Paper was made here for 84 years, until 2014. Now, where trucks once delivered wood to a mill for paper production, an entrepreneur is trying to write a new chapter in Maine’s forest products industry.
Trucks have been pulling up daily with hemlock logs. Stacked in piles at the former paper mill’s woodyard, they’re run through a debarker. Last week, loads of logs were put into containers and trucked to Boston, where cargo ships are expected to bring them this week to China to become lumber. But Boston is only an interim step on a proposed path to transform Bucksport, as well as nearby Searsport, into a fiber hub where ships can call to export underutilized Maine wood to Asia and Europe.
Much has been said and written about the potential for repurposing the five Maine paper mills that have closed over the past three years, and the challenges of finding new markets for 4 million tons of wood once used for pulp and power. There have been setbacks, and Arthur House, president of Searsport-based Maine Woods Biomass Exports LLC, has had his share.
But after his widely anticipated plans to export fuel-grade wood chips to European power plants this year were delayed, House pivoted to a new opportunity. The log piles rising now at the former Verso mill yard represent one of the first tangible signs of commercial progress at a shuttered Maine paper mill.
House says he has signed contracts for $28 million worth of hemlock logs – millions of board feet – destined for China, with more deals pending. He’s also headed to Turkey next month, where he hopes to sign contracts for Maine wood chips to be exported for particleboard furniture. “No matter what, we keep working to find a path to where we need to be,” he said. “Our goal is to re-energize an industry. We really have lived this every day for the past six years. Now we’re ready to get started.”