July 6, 2020

Renewable energy partnership boosts Millinocket mill site redevelopment

Heavy equipment sits on a new gravel road at the top of undeveloped Shack Hill at the former paper mill site in Millinocket in 2018. The long-awaited infrastructure upgrades at the 1,400-acre site are set to begin, and owner Our Katahdin is actively recruiting tenants for the new innovation park.

The long-awaited next phase of the infrastructure buildout at the former Great Northern Paper mill site in Millinocket is underway, with a boost from renewable energy legislation last year as well as new funding support.

Our Katahdin, owner of the 1,400-acre site, announced the $8.5 million phase-two launch Thursday, which includes improvements to the onsite power grid, data transmission, sewer and water systems, roads and rail designed to attract tenants to the site.

The nonprofit and Brookfield Renewable, which leases some of the property, entered into an arrangement on May 20  to establish “behind-the-meter” power service, made possible by the passage LD 1173 last year, which allows direct sale of renewable energy.

The project was also recently awarded $1.34 million in financing — a $500,000 grant from from Maine Rural Development Authority and $837,000 loan from Maine Technology Institute, finalized last month, which are also earmarked for the infrastructure upgrades.

The site will be powered by 100% renewable energy, and site design allows multiple tenants to access the hydroelectric power supplies from the Millinocket Hydro Facility, a generator owned by Brookfield Renewable, Our Katahdin said in a news release.

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

The nonprofit is actively recruiting tenants for the downtown site, which it is developing into a multi-tenant industrial park, with the aim of hosting traditional and innovative forest products businesses as well as aquaculture, food production and data centers. The goal is that the industrial park will create 115 jobs and spur $205 million in private investment, the U.S. Economic Development Administration said when it awarded a $5.36 million infrastructure grant in September 2018.

“Continued infrastructure improvements are necessary to keep momentum in redeveloping a clean multi-use industrial site,” said Sean DeWitt, president of Our Katahdin. “We are tailoring our infrastructure buildout to this multi-use vision of the site, and to the needs of prospective tenants with whom we are having active conversations who will create new jobs on the site.”

A long process

Mid-South Engineering, of Orono, is the lead engineering firm for the Economic Development Administration infrastructure project. Ransom Engineering, of Portland, will lead engineering services for the U.S. EPA brownfields assessment and cleanup projects.

Aside from the MTI, MRDA and EDA funding, the phase-two upgrades are supported by $850,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; $216,000 from Maine Development Foundation; and $200,000 from Northern Borders Regional Commission. All the money is earmarked for infrastructure, assessment and cleanup projects.

Our Katahdin has spent nearly $1 million to date on site planning and improvements, including rebuilding its onsite power infrastructure. Our Katahdin is working within a public-private partnership with the town of Millinocket on redeveloping it.

The mill closed in 2008, and Portsmouth, N.H.-based Cate Street Capital bought the site in 2011. Most of the buildings were torn down in 2014. Our Katahdin bought the site in January 2018 for $1, inheriting a $1.5 million tax lien from Cate Street. A $450,000 loan facilitated by Bangor Savings Bank to Our Katahdin helped remove the lien, which was an early obstacle.

“We are grateful for the years of hard work and collaboration between funders, business partners in the private sector, government officials, volunteers, and countless professionals who see the potential of our mill bringing renewed hope, jobs, and investment to this region,” said John Davis, Millinocket town manager. “It’s no longer an aspiration to rebuild our site, it’s a reality that is fully underway.”

Our Katahdin has also received financial support for mill site redevelopment efforts from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation.