Greg Harvey

United Steel Workers 676 president Greg Harvey stands outside the Verso paper mill in Luke in this file photo. Harvey said no news of a potential sale of the former paper mill has emerged so far this summer.

WESTERNPORT — Union chief Greg Harvey said no news of a potential sale of the former Verso Corp. paper mill has emerged so far this summer.

Harvey is the president of the United Steel Workers Local 676 based in Westernport. Harvey said most technicians are now gone from the mill but two truckers are still working to haul liquor — a process byproduct — from the plant. 

"If you went by all the rumors it would keep your head spinning," Harvey said. "They only thing I know is they are taking out some of the coaters but I don't believe they are dismantling (the machines) that I am aware of. We have enough people that I would know if that was taking place."

Coaters are devices that apply the gloss coating to paper.

The paper mill operated at Luke since 1888. Verso, who purchased the mill from New Page Corp. in 2015, posted a notice on its website on April 30 that the mill in Luke would close June 30. Nearly 700 people were impacted by the closure. 

Harvey continues to work with former workers who are transitioning into other jobs or retirement. He said he is not privy to any potential offers.

"They told us that the two most serious inquires continue to ask questions," Harvey said. "They can't tell us who that is. I am holding hope that in the next month or two we will hear something.

"Right now they are still in the process of shutting the mill down. By the end of next week all the mechanics and electricians left will be out of the mill."

Harvey held a tribute to past and present employees on June 29 with a cookout at the former Tri-Towns Plaza in Westernport. Nearly 2,000 people attended the event.

"My concern remains, if they don't have a buyer, the mill is not ready for a Western Maryland winter," he said. "A lot of times you think you have stuff drained that you don't have drained." 

Harvey said a mill must be kept in good working order to sell it. 

"If it is not kept in good working order, it will be devalued," he said. "Then you'll have to put a bunch of money into it."

Harvey said former employees are slowly finding other employment.

"They're getting jobs. We got people traveling down the road ... at Proctor & Gamble (Martinsburg) and places in Winchester. They are driving an hour and a half for a lot less money. They took a big pay cut."

Harvey said five employees remain at the Upper Potomac River Commission water treatment plant in Westernport. He said the issues of water service and sewer processing have yet to be addressed. Luke, Westernport and Piedmont, West Virginia, all have some facet of their water/sewer system intertwined with the mill and the treatment facility.

The Luke Town Council will hold a water and sewer services community meeting Sept. 16 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Luke City Building. The meeting will be conducted with representatives from the Community Development Block Grant Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Maryland Department of the Environment.

Harvey said he remains hopeful for the paper mill.

"After this week, I'll have one instrumental tech left inside," Harvey said. "They have a couple contractors in there working. What we understand is that people working were told, 'do not affect the run ability of the machines.'" 

Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.

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