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Associated Press, Published August 02 2012

Verso Paper closes Minn. mill damaged by fire

SARTELL, Minn. – Verso Paper Corp. won’t reopen the Sartell paper mill that was heavily damaged by a Memorial Day explosion and fire, putting nearly 260 people out of work, the company said Thursday.

The Memphis, Tenn.-based company said it based its decision on the length of time it would take to rebuild and on market challenges.

“The decision is not based lightly,” Lyle Fellows, senior vice president of manufacturing for Verso, said at a news conference in Sartell.

Fellows also said the Sartell mill, which is more than a century old, has not been competitive for many years.

Sartell City Administrator Patti Gartland said the company worked diligently to find a way to reopen the mill, the St. Cloud Times reported.

“I don’t think there was any stone left unturned,” Gartland said.

Gartland said the city is ready to concentrate on helping the workers and their families. “We’re ready to refocus our energies now on what the new reality appears to be,” she said.

Plant manager Matt Archambeau said company officials did not ask for help from the state because they knew the repairs to the plant would run into the “tens of millions of dollars,” WJON-AM reported.

A Verso official met with Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday and informed him of the decision.

Dayton plans to travel to Sartell today to meet with local officials and offer the community his support, Dayton spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci said, adding that Dayton will do everything he can to recruit a company to buy the mill or find an investor for the site.

“We will consider every possibility and nothing’s off the table at this point,” Tinucci said.

State Rep. Tim O’Driscoll, R-Sartell, called the mill’s shutdown “clearly an end of an era for Sartell.”

“The city of Sartell and the paper mill have grown up together ... and a lot of families have had an opportunity to work there,” O’Driscoll said “We’re very stunned by the news here in Sartell.”

But the announcement gives Sartell an opportunity to find a new employer for the site, O’Driscoll said.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., said she understood Verso’s decision in light of “this fragile economy.”

“Anytime hardworking Minnesotans lose their job it is a heartbreaking day,” Bachmann said. She said she will “continue to work tirelessly to bring jobs back to the community.”

Nearly 260 people worked at the Sartell plant before the explosion and fire killed one worker, injured four and idled the plant.