Bucksport mill, which once employed hundreds, undergoing final mothballing and cleanup

Industrials Associated Press

A handful of employees at the shuttered Bucksport paper mill will likely remain as caretakers until a metal recycling company takes over the property, the owners said.

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The Verso Paper Corp. mill shut down production this month, putting more than 500 people out of work. About a dozen employees remain at the 8-decade-old facility, which is in the final stages of being cleaned up and mothballed, company spokesman Bill Cohen said.

The company announced plans in December to sell the mill to a subsidiary of Montreal-based scrap metal recycler American Iron and Metal for $60 million. Verso is still "working through the process" of selling the mill, but the new owner could take ownership as soon as early next month, Cohen said.

"At that point, Verso will be gone," Cohen said, adding that the facility was "a high cost mill and we are in a shrinking market."

American Iron and Metal bought another Verso mill in Minnesota in 2013 before dismantling it. Company representatives did not return a phone messages seeking comment on its plans in Bucksport.

One of the unions that represented workers at the mill, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, is suing in federal court to block the sale. The union wants to open the way for a buyer that would keep the business operating as a paper mill, and said in its lawsuit that Verso engaged in "an illegal conspiracy to monopolize the market for coated printing paper." The company also operates a mill in Jay and is in the midst of a merger with rival NewPage.

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Kim Ervin Tucker, a lawyer for the machinists union, said selling the mill for scrap would devastate Bucksport's economy. She added that state officials have said another buyer is interested in possibly reopening the mill.

"It's not just shutting a mill down, it's shutting a town down," she said.

Maine labor officials announced last week that the mill will pay its laid-off employees half of their severance pay by Jan. 8 and the rest by mid-March. The United Steel Workers, which represented some workers at the mill, filed a motion in federal court this week, with union leaders saying they are concerned the machinists' lawsuit could jeopardize the severance agreement.

"Our folks need this money to get through the Maine winter," said Duane Lugdon, a spokesman for the steelworkers' union.