The state’s rapidly shrinking paper industry is putting the squeeze on local landowners who have supplied Maine’s mills with low-quality pulp for decades. When the Verso Corp. closed its Bucksport mill in 2014, it resulted in one less customer for Maine foresters.
As a 22-year licensed forester, Erik Carlson of Edgecomb is well aware of the state’s paper mills’ struggles over the past generation. One of his largest customers is the Verso mill in Jay. The Androscoggin Mill purchases pulp wood from Carlson and his clients.
Pulp is a low-grade wood ideal for paper-making. But if Verso’s economic struggles continue, then Carlson and other Maine landowners need to find another use for pulp. In recent years, the Androscoggin mill’s demand has significantly decreased, according to Carlson.
As both a professional forester and logger, Carlson understands the need for harvesting both low- and high-grade wood.
“It’s hard to manage forests without a market for pulp,” Carlson said. “Pulp is crooked and a low-quality wood perfect for paper and not much else. So as paper mills began cutting back on their pulp quota, I realized a market for pulp is needed.”
One day, when Carlson was loading his wood stove with Canadian-produced wooden pellets, he believed a solution to his problem was at hand.
“It came to me as (an) epiphany,” Carlson said. “I saw on the bag they were made in Canada. So I figured this is a great way to keep the local forest product industry alive and at the same time create jobs.”
Carlson has purchased space in the Boothbay Industrial Park for his wood pellet business. He plans on supplying his operation with pulp from local landowners. He also may employ an additional person. He characterized the Industrial Park as an ideal location. The park is zoned for manufacturing and includes 3-phase power.
All Carlson needs now is equipment for manufacturing wooden pellets. For that, he needs to visit The People’s Republic of China. Carlson is traveling to Zhengzhou, China in February to purchase equipment.
Carlson discovered he needs more than a passport and VISA to visit China. He has discussed purchasing equipment from the Chinese company Zhengzhou Whirlston Machinery for the past four months.
“You must receive an invitation, you just can’t go there,” he said. “So I contacted the company, and they arranged for my invitation.”
Carlson is leaving for China on Feb. 17. He plans on staying two days.
Once the equipment is delivered, Carlson expects to begin operation by July 4.