Bad News for Mill Workers
It was not a good week for people who work in Maine’s paper industry. On Aug. 25, Wausau Paper announced it was permanently closing one of its two machines at the Otis mill in Jay. Nearly 150 of the 235 people employed there will lose their jobs by the end of the year.
The next day, the owners of Katahdin Paper Co. in Millinocket said they were shutting that facility down indefinitely, effective Sept. 2, a move that will put over 200 people on the unemployment lines.
According to some company officials, Katahdin could reopen next year after a new biomass boiler is completed that will reduce the mill’s energy costs. But at least one union leader doesn’t think Brookfield Asset Management, Katahdin’s owner, is telling the truth about its future plans.
Nor was the paper industry alone in its misery. Employees of Prime Tanning in Berwick got the word on Aug. 29 that the facility was shutting down and transferring all its work on leather products to Prime’s mill in Hartland, due to slumping sales and rising energy costs.
The shift will result in a net loss of about 75 jobs.
One small-but-optimistic note: The New Page paper mill in Rumford has canceled a planned two-week shutdown that would have idled 500 workers.
The company decided it had too many orders and too little inventory to take the time off for maintenance.
Job losses of a harder-to-detect variety are also striking a different sector of the economy. According to the Maine Department of Labor, 273 convenience stores closed in the state last year, and the trend seems to be accelerating in 2008.
Among the latest to feel the squeeze: the Junction General Store in Brownville. High gas prices are being blamed.
Well, that was depressing. Let’s try some good news for a change.
According to Sports Illustrated, Maine did really well in the Beijing Olympics. Our four medallions put us second among U.S. states in medals per capita, at one for every 329,302 Mainers.
Hawaii was first, and California, which produced the most medal winners, finished a feeble fourth.
The Portland Sea Dogs will be heading to the Eastern League playoffs for the fourth straight season. The Red Sox Double-A affiliate squeaked into the postseason on Aug. 31, in spite of losing that day’s game, because the Binghamton Mets also lost.
Euphoria – or some other reality-altering emotion – gripped Hadlock Field after the Binghamton score was announced. Portland players doused each other in champagne. The video board proclaimed the Dogs had “clinched a playoff birth,” which sounds painful. And the team’s Web site gave two different scores for that day’s loss to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, both of them wrong.
The Sea Dogs open the first round on Sept. 3 in Trenton, N.J. against the Thunder, a New York Yankees farm team.
Goods news for Biddeford-Saco. Mattson Development, the company that’s developing the Saco Island mill between the two cities, is negotiating with Casella Waste Management, operator of the MERC incinerator, to buy the stench-spewing monstrosity and shut it down.
Eliminating MERC’s ugliness and odor would likely enhance the return on Mattson’s $100 million investment in Saco Island. Another change that will almost certainly draw commerce to the long-neglected site: On Sept. 4, Maine’s newest brew pub, Run of the Mill (owned by the same people as the Liberal Cup in Hallowell), will tap its first keg, finally putting Saco on the locally brewed beer map.
Regular readers of this blog will note that I’ve been remarkably restrained thus far, making not a single snide remark or off-color comment (unless you count that “birth” thing). Let me hasten to assure you that I haven’t suddenly come down with a case of good manners.
I’ve just been saving up the naughty stuff. Let’s get to it.
JoAn Karkos of Lewiston went to her local library last year and checked out a book called (prepare yourself for an irony attack) “It’s Perfectly Normal.” According to its subtitle, it’s about “Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health.”
Karkos announced she wasn’t returning the volume because she thought it was anything but perfectly normal. In fact, she said, the book was obscene. The library took her to court, and on Aug. 27, a judge ordered her to pay a $100 fine and give the book back. Karkos said she was keeping the book. The judge said if she didn’t change her mind, she’d be jailed for contempt of court. Karkos said she was willing to do time. It looked as if the silly season was getting into high gear.
Unfortunately for those of us who like nothing better than a good bout of the stupids, cooler heads prevailed. Lewiston officials announced on Aug. 29 that they were dropping the case, rather than face the prospect of becoming a national laughingstock.
Karkos is still supposed to pay the fine, but, at last report, hadn’t decided whether she’d do so. The library, meanwhile, has received eight copies of the book from supporters, so it doesn’t really need the one Karkos appropriated.
And everything is back to, uh, perfectly normal.
Well, almost. It seems the Black Frog Restaurant in Greenville has a special on its menu that would drive the JoAn Karkoses of this world crazy. The Skinny Dip roast beef sandwich, normally $10.95, is free if the person ordering it strips off his or her clothing and jumps in Moosehead Lake. Every now and then, somebody takes the challenge, but it’s usually in the evening, so nobody sees much. But in late August, three visitors decided the lure of a free meal was worth a daytime dunk sans swimsuits.
Somebody complained to the cops (“That’s right officer, my first name is spelled J-O-capital-A-N”), and the trio was cited for indecent conduct. They face fines of up to $1,000 and as much as six months in jail.
Next time, folks, steal a library book. Way cheaper.
Speaking of sexy, Darien Brahms’ music is just that. Also smart, sharp, original and rockin’.
JoAn Karkos would hate it.
If your taste runs closer to the, uh, perfectly normal, you might want to check out Space Gallery in Portland on Sept. 6, which is where and when Brahms will hold a CD release party for “Number 4,” her first album in five years and her best yet.
I’ll be there, unless the Sea Dogs defy the odds and remain alive in the playoffs. Or unless I’m still reading this fascinating book I stole from the library. It’s called “Perfectly Abnormal: Getting Laid Off from the Maine Paper Industry.”
Hey, it sounded sexy right up through the fourth word.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.