(Opinion) To disposal district: reconsider landfill gas decision

We need support from lawmakers and residents to support the stabilization of operations at the White Mountain Paper Company

What is good for the North Country is good for all of New Hampshire. That’s why we’ve been fortunate in the past to garner support from lawmakers and residents to support the stabilization of operations at the White Mountain Paper Company.

However, the recent decision of Androscoggin Valley Regional Refuse Disposal District to proceed with two out-of-state groups for the use of the landfill gas — and not a local business whose proposal would support long-term jobs and future growth — is incredibly damaging.

When the Androscoggin disposal district won’t prioritize North Country employers, what message does this send to the rest of the state and those thinking of investing in our local economy? How is the North Country supposed to attract and encourage investment in our community and people when we don’t support it once it comes?

As background, many of us are longtime employees of the Gorham Mill, now known as White Mountain Paper, and some have worked at the mill under multiple former ownerships. Prior to the mill’s acquisition by Behrens Investment Group at the end of 2020, we worked under the constant threat of bankruptcy, concerned about if we would have jobs come the following week.

We tried to operate effectively in an environment that lacked investment, depleted the mill of spare parts and related infrastructure, and did not value relationships within the community. It was a challenging landscape where a path to success was never visible.

Under the ownership of Evan Behrens and his investors, we have witnessed firsthand the commitment that has been made to the mill and, by extension, the community. And it is an outcome we did not think we would ever see.

Since the acquisition, the ownership has invested millions of dollars to address years of neglect and deferred projects that have been critical for the mill to stabilize and run properly. More so, apart from the meaningful capital investment, this ownership has prioritized investment in its people.

To date, they have offered trainings to current employees, developed an apprenticeship program to develop a pipeline of future mill workers, and brought industry specific and on-site practical trainings to the mill. These are opportunities for advancement and betterment that our employees have never had access to before.

While we love our community, we can all recognize that it is hard to do business in the North Country. Businesses face some of the highest energy costs in the country, outdated infrastructure, limited transportation and an aging workforce with many younger workers leaving the area. Despite these challenges, Behrens Investment Group has made a meaningful investment in our community.

We have witnessed the implementation by ownership of a comprehensive plan to stabilize paper-making in the North Country, preserve jobs and position the mill for sustainable future growth.

Use of the landfill gas from Androscoggin disposal district was always a part of this plan. Initially the landfill gas was to be used to operate the mill’s boilers, but when the district issued a request-for-proposal late last year to solicit bids for the gas, we saw the opportunity to diversify the mill and bring a renewable natural gas project to the property.

As a longtime customer and partner to the district, the mill is in a unique position to develop the gas: It’s already connected to the landfill and to the natural gas pipeline; it has a team of skilled workers on site; and it has plenty of unused industrial property. Importantly, this new project would act as a natural hedge to the vicious natural gas cycle that the mill and everyone in the North Country faces each winter.

This project would complement our paper-making operations, create cost-sharing opportunities between Androscoggin disposal district and the mill, and generate revenues that could be reinvested and facilitate future growth and expansion. By deepening a partnership between two North Country institutions, it supports the important missions and jobs of each.

We urge district to reconsider the decision not to shortlist the mill. We know that, given the chance, we can be a strong and competitive partner. This project would be transformative for the mill and, as an anchor employer in the area, represent meaningful economic development for our community.

It would help ensure that White Mountain Paper continues to operate for years to come, providing jobs that people take pride in and a tax base for the community.

White Mountain Paper employees are part of USW Local 75 and represent approximately 75 households in the North Country.

Categories: Opinion