CUMBERLAND — The two massive papermaking machines at the former Verso Luke Mill are expected to find a home with a Turkish company.
Greg Harvey, former president of the Local Steel Workers Union 676 in Westernport, represented the majority of the 675 workers that lost their job when the mill shut down in June 2019. Harvey said Wednesday the machines have been sold to Turkish interests.
Verso executives said foreign competition, high operating costs and a sharp decline in demand for the coated paper produced at the mill necessitated the plant closure.
A Verso spokesperson didn’t specifically address the machines when contacted by the Times-News for comment. “In the current economic environment, we will consider all viable offers for the sale and transfer of assets from the former mill site,” the spokesperson said via email Thursday. “This will help expedite (the) ongoing transfer of the property and potential future commercial use of the site. As many know, we have made the difficult decision to prepare the site for sale to third parties for alternative uses. With these steps to remove heavy equipment, we are hopeful the site one day will again serve the local business community and residents.”
Opened in 1888, the Luke mill had nine papermaking machines operating at the plant at the company’s peak in the 1960s. When the mill closed last year, just two remained.
Harvey said the machines are being sold and the property could likely be leased or sold in parcels to various companies.
“Once the paper machines are going, you have to break it up; you’re not going to be making paper there,” said Harvey.
The remaining machines were purchased for a total of $11 million, according to Harvey. The deal was brokered by an intermediary who arranges sales to overseas companies.
According to Harvey, millwrights will be employed to break down the machines and place the parts in crates for shipment to Turkey.
In addition to the sale of the machines, three companies are interested in parts of the former mill, which has infrastructure in Luke, Westernport, McCoole and Piedmont, West Virginia.
Harvey said an entity that wants to make industrial-sized wood pellets for shipment overseas is interested in two of the mill’s woodyards, as well as a boiler for power generation and the water production facility.
Some European and Central Asian countries have reduced, or completely forbidden, the burning of coal resulting in increased demand for wood pellets to burn for energy.
Harvey said another entity has expressed interest in the warehouses in McCoole and Piedmont. A third company, which produces concrete, is also interested in parts of the former Verso mill property.
“It’s basically looking like they are setting it up to be like an industrial park,” said Harvey. “If you can’t produce paper or pulp anymore, you have to do something.”
Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.