INTERVIEWS

We asked the following people of Berlin, NH to share their thoughts about the Burgess BioPower plant’s impact on their lives and their community.

Roland LeClerc

Resident of Berlin and former
employee of the Berlin pulp mill

Paul Grenier

Mayor
City of Berlin, NH

Rick Fournier

President, Cross Machine Inc.
Berlin, NH

Barry Kelly

General Manager
White Mountain Lumber Company
Berlin, NH

Jim Wheeler

City Manager
City of Berlin, NH

HERE’S WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY

Could you tell us what it was like in Berlin after the paper pulp mill closed and before Burgess BioPower opened?

Roland LeClerc

“Well when the demolition of the pulp mill happened, it reduced the workforce by approximately 600 and that was devastating. We were a one mill town and there was nothing really to replace it, so the city officials worked real hard to replace the pulp mill and they came up with a buyer for the #11 recovery boiler and the biomass was built. It didn’t really recover the employees, but it really helped tax wise.”

Paul Grenier

“In the four and a half years that transpired between the closing of the pulp mill and the beginning of construction of Burgess BioPower, the community was really, really, reeling. We had lost our biggest tax payer, who was also the biggest water customer to the city. Our reserves to keep city government functioning were near depleted, and we were really looking over our shoulders as to what was going to happen next with the community. On the same track, with no hope for younger people, younger people were leaving our community in droves, as were some of the trained professionals that we had in the community that were working in the mill. So things were pretty dire, we were very, very desperate.”

Rick Fournier

“When the pulp mill closed, the Berlin area and surrounding communities were devastated because of the loss of hundreds of jobs directly associated with the pulp mill operation and the surrounding logging and wood business companies that provide that with raw materials. Many of those people who had to move out of the region because there was no other employment they were qualified for. A lot of these people who were career production workers only ever worked at the pulp mill, therefore their lack of other skills limited them to where they could go. The community suffered economically because homeowners not being able to pay taxes, pay taxes on time, not spending any money. Some of the families split up, so they moved out of the area. As a result of that, the population in Berlin and the surrounding communities declined significantly as a result of the pulp mill closure.”

Barry Kelly

“It was very sad scene in Berlin before the mill closed, there were over 600 people working there it was rather abrupt. We were on a hockey trip when we got the word that the mill was going to close, and at first you didn’t believe it. The news of course spread very fast and it was very, very sad. Those jobs were the heart of our city. People liked manufacturing things, they were used to that, and when everything went still and silent it was a very sad day. The last piece of paper that ran over the paper machine was saved and all the people working in the mill signed it, and now that’s at the Historical Society. I can’t say enough how the sun really set on Berlin that day and no one knew exactly how we would come out of it.”

Jim Wheeler

“That was a very uncertain time. People had always known the paper mill industry and it’s how most people here derived their livelihood, and so it really shook the community at the roots and people really didn’t know what the future was going to be. Obviously people had families that they needed to provide for and the uncertainty really just shook people at the core and they were worried.”

How bad were things for the families who lived in Berlin at that time?

Roland LeClerc

“Well the loss of income again, was really devastating because once you lost a job at the mill, there was nowhere to really go and earn a living anymore. So people were on the unemployment and it was hard, it was you know, at the time before the biomass was built was considerable and it was rough on families.”

Paul Grenier

“In 2006 when the pulp mill finally closed there were some TRA training grants available to displaced employees and some folks did end up taking some college courses and two year associates degree courses to try to better themselves. So the cushion in the beginning was somewhat easy on the families until those funds ran out. Once those funds ran out and there was nothing going on in the community that’s when we started to see dozens of good, hard working families leave Berlin to go elsewhere to work. There was just no work and they had depleted their savings. They had depleted all of their TRA benefits that were afforded to them because of foreign competition and the best and brightest in Berlin were leaving and we had no way, no how, no understanding as to how we would stop this outflow of the best and brightest that we had here”

Barry Kelly

“Well, the majority of the people in Berlin worked for the paper mill and they were good jobs, with good wages and above all, good benefits. It’s very important today if you’ve got a family to have the benefits. Some jobs came in to replace them, but they didn’t have the benefits that newer jobs have, so it was very hard on the families and of course, when you’re used to having a good paycheck every week and you’re told in two weeks you won’t have any paycheck at all, but you’ll get unemployment benefits, which will only be a fraction of what you had before there are two downsides. You have less money and you’ve lost some of your pride because people enjoyed working at the mill. People enjoyed taking raw material and turning it into a usable product, something we could ship out that we use in other parts of the country.”

Jim Wheeler

“Well if you had spent your whole life working in a paper mill and your father had spent his whole life working in the paper mill and possibly another generation beyond that, the prospect of the mill closing, again brought tremendous concern. People had to learn new trades, they had to learn new skill sets, they had to travel. We are not in a heavily populated area, so people had to travel significant distances just to continue to get a paycheck. So that brought a lot of hardship on families. People who were used to working in the same area, working the same shift, being able to attend their sons’ and daughters’ sporting events, all of the sudden were on the road and maybe staying in a hotel or efficiency apartment during the week and went home to their families, so it brought a lot of stress to local folks.”

What do you think would happen if the Burgess BioPower plant closed?

Roland LeClerc

“The Burgess BioPower plant, if it should happen to close, it would be truly devastating to the city of Berlin. Taxes would rise and again, the number of employees that are working there would be laid off and there ain’t many places to go for jobs, short of what you have”

Paul Grenier

“Burgess BioPower has integrated itself very nicely into our community. Cate Street Capital the principal owners of Burgess BioPower could not be better corporate citizens within the community, they take part in youth hockey programs and sponsors of youth hockey. They rebuilt one of our ball fields. They have forty young working family members, that are working at the plant currently with untold numbers of other folks who deliver wood to our facility. Many of them who live in our area. Burgess BioPower has a $2.4 million dollar footprint within the community. Between taxes, water usage fees and sewer usage fees. Just in the city of Berlin they are one of the top customers combined within the city of Berlin. It would be devastating for us to lose them now.”

Rick Fournier

“If Burgess BioPower was not here, there would be a limited amount of jobs available in the community and most of the shops and businesses in the area would have to look elsewhere for income. And it’s the same thing, they’re similar to what happened when the pulp mill closed, a lot of our business ended up becoming out of the area which is meaning we spend more time away from home trying to secure business. But with the biomass here, it’s allowed us to continue to keep our employees more centrally located to our home office here in Berlin and not have to travel great distances as we had to do in the past.”

Barry Kelly

“If Burgess BioPower were to close or leave now, it would be a tremendous hit to the city. They have really cleaned up the center of the city. It’s clean, and good smelling. It’s the most modern plant burning in the Northeast. It’s a pride to the city. It looks way better than that previous paper mill because it was deteriorating badly and there was no way to improve it. Now if you pull that mill out, it’s a sense of pride. Nothing succeeds like success. The biomass plant is a well-built, good looking plant. It seems to be very a well run plant. People take pride in that and success breed success. People have a better feeling about the city because the central part of the city is cleaned up. The plant is paying a tremendous amount of taxes to us, which is very important to schools and services. If we lost that, it would be a very serious blow to the city. The people who work there have good jobs and they seem to like working there. They’ve got good benefits and that’s important in the community. People who work there spend money in the community.”

Jim Wheeler

“I don’t think we would go all the way back. I think the shock of losing a major industry, while there’s pain there certainly was gain, we’ve learned a lot. This community’s come a long way. It’s a community that I think probably was back then a bit more resistant to change and now it really has its arms open to new things. So in that sense, I don’t think we’ll go back, but truly if we lost Burgess BioPower, it would be, I don’t know a better way to say it – a major punch in the stomach, it would take the wind out of the community.”

Do you feel things have improved because of Burgess BioPower? If so, in what way?

Roland LeClerc

“The Burgess BioPower has had some positive effects here in Berlin. The river is not being polluted anymore, it’s clean water and it’s truly helped the logging industry. They bring in chips because once the Burgess [pulp mill] was demolished they didn’t have any place to bring in pulp. So that’s truly helped them and again, employs approximately 50 people and that’s 50 people that wouldn’t have jobs if it weren’t for the Burgess BioPower”

Paul Grenier

“Burgess BioPower has turned out to be a very, very effective and friendly business community member here in Berlin. They are taking part in all of the community activities, they sponsor our ATV festival, they sponsor Berlin Youth Hockey, as the Notre Dame Arena. They work hand in hand with quite a few organizations within the community. They rebuilt one of our ballparks, they fixed up a parking area adjacent to the ballpark. We would be so lucky to have a member of our community like Burgess BioPower, we are very, very fortunate.”

Rick Fournier

“By having the Burgess BioPower open and startup/restart the boiler for electrical production and generation has significantly improved the economic development in the area by bringing in additional jobs – providing construction jobs, particularly when the boiler was reconditioned and converted to the biomass fuel source. There were many outside construction companies that came in to provide the labor services and many suppliers came in to supply the components required necessary to put this facility back together. As a result of that the Burgess BioPower ended up hiring some local folks who had previously been employed at the pulp mill, as boiler operators were very familiar with the boiler operation through their previous employment at the pulp mill. It was a win-win situation for both the biomass and for the employee. Some of them who had moved out of the area were allowed to come back to good jobs, good paying jobs with benefits and provide the skills necessary for Burgess Bio to start up and operate with a really experienced staff and crew.”

Barry Kelly

“The people who work there [at the Burgess BioPower] spend money in Berlin but the people who bring their biomass here, also spend a lot of money here – they buy fuel, they buy parts, they buy groceries. The biomass plant spends somewhere between 20 and 30 million dollars a year on biomass that’s brought in from the surrounding communities, that puts people to work, that puts money in our northern economy and that, beyond the city, is very, very, important.”

Jim Wheeler

“Things have definitely improved with Burgess BioPower. It was a significant renewable energy project. The plant has a 75 megawatt capacity. The city’s had a long-standing foothold in renewable energy because we’ve had hydroelectric facilities for decades. We actually have about 30 megawatts of hydropower and then since the biomass, we’ve acquired a wind farm, which puts out about 14 megawatts, has a capacity of about 14 megawatts. So renewable energy has really become a strategy, a part of our economic strategy. So again, Burgess BioPower was really in recent times, the first project that got us into that arena and of course now we’re also looking at attracting a large solar development. So it’s not just been Burgess BioPower. Burgess BioPower has again, been the catalyst for a change in thinking that has sent us down the path of a renewable energy project development, which has been very good for the city.”

How has your life, and the lives of your family been impacted by Burgess BioPower? If so, in what way?

Roland LeClerc

“When the decision was made to demolish the Burgess Mill, it quite surprised a lot of us here in Berlin. They had spent $11 million dollars on bleaching and we thought they were there for the long term and they decided to demolish it, and there was a lot of concern because again the mill workers that were working there had no place to go for looking for work. Personally I was working at the Cascade Mill that was associated with the Burgess Mill, so it didn’t really affect me, but it did affect the city that I lived in, Berlin. Since the biomass has opened we have again, clean water in the river, we have a major park right at the river’s edge now. And it’s helped tax wise and overall it’s been a good neighbor to the city of Berlin”

Paul Grenier

“Well my life personally has turned for the better. As I was mayor of the city of Berlin and Burgess BioPower was permitted and allowed to build and I saw a lot of faces that were working at the plant that were contemplating moving away from the city. They wound up staying in Berlin and wound up raising their families in Berlin. They take part in little league, youth hockey, boy scouts. All of those things that a vibrant community needs to maintain a healthy standard of living. My son wound up staying and living in Berlin as a civil engineer. He graduated from UNH in 2007. I wonder if he would’ve stayed here if the despair and the negativity would’ve been around when he graduated from UNH when he did, so on personal level, I am very, very lucky and very happy that Burgess BioPower is here. In looking around my community, the look of despair, the attitudes of despair, the hopelessness that was in people’s eyes back in 2006 is gone. We’re still not a real, healthy, vibrant community yet, but Burgess BioPower was the first investment in the city of Berlin post-paper mill and we have since received other investments and other job opportunities. We have been able to a new ATV economy here in the community and that was all because of the can do attitude and new spirit that was created by the big boost that was given to the city of Berlin by Burgess BioPower. Burgess BioPower was the initial boost that gave us the ability to say ‘Yes we can’.”

Rick Fournier

“The Burgess BioPower has provided us here at Cross Machine with jobs and meanness issues that we were able to assist them with. And as a result of that we have not had to travel very far out of the community to secure jobs for our business. We’ve provided them with maintenance services and repair services and as a result of that we were able to hire additional employees at our facility because we increased our gross sales mainly due to the requirements and the necessities that they needed to maintain the Burgess BioPower facility.”

Barry Kelly

“The northern part of New Hampshire is a beautiful place to be. We’ve enjoyed living here for five generations and other people like to come the north country, and you say, what draws them here? The forests and the open space and the rivers. Good forestry requires good low-grade markets and Burgess BioPower is very important to that formula. They provide a low-grade market. If you’re cutting wood, you need to be able to get rid of the low-grade by-products and the low-grade wood. If you don’t, you tend to high grade the forest. High grading forests takes all the good wood and leaves the weed trees. It deteriorates the forest over time and ruins it. The market we have here is very important to the success of everyone in the North Country and working forests are open forests, and important forests. Burgess BioPower has been very important in saving forestry and the forest products industry in the northern part of the state.”

Jim Wheeler

“I’ve had two children go through Berlin High School and they’re both off to college and now I have a daughter who is a freshman in high school and I am so happy that we have Burgess BioPower here investing in the community making that contribution to our tax base and certainly supporting our school system. Because at the end of the day, it’s obviously about the next generation.”

TAKE ACTION

What can you do to make a difference?

We have some important, straightforward advice for NH Legislators, Coos County Business Owners & Residents, and NH Residents. Click the button below to find out what you can do.

TAKE ACTION

What can you do to make a difference?

We have some important, straightforward advice for NH Legislators, Coos County Business Owners & Residents, and NH Residents. Click the button below to find out what you can do.