MDEP says it wasn't mill sale deal breaker
Officials of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection have taken exception to comments, published in the May 13 Bethel Citizen, blaming MDEP for the collapse a potential deal to purchase the Saunders Brothers mill in Locke Mills.
The comments were in an e-mail from the would-be buyer, Robert Woodbury, owner of National Wood Products in Oxford, to Greenwood Town Manager Kim Sparks.
The e-mail, a public-record document, was reprinted in its entirety in The Citizen. In it, Woodbury put much of the blame for the failed deal on DEP's refusal to provide written assurance that the he would not be held responsible for the cost of cleaning up an existing hazardous waste site on the property.
“Mr. Woodbury's comments floored us, because that's not where we were at with him,” said Donna Gormley, MDEP's director of outreach and education.
Mark Hyland, director of DEP's Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management, said his department was in fact willing to provide the document in question, and to do so in time for an auction of the mill set for April 28.
“I went around with him a number of times on that, and in fact I suggested to him that he could cut off that part of the property,” Hyland said. “Not only did we give him verbal assurances, but his lawyer talked with an assistant attorney general at the AG's office, and also with me. And his lawyer and I were drafting that very document when he [Woodbury] decided not to do the deal.”
The initial draft was to be done by Woodbury's lawyer and sent to Hyland for review on April 26, he said, following a meeting earlier in the day in Locke Mills, which included MDEP, Woodbury, his banker and various elected officials or their representatives.
But the draft never arrived, Hyland said.
“I called him back on the 27th, when I didn't get a draft from him, and he told me they 'hit a snag' in the negotiation,” Hyland said.
In a later (May 3) e-mail to Hyland, Woodbury's attorney, wrote: “As a result of a number of new developments (the residual environmental risk being one factor but not the only one) my client (Joseph Woodbury) has withdrawn from the transaction.”
As to Woodbury's comments to Sparks, Hyland said: “It wouldn't be the first time somebody has blamed the DEP for a business deal not going through. I wouldn't have felt so bad if it weren't for the fact that I worked on this evenings and weekends to make this thing happen. I did everything I could – I pulled two staff off projects they were already working on to work on this; I pulled an assistant attorney general in when he was on something different.”
“We bent over backwards to make this thing happen,” Hyland said. “The jobs are important to us.
“And the worst part is (and I don't think people recognize this when they look at situations like this), but if this mill fails, it's nothing good for the DEP. It is always better to have a business stay in business and be able to deal with these sorts of things then to have one go bad. … It's terrible thing for us and a terrible thing for the mill.”
The Saunders Brother mill laid off most of its remaining employees Friday.
Other potential buyers are looking into a possible purchase, said State Rep. Jarrod Crockett (R-Bethel), who was at the April 26 meeting, but the longer the machines sit idle, the less a deal is likely.
Asked his for own opinion regarding what led to Woodbury's bid falling short, Crockett said the mill's rapidly deteriorating financial position no doubt played a large role in the final decision, “but when the numbers were crunched, ultimately DEP was the straw that broke the camel's back.”