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Newton Falls paper mill back on the market

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NEWTON FALLS — A deal to restart the Newton Falls Fine Paper mill is dead and the plant is on the market.

“They’re going to try to find a buyer or liquidate it,” said Fine Supervisor Mark C. Hall, a member of the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency. “There are people out there who still think they’re going to find a buyer. I’ve got my fingers crossed that they find a buyer and the mill will operate again. Time will tell.”

Mill President Scott C. Travers said he would no comment beyond a company-issued press release that had not been prepared yet.

Late last year, Mr. Travers had been confident a restart plan was well underway with a partner lined up, new product lines identified and a revamped plant in development. The mill shut down in mid-December 2010 because of poor sales brought on by a recession and market changes.

The mill had more than 100 employees when it closed. About five employees remain.

Mr. Travers met with Mr. Hall and Christopher L. Westbrook, president of the Clifton-Fine Economic Development Corp. Tuesday to give them the news. Mr. Westbrook said Mr. Travers did not tell them why the deal fell through.

“An offer was made and it was turned down. I can’t tell you what the offer even was,” Mr. Westbrook said. “It was just a sad day.”

Mr. Westbrook said he was expecting the worst when he learned Jay Rogers, the mill’s vice president for sales and marketing, and business consultant Gordon McLennan had been let go. Even so, Mr. Rogers, who could not be reached for comment, told Mr. Hall he remained confident Scotia Investments — the mill’s corporate owner — had a good business plan that could be profitable.

“I hope Jay is right and that someone quickly steps forward,” Mr. Hall said.

Mr. Westbrook said he is worried what will happen if no one buys the mill.

“Now the question is where do we go from here?” he said. “How long will they keep it on the market before they scrap it out?”

The mill’s failure to restart could also have an effect on the rehabilitation — using a $9.9 million state grant — of a railroad line that spans three counties. Rebuilding the line that runs through Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties was one of the priority projects chosen by the North Country Regional Economic Development Council and was key to the mill’s operations.

St. Lawrence County IDA Executive Director Patrick J. Kelly said it was too soon to know what impact the collapse of the paper mill’s negotiation would have on the project.

“The railroad is a regional piece of infrastructure,” he said. “Not knowing the exact status of one potential user, it has an impact obviously but it’s only one potential customer.”

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