Mill Town Blue Christmas

December has been more down than up for Maine paper mills.

On the second day of the month, a bankruptcy judge approved sale of the Great Northern mill in East Millinocket to a real estate investment company, putting an end to hope that an industrial angel would emerge and resume papermaking there.

That Friday, December 5, the Verso mill in Bucksport made its last paper.  Yesterday it closed its doors, putting nearly 600 people out of work and ending an 83-year run on the east bank of the Penobscot River.

The only bright(ish) spot in the Maine paper industry this month was when a Wisconsin company bought the Old Town Fuel & Fiber mill and announced plans to re-open it, much to the relief of the 200 workers who’d been furloughed in August when it went on the auction block.

But the bad news has far outweighed the good, at least for those of us who’ve lived in mill towns, and understand that it’s more than jobs that are being lost. The reasons behind the mill closures have been analyzed at length by those far more knowledgeable than I am, and I don’t wish to get into the economic and public policy discussions here.  This post is personal.

I grew up in a paper mill town that died a slow death starting when I was a kid. I was in high school when it really began to crumble, and I got the heck out. But part of my hometown will always live within me, just as the experience of being from East Millinocket and Bucksport will remain with the kids who’ve grown up there, and are probably making plans to leave.

I’ve set my first novel, Quick Pivot, in a moribund textile mill town that’s reinventing itself. That’s happening in some other towns in Maine, notably Biddeford, Saco and Westbrook.  It’s part of the cycle of life, and I salute those who are working their heads off to revive Maine’s gritty industrial cities.

But tonight I want to honor those who walked out the doors of their longtime workplace yesterday for the last time–a week before Christmas Eve–without the promise that a severance check is in the mail. I hope readers of this blog will click this link to the Bucksport story in today’s Bangor Daily News, and watch the slide show.




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