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Paper mill demise hits hamlet

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NEWTON FALLS — The demise of the Newton Falls Fine Paper mill will hurt the hamlet, where there are long-standing water and sewer line connections.

Sale of the mill as an intact operation fell through March 22 and its owner, Scotia Investments, Halifax, Nova Scotia, is liquidating the plant’s machinery and equipment. Sale of the plant building and surrounding acreage is through private negotiation.

“This news is devastating, I believe, for the water and sewer districts,” town of Clifton Supervisor Robert L. Snider said. “I don’t think the mill is going to be a willing participant.”

Newton Falls Fine Paper has paid for more than one-third of the water district’s cost in years past. Most houses that are part of the district pay for one unit at a cost of $318 per year. The mill used 50 user units of the district’s 150-unit total and its garage used two. Without the mill paying into the system, costs could jump for remaining users.

The paper mill owns and operates a deteriorating wastewater plant that also treats sewage from more than a dozen houses in the hamlet.

A sewer district approved by voters by a close vote in 2010 follows the lines of the water district. A treatment system planned for the district was to reroute the houses served by the mill as well as treat sewage from the plant and other homes in the hamlet.

What was to be a final piece of funding for a $4.3 million system came through last fall with a $723,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office. In 2008, the project was awarded a $1 million grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation because of the number of septic system failures in Newton Falls. The remaining funds were to come from $2 million in principal forgiveness and $591,000 in a 30-year interest-free loan from the state Environmental Facilities Corp.

Construction was to begin this summer.

But residents of the district may be unwilling to pay higher user fees if the mill is not a participant, Mr. Snider said.

“It might come to a halt,” he said.

The owners of the mill also are unlikely to want to continue providing service as in the past, he said.

“They’re certainly not interested in running a sewer system for 15 houses,” Mr. Snider said. “I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen. Everything’s in limbo. I’m waiting for word.”

Scotia Vice President Robert G. Patzelt did not return calls for comment.

The status of the houses on the mill’s sewage system would have to be included in a closure plan submitted to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, agency spokesman Stephen W. Litwhiler said. Mr. Litwhiler could not say what DEC would find acceptable.

Mr. Snider said that he did not know who would be interested in the plant’s building minus the equipment and adjacent land but that he hoped to avoid an industrial wasteland.

“It might be a real difficult sale,” he said.

The effect of the closure will be far-reaching, town of Fine Supervisor Mark C. Hall said.

“My concern is what it’s going to do to the hospital, to the school, to the Ranger School, to every small business,” he said. “Everybody’s trying to fill in the blanks and there’s too many blanks. I don’t have any answers.”

The St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency remains willing to work with Scotia, depending on what is left after the dust of the auction settles and it is more clear what sales of the assets are finalized.

“We’ve made overtures to them,” IDA Executive Director Patrick J. Kelly said.

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