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Newton Falls Fine Paper working on restart plan

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NEWTON FALLS — Newton Falls Fine Paper could know within months whether it will reopen.

“We have most of the pieces in place we need to potentially reopen the mill, but there are several boards that need to make decisions before any reopening plan can be announced. I can’t give you any dates, but almost every hour of the day my team and myself are working on the restart plan. The plan includes a significant partner, along with new product lines and a completely different plant from what we had before,” President Scott C. Travers said. “Those negotiations with a significant pulp and paper entity are taking place now. We hope to have things concluded in the next month or so.”

Mr. Travers declined to name the potential partner or whether there was more than one.

“We’re under a confidentiality agreement,” he said. “I can’t elaborate more on that.”

The mill shut down in mid-December 2010, putting 83 of the plant’s 101 employees out of work, because of poor sales brought on by a recession that has reduced advertising that uses fine paper, a growing trend toward electronic readers such as the Kindle and a general oversupply of paper. Mr. Travers would not identify what Newton Falls might make if it reopens but it will not rely on fine paper.

“That market is still troubled, as we’ve seen NewPage in Nova Scotia close down and is on the auction block right now. They’re our competitor and they can’t make a go of it,” said Mr. Travers, who is also president of Minas Basin Pulp & Power in Hantsport, Nova Scotia. “Our business plan is so methodical it’s taken a year to bring to this level. There’s no sense making something that’s just marginal. We’re trying to build a whole new company.”

Hope that the mill will reopen recently received a boost when the region won $103 million in a statewide economic development competition, including $10 million for improvements on the Newton Falls rail line, owned by the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency, which serves the paper mill.

“The rail line represents a very significant addition for both incoming and outgoing freight,” Mr. Travers said. “We met with the governor and lieutenant governor some time back. They certainly understood the importance of that. We’re not operating the rail line. We were the securing element on the end of the line. If they’re investing that kind of money in the rail line, they certainly believe in our rebirth. I’m hoping so.”

The plant has shown its good faith toward a reopening by investing in $1.5 million worth of equipment this year.

Reopening the mill will involve the retooling of machines and installation of a biomass boiler.

“There’s a significant investment to both paper machines and an investment in our energy needs so we can remove our dependency on hydrocarbons,” Mr. Travers said. “There’s the potential for both paper machines to be working.”

Mr. Travers said he appreciated the support of community leaders, among them Dierdre K. Scozzafava, state deputy secretary of state for local government; state Agriculture & Markets Commissioner Darrel J. Aubertine, formerly a state senator; state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton; Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, and Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa.

“The commitment by the state is serious and there’s a high level of interest,” Mr. Travers said. “The state and USDA are doing what they can in a supporting way to arrive at a win-win relationship.”

Mr. Travers also acknowledged the continued support of those who live in the area.

“We have a sincere appreciation of them with the understanding it’s the backbone of their community,” Mr. Travers said. “We want to see the community thrive.”

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