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For Jay, a mill closure raises questions about the community's future

Susan Sharon
Maine Public
A file photo of the paper mill in the town of Jay, when it was formerly owned by Verso Corporation.

With Tuesday's announcement that the Pixelle paper mill in Jay will close next year, town officials are turning their attention to the roughly 230 employees who are expected to lose their jobs.

Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere said she's heard talk about the mill closing for the last 25 years. The community has been on a roller-coaster ride ever since, as the paper industry experienced its highs and lows, and the pulp digester exploded at the mill back in 2020.

"It's definitely been — for the community, for the people that work there, for everyone — a ride that nobody wants to be on," LaFreniere said in an interview with Maine Public.

Jay employees will receive one week of severance pay for every year of service, a Pixelle spokesman said Tuesday. In addition, the company will subsidize employees’ COBRA insurance benefits for four months for those who stay at the mill until it closes.

The company has also said that it will offer jobs at other Pixelle mills to Jay employees who are willing to relocate.

Jay will explore whether it can host job fairs or training for those employees, programs that LaFreniere said the town deployed when layoffs occurred at the Androscoggin mill in the past.

The mill closure raises a whole host of other questions. She wonders, for example, whether the mill will be left in good condition, and how environmental concerns about its landfill and lagoon will be addressed.

The mill is expected to close some time in the first quarter of 2023, though Pixelle Specialty Solutions said Tuesday it had not set a specific date.

"What is their closure process look like?" LaFreniere said. "What are their plans for the facility? Are they trying to market it? Is there interest from anybody else? Are there companies that would be looking it at? Is there anything that we can do as far as that side goes?"

The closure also raises questions about the town's ability to serve its residents, as the mill accounted for 22% of Jay's tax base. LaFreniere said she expects the town will apply for state assistance.