Gov. Paul LePage said his message to Verso Paper Corp. executives is to “get out of the state of Maine” and echoed allegations from one of the millworkers’ unions that the company sold the mill for scrap to prevent competition.
“Get out of the state of Maine,” LePage said Thursday morning in response to a reporter’s question. “Those people had an opportunity to sell that mill and keep that mill going and they sold it to a company that’s going to dismantle it so they don’t have competition. I’m sorry, I’ve been in that industry… I spent 18 years doing it — they’re not good for the state of Maine.”
LePage made a similar statement to the media after a talk delivered Wednesday to the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Bill Cohen, a spokesman for Verso, said the company did not have a response to the governor’s allegations or the request that Verso leave the state.
“No, we’re not going to respond to that,” Cohen said in a telephone interview.
In a federal lawsuit, lawyers representing the machinists union at the recenlty closed Verso paper mill in Bucksport alleged that the company has conspired with AIM to demolish its Bucksport plant and other facilities around the country to reduce competition in the market for paper used in magazines and catalogs, which has been on the decline in North America.
As that lawsuit moved ahead, the Department of Justice gave Verso clearance to purchase its larger competitor, NewPage, for $1.4 billion, but it did not include the Bucksport sale in that antitrust review. The union argued that was a mistake.
With that purchase, NewPage sold its Rumford mill. The combined company operates a mill in Jay that employs about 860 people.
Cohen said the company is working to close the sale of its Bucksport mill to AIM but that it is not yet complete.
The governor has explored other avenues for slowing or blocking the sale of the mill, writing letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Maine Public Utilities Commission raising concerns about AIM taking over operation of power generation assets.
AIM said in court filings that it has hired Consolidated Asset Management Services LLC to oversee operation of the 303 megawatts of power generation in Bucksport.
The mill closure resulted in about 500 layoffs. Around 70 people are still employed operating the mill’s power generation assets. AIM agreed to buy the mill and power generation assets for $58 million, which was challenged by the machinists union in court.
A federal judge earlier this week turned down the union’s antitrust complaints. In advance of that ruling, numerous companies stated they would be interested in looking over the mill and would consider buying it, but the judge said those letters, even if submitted as sworn affidavits, would not have had a bearing on the court ruling.
U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock wrote the same of letters from LePage and economic development official Rosaire Pelletier, a former manager at Fraser Papers in Madawaska who focuses on the forest products industry for the Department of Economic and Community Development.
“The Court respects and appreciates the contents of the Governor’s and Mr. Pelletier’s letters, but neither, even if true, changes the merits of the pending motion,” Woodcock wrote. “As regards the letters from prospective buyers, each is an expression of interest, not an offer, and each is too vague to change the facts upon which the Court must base its Order. Even if these letters were submitted in affidavit form, they would not change the Court’s decision.”
The union this week asked the court to reconsider a separate part of their lawsuit dealing with severance pay.