By Ethan Andrews – Village Soup
Plans for a $20-million wood pellet manufacturing plant to be built in Burnham have moved from the back burner to the ash can, according to a representative of International Wood Fuels, who described the project Tuesday, Nov. 4 as “dead.”
International Wood Fuels announced the plan to build the wood pellet plant in Maine in 2009 to great fanfare. President Steven Mueller met with then-Gov. John Baldacci for the announcement. The plant would have been located adjacent to the existing PrideSports golf tee factory and the companies would have shared a log yard at the new facility, while IWF would have made use of some of the waste wood from the PrideSports plant.
IWF originally planned to break ground in the fall of 2009. Spokeswoman Laura Sawall revised the timeline in July 2010, saying the company was still trying to secure financing and that the plant would likely open by the fall of 2011. At the time, she said, the company had been focusing its energy on a plant in Louisa County, Virginia. That facility opened in early 2010, making mulch, wood chips and pellets.
Company officials estimated the Burnham plant would have produced 100,000 tons of pellets per year from locally sourced wood and would have employed up to 35 people.
But according to the IWF representative, the company “didn’t get a lot of state support,” for the project. She declined to go into specifics but said the availability of rail transportation was a factor.
IWF has since closed its Portland office, rerouting phone calls to an office in San Diego. It was from there that the IWF representative said the company had backed away from the Burnham project in favor of a plan to build a wood pellet plant in North Carolina.
“We didn’t have rousing success in New England,” she said.
To accommodate the proposed development, a 13-acre subdivision was created from the Howard R. Libby Jr. and Meda S. Libby Estate, with a separate easement through the PrideSports property. Estate executor Gordon Libby said he dealt exclusively with PrideSports, which acted as an intermediary.
“We had almost no contact with Wood Fuels,” he said. “…We thought everything was all set, and then nothing happened for long periods of time, and any time I would inquire from Pride, Pride really didn’t know much of anything either. Things just sort of stopped happening.”
With the deal collapsed, Libby deeded the landlocked property to two heirs of the estate who own adjacent parcels, and relinquished the right of way through the Pride property.
Burnham Planning Board Secretary Anne Goodblood said she was not aware of any official correspondence indicating that IWF had backed out, but town officials were generally aware that the plant was not going to be built as planned.
“It’s too bad. We were really looking forward to having them come into town,” she said. “It was a big hoopla and now it’s nothing. Even if it was 15 or 25 jobs, that’s 15 or 25 jobs in this community that people would have jumped for joy for.”