Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Fibermark Paper Mill

The history of what was most recently known as the Fibermark Paper Mill starts in the early 1900's. It was built by the Riegal Paper Company. Riegal already owned two other paper mills in the area, one in Hughsville and the other in Milford. Little is recorded about what the Warren Glen facility specialized in, but the massive building was the largest structure for miles.

In 1976, the Riegel Paper Company was acquired by the James River Paper Company. James River gained control of the three Hunterdon Riegel Mills. Around this time, James River was the largest paper corporation in the world. James River continued operations at Warren Glen until 1991, They then leased the facility to Custom Papers, a subsidiary of the Specialty Coatings group. This is when an important part of the story occurs. The James River Company agreed to construct a landfill across the Muskenetcong River from the Warren Glen mill. This landfill would have a basin to collect the runoff and "leachate" water and send it back across the river to the facility's treatment facility. From there it would be treated and discharged safely back into the river.

Four years later, James River officially sold the mill to Custom Papers. They also sold the landfill to Crown Vantage, who operated the former Riegel mill in Milford. Despite both agreeing to carry on the landfill agreement, Crown Vantage stopped accepting waste at the landfill a few short years after purchasing the property.

Over the next few years, the company would see significant restructuring. In 1996,  they were bought out by Specialty Paperboard. A year later, they changed their name to Fibermark. Things changed once again in September of 1999 when it was announced that Fibermark was planning to close the Hughsville mill. Things weren't all bad though, as they announced that they were planning to add a new fifteen million dollar specialty paper production machine at the Warren Glen facility.

By 2001, Crown Vantage had filed for bankruptcy. Part of their bankruptcy included plans to abandon the landfill. In exchange, the company agreed to pay the NJDEP a measly $1 million to investigate and clean up the property. The DEP withdrew their objection to the bankruptcy. The agreement that the Fibermark company had with the landfill was ignored in the proceedings, leaving Fibermark responsible for the runoff from the landfill. It is reported that the money paid by Crown Vantage went to pay for the cleanup of another nearby landfill, and the Warren Glen landfill was largely ignored save for periodic landscaping.

Despite promises that the new paper machine would enable the Warren Glen mill to operate competitively with the Chinese paper market, the facility was still losing money. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in Vermont in 2004. The company also filed a motion that they be absolved from the agreement to maintain the runoff of the landfill. The motion was passed, and the DEP didn't react.

Two years later, Fibermark formally announced the planned closure of the Warren Glen mill. The DEP was reminded of their obligation to manage the landfill and began investigating what to with the property. The Hughsville Mill was subsequently sold to International Process Plants and Equipment. They tried to sell the Warren Glen property as well, but the runoff from the landfill proved to be an impassible issue. In June, Fibermark issued a letter to the DEP explaining that the plant was closing and that they needed to stop the runoff. The DEP reportedly ignored this letter, as well as subsequent attempts of Fibermark to reach out. It wasn't until August, after the firm finished their assessment of the landfill, that they responded to Fibermark, all but dismissing their demand. They explained that since they didn't have an alternative treatment option, it was Fibermarks problem. Fibermark responded that they had already been released from the agreement legally, and that they had no obligation to treat the runoff. After months of fighting it out, the DEP told Fibermark that they planned to dig a trench to divert the runoff back to the landfill until a permanent solution was found. Work was expected to be completed by January 12, 2007. Four days earlier, IPPE agreed to buy the Warren Glen mill. However, this deal was contingent on the DEP following through with their plan to finally stop the runoff onto the Fibermark property. The next day the DEP informed Fibermark that the plan didn't work out and that they needed to go back to the drawing board.

Due to the DEP's carelessness, the deal once again fell through. Fibermark immediately went to the courts and filed a tenporary restraining order that would bar the DEP from further contaminating the property. The order was granted by a judge, but it was acknowledged that it could not be an immediate thing and that the DEP simply needed to hurry up and figure out a solution. A month later, on April 12th, the DEP removed the pipe that had been discharging the contaminated water into the Fibermark property. Shortly after that, IPPE once again signed an agreement to purchase the plant. This time the company offered significantly less for the property, with some of the money being contingent on the sale of the equipment inside. The buildings and land itself sold for only $400,000. Fibermark was desperate to offload the property though, so they accepted what was offered and were finally done with the Warren Glen Mill.

This brings us to 2008, when Fibermark sued the NJDEP claiming the contamination was responsible for the company's failure to find a buyer for the property. They wanted the DEP to cover some of the financial damages they were directly responsible for. Fibermark claimed that they had to operate their wastewater treatment plant for years after the factory closed, at an estimated cost of nearly $70,000 a month. The company had a witness to back up the validity of their agreement with the former Crown Vantage company. In addition, they had testimony from those at the DEP that were were in charge of maintaining the site, as well as those that strong armed them into continuing to accept the contamination. Though most of the evidence and testimony backed up Fibermark, they lost their case. They were called out by the judge for mishandling their bankruptcy, and not adequately notifying the DEP that they needed to take care of the contamination.

Fibermark was out of options, and that is where their place in the mills history comes to a close. They were the last operators of the mill, which has been sitting vacant for the last ten years. It was the last of the three Hunterdon Riegal mills, and just like the others it sits as a testament to the forgotten industrial legacy

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