Bill signed into law to help redevelop closed mills

By Jordan Bailey | Jun 16, 2017
Photo by: Jordan Bailey The former Verso Paper mill in Bucksport, one of four paper mills on the Penobscot River to close in the past decade, stands partially demolished June 16. When it closed in December 2014, 570 jobs were lost.

An emergency bill to support the redevelopment of closed factories and mills in rural Maine became law June 12.

Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, sponsored the bill that created a new program within the Maine Rural Development Authority to provide technical assistance and grants for redevelopment and marketing of shuttered industrial and manufacturing facilities. A list of rural industrial and manufacturing sites eligible for assistance will be maintained by the MRDA and the Department of Economic and Community Development.

From 2009 to 2016, the closure of six pulp, paper and paperboard mills, four of which were on the Penobscot River, resulted in the loss of 2,554 jobs in the state, according to the Center for Workforce Research and Information.

Lindsay Crete, communications director for Maine House Democrats, said the bill was introduced as emergency legislation so communities could start to use the new Rural Manufacturing and Industrial Site Redevelopment Program as soon as possible.

“It can be really devastating when a heritage industry closes in rural Maine, and this will help alleviate some of that,” she said.

Herbig said during a committee hearing that the bill was inspired by Belfast’s turnaround after closure of its chicken processing plants and shoe factories brought down the local economy. Herbig met with her hometown’s city manager and economic development director and learned that the city’s transformation was achieved through the collaboration of experts and community members “to leverage what we had and modernize what makes us proud to live in Belfast in the first place,” she said.

“For example, we created green spaces, cleaned up and invested in our local downtown infrastructure and worked with current and incoming businesses to ensure we were an attractive location for businesses,” she said. “(This bill) would mimic that idea for other rural Maine towns.”

The bill passed the House June 8 and the Senate June 9 with the required two-thirds majorities, without roll-call votes, and was signed by the governor June 12.

Editors note: A previous version of this story misstated the amount of funding the Rural Manufacturing and Industrial Site Redevelopment Program would receive. The bill was amended to fund the program with existing Rural Development Authority funds.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Harold Richardson | Jun 19, 2017 15:04

I've only had my home in Belfast since 2005 so I got here after all the work done by MBNA.  The first five years I was here though, not much was happening.  The last 10 years or so the Council, City Mgr. and others have had an enormous impact on economic development and making this a real attractive place to visit.  I've never heard any of them take credit for all that MBNA did years ago and I don't think any of the principals were involved with any of the issues in Mr. Marshall's letter.  Maybe long past time to let some of that go Mr. Marshall.  It would have been easier for them to have done nothing because there are a lot of naysayers here whether the issue was the footbridge, harbor walk,dog park or rail trail and it's amenities like those that attract new business and investment. During the last ten years, the city managed to do these things despite just crushing increases in the school tax rate.  I give the Belfast city officials a lot of credit for not sitting on their hands and building on the incredible gifts to the area by MBNA.

Posted by: John E Marshall | Jun 19, 2017 10:55

I'm sorry to intrude reality into Ms Herbig's kumbiyah theory of economic development in Belfast but it doesn't match history. The then City Manager, Arlo Redman learned that Camden had refused MBNA's expansion plans. He convinced the MBNA CEO Charlie Cawley that Belfast would welcome them to the intersection of Routes 1 and 3.  MBNA then bought the waterfront site occupied by long abandoned chicken processing plants and gave them to the City. Being too impatient to wait for the City to float a bond issue for clean-up, MBNA then paid to clean the site and created the park. That was not based on community input and planning but on the Mr Cawley's personal philanthropic commitments. The City Council repaid Mr Redman by illegally firing him for which Belfast had to pay him significant damages. Mr Cawley lost  his job for not maximizing shareholder value. At the time I was Chair of the Belfast Planning Board and I can attest that not everyone in Belfast welcomed the coming of MBNA. There was more contention than the cooperation that Ms Herbig ascribes. Her legislation is good but MBNA is gone.

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Jordan M Bailey
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Jordan Bailey has been working for The Republican Journal since 2013. She studied philosophy at Boston College and has experience in marine science education and journalism. She lives in Belfast.


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