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Maine biofuels project saves livelihood of town

January 7, 2010 - 2:21pm


Since 1860, the mill in Old Town, Maine, has been an economic mainstay of this small town. Over time, it’s been a sawmill, a soda mill, a hardwood pulp mill and a paper mill. Through all these incarnations, it has grown and evolved, and it’s provided for the workers of Old Town. The 8,000 residents have always looked to the mill as a source of pride — and income.

When the mill faltered and closed in 2006, the town’s future looked grim. But opportunities in the clean energy economy have given the employees of the mill a new life.

“It was a typical mill town depending on a single company for its tax revenue and livelihood,” says Dick Arnold, president of Red Shield Acquisition, which runs the mill under the name Old Town Fuel and Fiber.

When Dick’s company considered buying the mill in 2006, he envisioned that the future of the mill lay outside the realm of a pulp and paper mill.

“There’s really no future here making wood pulp,” he says. “Our long-term future now is based entirely on our ability to repurpose the facility and make biofuels.”

His company helped pick up the pieces after a series of recent hardships, including shutdowns and a bankruptcy, rekindling negotiations with the U.S. Department of Energy for an award to convert its wood pulp into biofuels to be used to propel jet aircraft.

Last year, the company was selected for negotiation of an award under DOE’s 2008 Integrated Biorefinery Demonstration Funding Opportunity Announcement. The award will help fund the retooling of the mill.

Dan Bird, a 30-year employee of the plant and its human resources manager, says the plant is hiring again.

“At the time of the reopening, in 2006, we established a recall list and recalled people back to jobs they once held,” Dan says.

Those core manufacturing jobs spur growth outside the company, allowing people to spend in the local economy again and to stimulate job growth elsewhere.

Prior to the shutdown, the mill produced mountains of tissue and napkins. Now, the mill that once looked doomed produces the clean energy that will fuel the future for not only this small town in Maine, but all of America.