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December 9, 2020

Pixelle announces plans for Jay paper mill crippled by April explosion

File photo The Androscoggin Mill in Jay, shown in this 2018 photo, was the site an April explosion that led to layoffs of over 170 workers.

Pixelle Specialty Solutions, the owner of a Jay paper mill where an April 15 industrial explosion led to layoffs of 177 employees, on Wednesday said it plans to continue making paper there but will not rebuild paper-making equipment that was damaged by the blast.

The rupture in a pulp digester sent plumes of debris and smoke into the air but miraculously injured no one. But the accident, still under investigation, forced Pixelle to close the mill’s pulp production and idle one of its three paper-making machines.

After arranging pulp supplies from other sources, the mill in July said it needed to scale down employment. Pixelle laid off 59 workers in July, 51 in September and 67 in October. The total of the layoffs represented more than a third of the plant’s roughly 500-employee workforce.

In a news release Wednesday, the company said it will continue specialty paper manufacturing with the two remaining paper machines but that pulp production will not resume. Pixelle said it will utilize more than 250 full-time workers at the plant.

The mill’s specialty products include bleached and natural kraft papers for food packaging, pressure-sensitive release liners and labels, packaging tapes and more.

Pixelle CEO Timothy Hess said in the release, “This long-term plan keeps a large number of employees working to meet our customers’ needs for excellent products and services. It also benefits many in Maine impacted by the pulp digester incident by sourcing pulp from Maine-based providers.

“We intend to continue to invest in the mill to enhance its position as a supplier of choice to our customers.”

Pixelle also said it has established a $1 million fund to support job retraining for employees laid off because of the explosion, and will further develop a current program for retraining.

Hess stated, “We are committed to providing support to our dedicated employees who lost their jobs as a result of the digester rupture, and we hope that the training assistance we are announcing today will prove valuable in relaunching their careers.”

Pixelle, a private company headquartered in Pennsylvania, acquired the Androscoggin Mill, along with one in Wisconsin, in February from Verso Corp. (NYSE: VRS). The $400 million deal followed a contentious dispute with an investor group, which had made several takeover attempts of Verso since 2017.

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