August 4, 2016

Sappi approves $25M investment at Somerset Mill in Skowhegan

Courtesy / Sappi North America
Courtesy / Sappi North America
The woodyard at Sappi North America's Somerset Mill in Skowhegan.

Sappi North America, a leading producer and supplier of diversified paper and packaging products with two mills in Maine, is moving forward with a $25 million capital project to update the woodyard at its Somerset Mill in Skowhegan.

"Continually investing in our operations, processes and people ensures our success and maintains the Somerset Mill as a globally competitive site," said Mark Gardner, president and CEO of Sappi North America, in a statement announcing the project. "These upgrades will improve our product, raise our bottom line and continue to build upon our sustainable practices."

Tony Ouellette, managing director of the Somerset Mill, told Mainebiz in a phone interview Thursday that the project was approved by the company's board of directors on Wednesday. The decision followed an in-depth evaluation that took into consideration feedback and suggestions from other Sappi mills.

"It's really part of our overall daily work to optimize the efficiency and operation of this mill," Ouellette said. "This will save us significant money year over year, and that opens up our ability to pay good wages and continue to invest in the Somerset Mill."

Ouellette said the Somerset Mill is the largest producer of coated free sheets in North America and the seventh largest in the world. Now that the project has been approved, he said the mill will be soliciting bids from vendors and contractors over the next few weeks. Groundbreaking for the project is expected to occur in October, with the job to be completed in late November 2017.

Ouellette said the project will modernize the mill's wood debarking, chipping and chip distribution systems, which date back to its opening in the mid-1970s. Specifically, upgrades will be made to the log infeed, debarker, chipper, chip transfer system, woodroom controls and bark handling systems.

When completed, he said, the modernization will improve reliability, reduce waste, improve costs and create efficiency gains through the increased production of wood chips. "The equipment we're replacing is original equipment," he said, noting that the mill currently uses approximately 1.5 million tons a year of wood harvested in central and western Maine. That translates to roughly 4,000 tons of wood being debarked and transformed into wood chips and pulp each day.

The state-of-the-art equipment installed in the modernization project, he added, also will improve the quality of wood chips and fiber used in the mill's papermaking processes. "We have some of the best fiber in the country — this makes it even better," he said.

Sappi's Somerset Mill has three paper machines producing paper for high-end magazines, books and catalogs as well as coated free sheet graphic paper, grease-proof packaging paper and bleached chemical pulp. It employs 750 people and produces annually 795,000 metric tons of paper and 525,000 metric tons of pulp.

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