People in Jay, Maine, are cleaning wood fiber off roads and lawns after a large explosion at the Pixelle Paper mill.
On Wednesday afternoon, a part of the mill that produces pulp, called a digester, exploded. Luckily nobody was killed or severely injured but the potential economic damage could linger if the mill stays offline too long.
“You just took out the pulp making process of a paper mill,” said Lance Harvell, a former longtime mill worker and state legislator. “You wonder about the future of these communities.”
It’s a concern shared by the loggers, truckers and politicians across the state.
500 employees in total work at the Pixelle Androscoggin Mill, which is now temporarily shut down, as a damage assessment and an investigation into the explosion’s cause take place.
“We are deeply concerned for those, including many of our own members, whose livelihoods will be affected by this event, and we urge support for efforts to rebuild and restart the mill. The mill is a vital market for Maine loggers and truckers, and in the current already challenged economy the good jobs it supports both in the Jay area and at logging and trucking companies across Maine are vital to the future of our state's rural communities,” said Dana Doran, Executive Director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, in a statement.
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Asked about its role in the recovery of the mill, the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development said it is “working closely with officials at the mill to better understand the impact of [Wednesday’s] events. At this point, it is too early to make projections on what that impact will be.”
Thursday afternoon, Maine Gov. Janet Mills addressed the issue, saying she too had been talking directly with mill management and alluded to some parts of the mill that could be salvaged for paper making, even if pulp production could no longer continue immediately.
“We will do whatever it takes on our part to help them find another supply of pulp in an economic fashion,” said Mills. "We will do whatever it takes to keep that mill alive, bring it back to full steam, keep those people employed.”
According to Maine Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland, investigators from the state and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were at the mill on Thursday and would continue interviews with witnesses on Friday as part of work to determine a cause.