State, Utility and Workers Ease Flooding at Idle Plant

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(Host) State environmental officials, a Vermont utility and laid off employees are working to prevent chemicals stored at an idle paper mill from contaminating the Connecticut River. Meanwhile officials are considering how the state can maintain the mill so it can reopen in the future.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The American Paper Company plant in the Northeast Kingdom town of Gilman has been idle since April. The workers union and the Vermont Attorney General s office have both taken action against company for failure to pay back wages and benefits.

The company has also failed to pay its electric bills. Last week power to the mill was shut off. Without it, sump pumps couldn t keep water from flooding the basement of the plant, washing thousands of gallons of lubricants and chemicals into the river. Under an emergency court order, the state is taking steps to prevent the contamination. Central Vermont Public Service is now providing electricity to the plant on a voluntary basis.

Steve Costello at CVPS says the company contacted American Paper. After receiving no response, CVPS decided on it’s own to provide power for the plant:

(Costello) “We, working with the state, agreed to do that and are at this point providing electricity really without any account even being open. There’s no one to be responsible for it at this point other than us.”

(Zind) Four of the plant s electricians are working eight-hour shifts to keep the equipment running. The workers have been receiving periodic paychecks from American Paper. They were last paid four weeks ago. On Thursday, the workers submitted a plan to the state for removal of the chemicals:

(Marc Roy) “The things that need to happen are not that labor intensive or difficult.”

(Zind) Marc Roy is with the Department of Environmental Conservation. Roy says he ll notify American Paper that the work needs to be done within a set period of time. If American Paper fails to comply, Roy says the department can conduct the cleanup itself. Environmental officials are also concerned that a dam at the site might drain endangering wetlands.

Clearly there’s concern among state officials that American Paper may not take steps to maintain the plant. According to Katherine Hayes of the Vermont Attorney General s offices, representatives from several state agencies met Thursday morning to talk about the Gilman plant:

(Hayes) “We’re concerned about the workers and we want to insure that they re paid for work they ve already done. We’re concerned about the safety of the plant and the environment in the Connecticut River. And we re concerned to try and retain this as a viable employer and to insure that it can get back up to speed and producing paper and employing up to 120 people as soon as possible.”

(Zind) Hayes says so far there are no definite plans for maintaining the facility until it is reopened by American Paper or by a new owner.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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