Thursday, June 21, 2007

Domtar paper machine to halt again

Domtar paper machine to halt again
By Diana Graettinger
Wednesday, June 20, 2007 - Bangor Daily News

BAILEYVILLE — For the third time this year, the Domtar Inc. pulp and paper mill, Washington County’s largest employer, announced Tuesday that it is shutting down its paper machine.

The move will idle about 90 employees indefinitely. The mill, which dates to 1906, has about 500 workers.

The company blamed the latest shutdown on poor market conditions.

"We will run through the 24th [of June], and we will conclude on the 25th," Domtar spokesman Scott Beal said Tuesday.

The cut-size operation, which cuts large rolls of paper into 8½-by-11-inch sheets, went down around June 4.

So far there is no announced restart date for the paper machine, but Beal cautioned that the company wasn’t saying there would be no return to production.

In previous shutdowns, some workers have been kept on board to do maintenance. But not this time.

"We will be working hard to minimize our expenses during this period when we have one of our production machines down," Beal said.

The company will be asking employees to take vacation time if possible.

In May, the same 90 employees returned to work after being out of work for about a month. The cut-size machine was switched back on the day after Memorial Day after having been turned off April 5.

The first time the paper machine was shut down was in March. And just last November the company announced it was cutting back on production for two months because of the same market-related conditions. Production resumed in January.

The shutdown is not restricted to Domtar.

"I have read some headlines that some of our competitors are taking downtime," Beal said. "We also are seeing some of our own sister mills within Domtar. It isn’t just a localized problem in Down East Maine. I know that doesn’t do a lot to put food on the table — we understand that — but this issue is bigger than just Domtar."

Town Manager Scott Harriman said Tuesday he was sorry to hear about the latest shutdown.

"We’re disappointed to hear the news that Domtar is going down for an indefinite period, and we hope that they will be able to get back up and running in a very short time frame," he said.

Harriman said shutdowns were difficult. "The up-and-down nature of these shutdowns [is] very tough on local people," he added.

Although the paper machine is down, the production of pulp — the raw material that Domtar ships worldwide and that is used in the papermaking process — will continue.

George "Bud" Finch, chairman of the Eastport Port Authority, said Tuesday it has been a good year for shipping pulp out of the port at Estes Head. As of the end of May, the port had shipped out more than 145,000 metric tons of pulp. The port expects to ship upward of 360,000 metric tons by the end of the year — a record amount, he said.

"While we recognize that the downturn in the paper industry is certainly a significant blow to the economy of Washington County, we have great hope that the global market for Domtar pulp will remain strong," Finch said.

Domtar, based in Montreal, is the third-largest producer of uncoated, free-sheet paper in North America. It is also a leading manufacturer of business papers, commercial printing and publication papers, and technical and specialty papers.

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