July 5, 2020

Millinocket group launches $8.5 million in upgrades to former mill site

The Katahdin Avenue industrial park in Millinocket is a shell of what it was in this picture taken on May 4, 2014. Credit: Jon Campbell

A volunteer development group in Millinocket is launching a second round of infrastructure upgrades at the town’s former paper mill site.

In total, Our Katahdin will spend $8.5 million on improvements to its roads, rail, water and sewer systems, as well as to its power grid and data capacity. It is partly funding the upgrades with a $5.36 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration that was awarded two years ago.

The organization hopes those improvements will help finally lure new industrial tenants to the 1,400-acre site that was a paper mill for Great Northern Paper until it shut down in 2008.

Our Katahdin has already invested $1 million into the site, including on a rebuild of its on-site power infrastructure, it said in a press release. That infrastructure has been designed to allow multiple tenants to directly buy power from a local hydroelectric facility owned by Brookfield Renewable Partners.

“Along with Brookfield Renewable, we can now offer tenants reliable and renewable electricity at a significantly reduced rate,” said Steve Sanders, Our Katahdin’s director of mill site redevelopment.

The remainder of the upcoming $8.5 million upgrade will be funded through $1.34 million in financing from the Maine Rural Development Authority and Maine Technology Institute and a total of $1.27 million in grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Maine Development Foundation and the Northern Borders Regional Commission. The funds are restricted to infrastructure, assessment and cleanup projects.

Our Katahdin has selected Mid-South Engineering of Orono to lead the new infrastructure project. It has also chosen Ransom Engineering of Portland to coordinate an environmental assessment and cleanup of the site.

Our Katahdin had previously worked with a North Carolina firm, LignaTerra Global LLC, to open a $30 million factory making cross-laminated timber at the former Millinocket mill, but that deal fell through after the organization struggled to resolve an old $1.5 million debt to the IRS.

It inherited that debt when it bought the site for $1 from Cate Street Capital LLC in January 2017, but settled it last summer by agreeing to pay off $450,000 of it through a partnership with the town of Millinocket. Sean DeWitt, president of Our Katahdin, has recently said the group is pursuing a few different new uses of the property, including as a saw mill and data storage center.

LignaTerra is now working to develop its first Maine factory down the road at the former Lincoln Paper and Tissue mill site.