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Great Northern Paper Co. Abandons Big A Project

March 14, 1986 GMT

MILLINOCKET, Maine (AP) _ Great Northern Paper Co., citing problems with state regulatory agencies, said Thursday it was abandoning a plan to build a $100 million dam opposed by environmentalists and rafting enthusiasts but called vital to the region’s economy.

″The immense drain on our resources of pursuing this project is more than we can continue to support,″ President Robert F. Bartlett said about the Big Ambejackmockamus project, nicknamed the ″Big A.″

The decision ended a lengthy environmental battle in which the prospect of economic benefit to this one-industry town was pitted against potential damage to a wild stretch of river frequented by salmon fishermen and whitewater rafters.

Great Northern’s surprise announcement came three days after the state Senate rejected a House-approved bill that would have given the company the water-quality certification it needed to build the 40-megawatt dam on the West Branch of the Penobscot River. The Big Ambejackmockamus are falls on the river. The announcement traced the regulatory difficulties encountered by the project, including the Board of Environmental Protection’s refusal to approve water-quality certification and the Land Use Regulation Commission’s imposition of conditions that Great Northern declared to be unacceptable.

″We take this step with regret because the electricity from Big A could have provided the potential for growth following the completion of the expected modernization of our facilities,″ Bartlett said. ″But we have to get on with addressing the many immediate challenges facing us and the necessary restructuring of our operations.″

Six weeks ago, Great Northern announced plans to scale down production as part of a corporate restructuring that would eliminate 1,200 to 1,400 jobs over the next few years in its operations in and around Millinocket, an area in which the economy depends exclusively on the paper industry.

Although the restructuring was described by Great Northern as unrelated to the Big A controversy, the company said competitively priced electricity from the dam could have been used to support future expansion at its mills.

At the Statehouse, the Big A bill was set aside indefinitely in the House immediately after the company announced its decision.

House Speaker John L. Martin, who left his rostrum to announce Great Northern’s decision, lashed out at editorial writers who had opposed the project.

″To the major newspapers of this state, I now hope you’re happy,″ he said.

But the director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which led the opposition, said the decision reaffirmed opponents’ claims that the project was a questionable investment in the face of declining oil prices.

The regulatory process and existing water-quality laws are designed ″to separate the wheat from the chaff,″ said Everett ″Brownie″ Carson. ″This dam was chaff, and it was chaff of the worst variety.″