotechnology now offers ways to dramatically increase ethanol production and bring
down fuel prices, said Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) President and CEO
Jim Greenwood in a statement.
If America is to deal
with the problem of high fuel prices, we must develop and scale up a less expensive
domestic fuel supply, and ethanol is the best, most readily available solution.
BIO represents more than 1,100
biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers, and related
organizations across the United States and 31 other nations.
Researchers have discovered
new enzymes that can convert cellulose to sugars which are then fermented into ethanol.
These advances in biotechnology now make production of ethanol from cellulose
cost-competitive with gasoline.
One recent study shows that
biotech processes already being used today could produce ethanol from cellulose for less
than $1.60 a gallon. The likelihood of gasoline ever dropping below $2.00 a gallon is not
realistic. In fact analysts are predicting increases this winter.
According to a Natural
Resources Defense Council report, improvements to the process through research and
development (R&D) underway, coupled with expanded production, promise to reduce the
cost of ethanol from cellulose to below 90 cents per gallon. Some of that R&D is
happening right here in Maine at the University of Orono.
Their biotech center recently
received a $10.35 million grant to conduct research on using wood to make ethanol, green
plastics, industrial chemicals, and other products now made with oil. The three-year grant
consists of $6.9 million from the National Science Foundation and another $3.45 million in
matching money from the State of Maine.
president of Tamarack Energy, Edward Paslawski, chairman and CEO of Red Shield
Environmental, LLC and of Hallowell International, LLC., and Michael Caron, president of
Lamtec Inc., are the first businesses in the cellulose-based biofuel business park in Old
Town that will help transform the former mill site.
UMO researchers will help
companies at the new business park develop products that could be made from wood
Not only will we help you
make the gas you can pump at the gas station, we will help you make the polyesters and
plastics from the wood, said UM Professor Hemant Pendse, chairman of the
universitys Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. Pendse oversees the
He explained that students
many of whom became employees at the GP mill and researchers have been
working to develop biotechnology for years at UMO and have the knowledge that should help
make the biotech park successful.
A lot of people
dont realize the skills and ability we have that make us unique, said Pendse.
This bio-refinery park will be using the latest industrial biotechnology to produce
ethanol from cellulose, and we will do it in a smart way ... I believe people all over the
world are going to look to see how we managed to do this transition successfully. We are
going to put Maine back on the map.
Cellulosic ethanol can be
produced from a wide variety of feedstocks, including agricultural plant wastes, plant
wastes from industrial processes (sawdust, paper pulp), as well as energy crops such as
switchgrass. Even paper sludge can be converted to ethanol.
is to develop the energy infrastructure of the site. Our intention is to develop a
state-of-the-art energy park, said Edward Paslawski, chairman and CEO of Red Shield
Environmental, LLC and of Hallowell International, LLC.
existing biomass plant will be the central component. Over time we will bring in
facilities such as an ethanol plant, a biodiesel plant, a bio-oil plant and a biogas
plant. These plants use feedstocks, like wood, that come from the regional economy. So
instead of shipping dollars outside the region that would stimulate jobs elsewhere, we
will be able to keep those dollars here in the region.
Included in the
sale were the four wood-chip facilities run by GP, which will provide additional
This is a
leading edge project, and as an environmental project its absolutely what we must do
as a state and a nation, said Paslawski.
marks the first time a closed pulp and paper mill in Maine has been reused for new
state-of-the-art production that will transition employment opportunities, create new
industry and stabilize the employment and tax base of the community, said Governor
of Economic and Community Development has been researching the viability of a biofuel,
bio-refinery, renewable-energy, business-park facility for the past three years, seeking
technological advice from the Rumford Fractionation Development Center (FDC).
The FDC is a
Rumford-based organization promoting biomass conversion technologies and predicts that
biofuel could eventually account for the majority of the fuel used in Maine annually. If
the state followed the FDC blueprint, we would use 50 percent biofuels for fuel annually.
The 18-month study was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Maine Technology
Institute. The center calls for construction of 50 bioconversion plants in the state
during the next 15 to 20 years, paid for largely by private energy companies. Scott
Christiansen, the centers executive director, said the Old Town site is the
The site will
be transformed into a state-of-the-art, cellulose-based biofuel facility with a goal of
having four or five different manufacturers employing 1,000-plus workers.
GP with its
wood-chip facilities previously employed 459 people. The closed mills new business
park operations will help transform the area into a 21st century economic hub. Pine Tree
Zone economic tax incentives helped the businesses decide to locate in Old Town.
Environmental will develop and manage the site, financing the operation of the biomass
boiler. Other companies will lease space from Red Shield.
residents of the business park will be: Tamarack Energy, a developer of renewable energy,
who will serve as the engineering developer for the biomass boiler operation. Hallowell
International, LLC of Bangor, a low-temperature heat-pump manufacturer, plans to continue
to make residential heat pumps at their Bangor facility and commercial and industrial
heaters in Old Town. Portland-based Lamtec Inc. makes peel-and-stick labels. Its goal is
to hire 50 people the first year and employ 400 workers by the second year.
Baldacci talks to Old Town residents about the news.
to be part of this historic operation because we believe in it and in what the governor is
doing, transitioning industry for the new economy, said Michael Caron, Lamtecs
president, who grew up in Old Town.
The GP mill
almost closed three and a half years ago. The efforts of the governor then to add a
biomass boiler helped the facility stay in business, but last March GP announced its
intention to shut down. At the insistence of the governor, they worked with him to find a
buyer. After months of negotiations, they declined any offers. Thats when Jack
Cashman of the Department of Economic and Community Development brought the new business
park concept forward, which he had been working on with the governor.
door closed, another door opened, said Baldacci.
The majority of
the former GP workers average age is 51, and most of them have worked at the mill
since they graduated from high school.
great-grandfather, my grandfather, my father and I all worked at the mill. This is a new
beginning a fresh start for Old Town, said Dan Bird, vice president of Local
80 of the papermakers union, who worked in conjunction with the local career center to
help transition workers. Bird was also recently hired by Red Shield.
Under the new
agreement, former GP workers will be offered employment by the new companies before the
jobs are advertised. In the meantime the state is offering guidance, training, and
DirigoChoice health insurance.
DirigoChoice has helped a lot of families. Right now were working to make sure the
transition is as seamless as possible, said Bird. Old Town can be compared to
what Orono was like before the university came to town. In time, thousands of people will
be employed here. The future is exciting.
workforce will far exceed the former paper making facility, said Commissioner
Cashman. This is cutting-edge technology that has worldwide applications.
Cashman is from
Old Town and holds a special place for the community in his heart. I remember long
ago a factory shut down, and the governor at the time didnt do anything. Not this
governor. Hes fought hard for mills throughout the state, and it hasnt been an
easy process, but he does it. Hes determined to do the best for the people of the
The state will
work with the new companies to get people back to work as soon as possible. By the end of
the year, its projected that 200 workers will be employed.
committed $50,000 from the governors contingency fund to provide training money for
the former GP workers, to prepare them for new careers.
community doesnt take no for an answer. Everyone worked together extremely well to
bring us to where we are today, said Baldacci, who continued on to praise the
workers for their patience throughout the process, as well as the union officials and peer
support workers for their efforts.
people back to work, getting the economy going and seeing people become secure again, is
what its all about. These are good jobs in a future industry that has long-term
governors determination throughout the process since last March has made this
happen, said Town Manager Peggy Daigle. I know its been a difficult
process with the twists and turns in the negotiations. Without his efforts, and Jack
Cashmans, this would be a very different day. I cant say enough about their
efforts for the community. Now we are all looking forward to an exciting, stable future
for Old Town.
Were making Old Town the example town for every small industry town in the
state, said Rep. Richard Blanchard.
Transforming these pulp and paper industries to increase their diversification,
making them more viable, is something we hope to see all over the state. Old Town will
become a showcase model. Its the first one in the state of Maine its
not the last one, said the governor. The future is bright.
future will see Old Town producing gas made from ethanol, plastic products made from
biotechnology sold worldwide, and Maines economy benefiting from transforming the GP
former mill site into a state-of-the-art, cellulose-based, biofuel business park.