BREWER, Maine (AP) - Cianbro Corp. plans to build a new manufacturing plant that will employ 500 or more workers at the site of the defunct Eastern Fine Paper mill that went out of business more than three years ago.
Cianbro, a well-known construction company based in Pittsfield, said the plant will be used to manufacture ''modules'' - prefabricated, self-standing building frames that customers will join together and finish off into completed buildings at other sites.
Before the new facility can open, the site needs to be cleaned of hazardous waste - ash from decades of papermaking, asbestos and lead paint - and get state and federal permits. Still, company and city officials are confident the plant can be in production by April 1, 2008.
''We're going to employ 500 people there,'' said Peter Vigue, CEO and president of Cianbro Corp. ''We want to be conservative. It could be more than that.''
Several plans have been put forth for the 41-acre mill site since it closed in January 2004, putting 240 employees out of work. But none has been as promising as the Cianbro proposal, said City Manager Steve Bost.
''It will be the best use of the old Eastern Fine mill site that we can think of,'' he said. The project will ''bring back industry (to the site) and use of the Penobscot River.''
Cianbro and South Brewer Redevelopment, a limited liability corporation that was created to own and operate the mill site, signed a memorandum of understanding last week toward a purchase-and-sale agreement for the former paper mill.
The project calls for demolishing most of the former Eastern Fine Paper buildings and building a flat cement surface where the modules will be constructed. The mill's historic administration building, the power plant and loading dock area are expected to remain.
Once operational, the plant - tentatively called the Brewer Module Facility - will be used to design, engineer and assemble modules, each of which can be up to 60 feet high and 120 feet wide and weigh up to 1,200 tons. The structures will be shipped to their destinations with electrical wiring, pipes and structural fire protection in place.
The modules allow for a quick set-up of buildings on construction sites, said Ernie Kilbride, Cianbro's vice president of project development. The biggest users of modules now are the pharmaceutical, papermaking and petrochemical industries.
''There is a huge demand for these types of modules,'' he said.
There is a need to build the facility quickly because Cianbro has a client it is in the ''final stages of negotiation with,'' Vigue said. He added that the company has also had conversations with other potential clients.
Once the modules are built, they will be moved on large carts onto barges, to be transported down the Penobscot River. The Eastern Fine Paper property is appealing because of its access to water to ship the products out, as well as access to the interstate highway system and rail to bring in supplies and move smaller modules.
Company officials said they expect to hire welders, electricians, pipe fitters, millwrights and other skilled workers from all over the region to build the steel modules.
The average wage for skilled laborers at Cianbro is $19 an hour, with top wage earners making nearly $30 an hour. With overtime, ''it's not unusual for an hourly worker to make between $75,000 and $100,000 yearly,'' Vigue said.
Vigue said he knows of only four other major facilities on the East and Gulf coasts similar to the one planned in Brewer.