This week the Environmental Issues Class took a field trip to the Verso company’s Androscoggin Paper Mill Plant which makes paper for some of America’s biggest magazines. In addition to the perk of being able to wear construction hard hats for three hours—we also got to get off campus and learn more about the topic we had been studying in class for a month now: logging and Maine’s larger than life wood industry.
As we pulled up to the mill we could see the steam puffing out from the industrial smoke stacks and the class became hesitant about what we were about to see. We quickly overcame our first impressions however when we saw the mill’s main entry billboard, marked: “Welcome to Chewonki Foundation Staff and Faculty and the Students of Maine Coast Semester.” We got off the bus and were immediately handed safety goggles—which had to be worn by our group at all times when we were outdoors on the premises or in the factory rooms.
The loud sounds of saws and motors buzzed constantly everywhere on the premises. At a distance we could see the thousands upon thousands of logs in the company’s woodlots. After a presentation on the company’s sustainability practices, which included cleaning the water they use from the river, hydroelectric power, and recycling of unused wood products, we drove across the facility in our bus to watch contractors in machines with huge claws grab logs from the seemingly endless piles and cut them into eight foot long pieces to be fed into the “debarking machine”. It is a shame that they do not allow photography on the premises of Androscoggin Mill because this machinery is so overpowering you really do have to see it to believe it.
We split up into smaller groups, put in our ear plugs, and took tours around the facility. When we reconvened in the bus to drive back to Chewonki, people explained the mill as being a kind of Disneyland for tree processing, or something out of a sci-fi movie. Wood goes to the plant as whole logs and comes out as roles of paper 15 feet high and weighing in at a few hundred tons. One of the mill’s staff members told us that if you unrolled the paper they create at Androscoggin Mill in one day it would reach from Maine to Los Angeles.
Inside the factory huge drums that looked like big hollow cylinders spun logs around to remove bark. Water poured down from the ceiling above a waterway that floated the logs from the woodlot into the processing room. In the other building huge rolls 25 feet wide ran liquefied paper pulp at 35 mph through machines to be dehydrated, dried, and covered in gloss chemicals. The machines brought the temperature to 100°F in that massive room, even during the winter. It was obvious that the men that spoke to us at the mill knew exactly what was going on and what every machine’s job was—with so much heavy machinery around their lives would be in danger if they didn’t.
I think I can safely say that the trip to the mill was a real eye opener for our class. The logging industry has come a very long way from floating huge logs down the river and prodding them along with a stick. It was a lot of fun to see our class readings come to life and really get an inside look at one of Maine’s biggest sources of economic income—and we got to keep the safety goggles!
Some of the products that the Verso Paper Company Mill creates:
-Mollie Schwartz, New York, NY