Three years ago, Madison Paper Industries locked the doors of its mill, putting more than 200 people out of work. It was the latest in a long string of mill closures that made Maine’s economic future look dark.
But next year the Madison mill building is scheduled to reopen — not to make paper but a new product that has never been manufactured in the United States.
This month GO Lab Inc., a Belfast-based company, finalized a deal that will allow it to manufacture insulation products out of wood fiber. GO Lab President Josh Henry projects that the company will be hiring about 125 people, giving new life to an old mill town.
The revival of manufacturing is not just good news for Madison or Somerset County. It’s a sign that the next generation of forest products is coming off the drawing board and into production. That’s good news for the whole Maine economy — and since the sustainable forest collects greenhouse gases and stores them, it’s good news for the global climate as well.
Not long before GO Lab acquired the mill building, another company, Advanced Infrastructure Technologies of Brewer, announced that it would be making wood-fiber composite bridge supports that will take the place of concrete in the construction of the new Grist Mill bridge in Hampden. This new construction material is just as strong as steel or concrete, but it’s much lighter and takes less time to install. That’s why they call it “The 72-Hour Bridge,” and the company says that reduced construction time will make wood-fiber composite the lowest-cost option in many projects.
By Grace Neumiller, Keller Leet-Otley, and Tommaso Wagner
Brown ash trees, also known as black ash, are critically endangered throughout the state of Maine. The emerald ash borer, a parasitic beetle that has already killed ash trees across the United States, was first detected in Maine last May — several years before it was anticipated. Faced with these ongoing threats, the Wabanaki tribes — Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot — have been leading the defense of brown ash trees in Maine.
Native to wetlands, but often planted in New England towns, brown ash trees play a critical role in basket-weaving practices, particularly to those of the Wabanaki.
Jennifer Neptune, a member of the Penobscot Nation, director of the Maine Indian Basketmakers’ Alliance, and co-curator of an upcoming art exhibition at Colby College, says that brown ash wood is integral to indigenous basket weaving traditions. Not only does the wood possess flexibility and strength, but the brown ash is also considered to be the source of life in Wabanaki creation stories, central to Wabanaki culture. Under threat of local and global extinctions, brown ash tree endangerment jeopardizes the livelihoods of basketmakers and cultural practices of the Wabanaki.
State and federal entomologists believed the destructive pest would show up near the New Hampshire border, not hundreds of miles to the north.
By Tux Turkel
Maine’s obsolete biomass power plants and its struggling or shuttered paper mills are world-class assets that can become testing grounds for a new manufacturing economy based on sustainably harvested wood, says an international group of energy developers.
Seen through fresh eyes, these industrial relics are the pieces with which entrepreneurs can build bioenergy parks, where all parts of a tree are used to make electricity, fuel, food, material and other things, eventually replacing similar products made from petroleum.
This vision is in the early stages, and it’s too soon to know if organizers can assemble the mix of money, applied technology and business outreach needed to create such a grand transformation. But there are reasons for cautious optimism: Investment in Maine is being sought, and similar projects have gained ground in Europe.
Members of the development group, under the name Stored Solar J&WE, took the first step last fall by buying two idled wood-fired plants in West Enfield and Jonesboro. The plants are back online, restoring jobs for 84 employees and 200 or so loggers and truckers. The restart was made possible through a share of a $13.4 million subsidy that Maine lawmakers approved last year, a lifeline to keep the state’s wood-fed biomass power industry alive for up to two years.
By A.J. Higgins
The death of Maine’s pulp and paper industry is highly exaggerated. That’s the conclusion of a new preliminary report by Mindy Crandall, an assistant professor of Forest Management and Economics at the University of Maine.
Though eight major biomass power generators and paper companies have disappeared from the map in Maine since the last time the industry conducted an economic analysis of the forest products market six years ago, Crandall told those attending a meeting Thursday evening of the Forest Resources Association in Brewer that forest products are still a vital component of Maine’s overall economy.
More than 290,000 acres of northern Maine forestlands in Aroostook, Penobscot and Piscataquis counties have been sold to Tall Timber Trust, according to forestry consultant Gary Bahlkow.In the private transaction, the price of which has not been disclosed, Canopy Timberlands, LLC, sold two major blocks of forestland to Tall Timber Trust, said Bahlkow, who is overseeing the transition of lands and the forestry and contracting teams for Tall Timber. The deal closed Sept. 30, he said.“They both have been working forest for a long time and continue to be,” Bahlkow said of the two blocks of the land, both comprised of mixed hardwood and softwood forests.Bahlkow declined to share more information on Tall Timber Trust’s ownership or the extent of its land holdings in Maine, saying the company wants to maintain a “low profile” during a “routine timberland investment transaction.” A quit claim deed filed with the Penobscot County Register of Deeds lists D. Ben Benoit as a trustee of Tall Timber Trust, created in Connecticut in 2007.
Members of Maine’s forest products economy are hailing the certification of Norway spruce as construction lumber – the first new species to be added to the list of approved lumber in about 80 years.The pretty evergreen with its gently sloping boughs was named to the list after five months of testing at the University of Maine. Researchers tested more than 1,300 pieces of lumber milled from Norway spruce grown in Maine, Vermont, New York and Wisconsin. On Oct. 20, the American Lumber Standards Committee approved the inclusion of Norway spruce for home construction and industrial applications.