- Associated Press - Monday, September 28, 2015

LINCOLN, Maine (AP) - Lincoln Paper and Tissue filed for federal bankruptcy protection on Monday, and Gov. Paul LePage renewed his call for lawmakers to work with him to lower energy costs to help paper mills remain competitive.

The company has financing in place to continue operations while it seeks bids for the central Maine paper and tissue-making mill, said Keith Van Scotter, president and CEO. An auction will likely take place within 45 days, he said.

Van Scotter said the goal is to find a buyer who’ll keep the operations going.

“Management and current ownership will exercise every effort to assure the best possible outcome and are hopeful that a buyer will take the business to the next level,” the company said in a statement.

The mill furloughed 200 workers on the paper-making side of the plant after a boiler explosion in November 2013, but the company still has about 170 workers making tissue paper.

The development reflects the continuing struggle of Maine’s paper industry.

The number of people employed by Maine’s pulp, paper and paperboard mills declined from 10,208 in 2001 to 5,723 in 2011 and continues to fall, industry officials have said.

Lincoln Paper and Tissue said in court papers in U.S. Bankruptcy Court that it owes more than $10 million to over 200 creditors. Its biggest debt of more than $1 million is to utility company Constellation NewEnergy.

LePage called on lawmakers to help him redouble his efforts to reduce energy costs.

“I will do everything I can to lower energy costs. We are now in partnership with four other New England states working to expand natural gas and hydropower into our region. We must move forward with bold energy legislation, rather than stick with status quo policies that are adding costs to employers and hurting employees,” he said.

Lincoln Paper and Tissue provided a 60-day Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notice of a potential plant closing, but Van Scotter said that was issued as “more of a precaution.”

The Maine Pulp & Paper Association, which represents the state’s paper mills, said the industry remains a key part of Maine’s economy despite the closing of mills in Millinocket, East Millinocket and Bucksport.

In spite of the headlines, Maine’s pulp and paper manufacturers remain resilient, and still account for one of the biggest and most lucrative industries in the state,” the association said.

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