LePage and Mills squabble over future of Skowhegan plant

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The future of Shawmut Dam and the Sappi Paper Mill in Skowhegan took center stage in the gubernatorial race on Monday when former Governor Paul LePage accused current Governor Janet Mills of working to shut down the dam, which would result in the loss of hundreds of jobs.

A spokesperson for the Mills campaign called the accusation a “lie” and a scare tactic.

“Unfortunately, Paul LePage chose to lie to the people of Maine today by falsely saying that the state is demanding the removal of the Shawmut Dam, going so far as to employ scare tactics and suggest the Governor wants to shut down the plant. campaign spokesman Scott Ogden wrote in an email. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

LePage, a Republican who served two terms from 2011 to 2019, faces Mills, a Democrat, in the Nov. 8 election. Independent Sam Hunkler, a doctor from Beals Island, will also be on the ballot.

Standing on a sidewalk on the east side of Augusta, LePage pointed to a July draft order from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in which the state denied Brookfield White Pine Hydro LLC’s request for certification. water quality for the Shawmut dam.

“The administration of Janet Mills is about to issue an order which will jeopardize Sappi’s entire Somerset operations and 750 jobs,” LePage said. “His administration is openly plotting the removal of the dam, resulting in the subsequent closure of the Sappi plant, an absolute economic disaster for the state of Maine.”

Brookfield, which operates the dam, applied for a new permit in October 2021.

The draft denial says the state has learned that the proposal is likely to change significantly, in part because of ongoing analysis of the effect of hydroelectric dams on fish passage.

“A denial without prejudice is not based on any judgment on the technical merits of an applicant’s request,” the document states. “Instead, a denial without prejudice is appropriate when an applicant’s application lacks sufficient documentation or if an applicant’s application has changed significantly since it was originally filed.”

Sappi spokesman Peter Steele, who previously worked in the LePage administration as director of communications, said in a statement that the plant “encourages federal and state agencies to expedite the license renewal process.” .

He said the plant depended on the dam to operate its water supply systems and the company had previously said that removing the dam would lower the water level so low that the plant could no longer operate.

“Until the dam receives a new license, the plant will continue to operate in a cloud of uncertainty,” Steele said.

Brookfield’s communications office did not respond to an email from Spectrum News.

Maine Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Commissioner David Madore wrote in an email that the DEP’s denial “does not anticipate any potential future action” by the department regarding Brookfield’s request.

Madore said the state is awaiting additional information from the federal government before making a decision.

Last year, Mills wrote a letter to Sappi employees saying “the factory isn’t going anywhere.” In an August 2021 letter published in the Morning Sentinel, Mills wrote that the dam would not need to be removed to improve fish passage.

“My administration will protect the plant and its important contributions to Maine’s economy, and we will work to restore Atlantic salmon passage by seeking innovative solutions,” Mills wrote.

At Monday’s press conference, Rep. Shelly Rudnicki (R-Fairfield) said all of central Maine would be affected by a plant closure.

“People travel up to two hours to work at Sappi,” Rudnicki said. “The ripple effect will be devastating.”

LePage, who would not answer questions unrelated to the dam, said if he became governor again, he would approve Brookfield’s water quality application.

When asked by reporters why representatives from Sappi and Brookfield weren’t at the press conference, LePage said he spoke to them but did not invite them to the event.

“Sappi and Brookfield have to go through a process and the last thing they want to do is piss off a vindictive governor,” LePage said. “And she’s very vindictive if you haven’t followed her reign of terror.”

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