Do you miss the mill?

Do you miss the mill? Please, everyone who lived in Berlin when it was there, answer yes or no. I just talked to Paul Grenier, candidate for mayor, and this was his response:

“Nothing positive happened with the closing of the mill. I think it’s a lot worse, look around.”
I didn’t live there then, so I don’t know. I lived near Livermore Falls and Jay during high school, and a girlfriend’s parents lived in Rumford years later, but there is a big difference between being connected to a mill town and living in one.
Mr. Grenier misses the jobs, I’m assuming, and he didn’t mention anything about enjoying the clean air today. That doesn’t match with my sensibilities, but I was never laid off from the mill. I am comfortable telecommuting from my laptop to anywhere in the world. Not everyone can do that. Not everyone shares my perspective, and I fear too many of the people on LPJ share a worldview closely aligned with mine. It’s time to make more room.

So tell me, please, do you miss the mill? Was the smell worth it?

The sad part is the people who lost blue collar mill jobs aren’t the ones cruising the web checking out blogs. They didn’t leave the mill to work on computers; they left to find another working class job to pay the bills. And just because they don’t have time to post 100 comments doesn’t mean their views aren’t valuable.
While my perspective prefers the clean air, my job isn’t to preach my perspective. It is very likely Mr. Grenier isn’t alone in preferring a prosperous, dirty city, where everyone made a good wage and Main Street thrived. To discount that perspective is to do a disservice to the residents of the city, even those who aren’t working class.

Middle class versus working class—the difference is clear in Berlin. There are middle class opportunities, but few working class jobs left. Look at the story I did a few weeks ago about the parts supplier running a business out of his house—how do you take that opportunity if you don’t know computers? How does working class escape the rut in Berlin?
I wonder what infrastructure the city really needs to survive. How can industry survive today in the U.S. in general ? Could it survive in Berlin? Are working class people who aren’t comfortable with computers doomed in the new economy, both locally and nationally? Or is my job going to be shipped to India, and the tradespeople will have the last laugh?

I don’t really have any answers, but I think it’s important to recognize when your worldview is restricting your understanding of the facts. My background is middle class, with a college education and lots of open doors. I value clean air, mountain views, organic food and art galleries. Not everyone does. Some people would prefer 200 jobs to a dozen more restaurants like Libby’s. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? The jobs seem more practical…

So please, in the name of science, tell me if you miss the mill. And maybe list off your education and some socioeconomic background, to see if those are indicative of anything.

I’ll start—

Mill—Don’t miss it (How could I?).
Private boarding school for high school
Two bachelor’s degrees from a state university (I paid for it all, not my parents)
Don’t drink beer, but I do enjoy wine
5 years as a commercial fisherman; hated it because my hands smelled all the time
Favorite sports: rock climbing, ice climbing and skiing (read: rich kid sports; ever looked at the price of ice tools?)

My bias is obvious. Do other people notice theirs?

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9 thoughts on “Do you miss the mill?

  1. The question isn't whether or not you like the mill. The question is; Will the mill actually "NET" jobs if it comes to fruition? Then…the real question becomes; If the mill really isn't "Netting" any jobs do you like the mill or not? Sound crazy? Not really if you dig deeper. Here's why.Though this post isn't intended to be geared towards Mr. Grenier, his logic is at the center of the problem. Another question is whether or not Mr. Grenier is truly representing the county as county commissioner when he states his support of Laidlaw is to bring jobs. The jobs Grenier talks about bringing to Berlin are directly commodity related. Without more wood, the "new" Laidlaw jobs will very likely be at the expense of currently operating facilities in Whitefield, Bethlehem, and Tamworth going out of business. If Laidlaw could downsize so that it wouldn't have this impact that would be one thing. BUT, due to the size of the boiler downsizing isn't economically feasible for Laidlaw to do. The question becomes whether or not Mr. Grenier is truly representing the county as county commissioner when he states his support of Laidlaw is to bring jobs when it certainly could be construed as short sighted thinking for a Berlin resident, especially if he happens to be a county commissioner. From a County perspective Mr. Grenier falls short of the truth. Instead, he states that the mill once burned 1.2 million tons of better grade wood and pretends that biomass facilities use the same wood to qualify for RECs and run their plants. The fact of the matter is that because the mills have closed, less wood is available to biomass plants and numerous wood studies, including the Mahoosuc Initiative show this. To demonstrate this without really trying, Whitefield power has run out of wood at times and PSNH's Schiller station is reaching further and further out into NH to obtain wood.Additionally, for Mr. Grenier to dismiss these wood studies and proclaim there is plenty of wood, would be akin to him being a part of an administration that encouraged Dillon style logging in efforts to keep a mill open that has since closed. Jon

  2. Erik, No I don't miss the mill but I do miss the jobs the mill created. The heritage can still be enjoyed, and the people that made it what it was and what this area is can be appreciated, and respected, as we move on to new venues.As to the car I drive, it depends on the day. I have a 1993 lexus coupe I paid $2800 for, a 2000 Grand Caravan I paid $340.00 for and an 01 Lexus that's worth about 7K. All totaled they're worth far less than the pick up truck most mill workers enjoy in town. Lesson: Never judge a man by the car he drives. I'm a middle class man. Nice Volvo by the way, I used to have one just like it and really miss it- very classy. Much better than any of mine in the snow. Jon

  3. Ok, so far I've heard Mr. Grenier make two public statements since he's signed up as a candidate for Mayor, and both of them are ridiculous. First, in the daily sun, he stated he was entering the Mayor's race because he was upset that the city seal was changed and that he thought it was insulting to take the smoke stacks off the seal. If he were at the meetings, he would realize that we were very sensitive to keeping the image of "the city that trees built" and preserving the heritage of hard working mill workers who built this town, literally by hand. Mr Grenier is clearly living in the past on this…..As paper mills drop off the map all around us, he wants us to hang on to ours?Now in LPJ, I read another fine statement from Mr. Grenier….. "Nothing positive happened with the closing of the mill. I think it's a lot worse, look around."… unbelievable…..Sure, alot of people lost their jobs and their retirement etc… I know of dozens personally who suffered…… but that wasn't the fault of the city…. The paper industry was struggling, if not dying, due to many reasons, for many many years……the writing was on the wall…..but the city stood by, ignored the warning signs, and kept all its eggs in one basket. It was the city's fault that it relied solely on the mill for so many years, without diversifying its economic portfolio. Sure, the mill provided great wages for blue collar workers… my father was one of them……but over the years, how much economic investment in the community did it PREVENT? Lots. We didn't close the mill, we let its run its course….. now its time to move on.Let me remind Mr. Grenier that it was on his watch that the mill closed, and he, along with Mr. Danderson "Mr. PSNH", Mr. Cusson et al just stood by and let another out of town company come in, do what they wanted, and now we are left to deal with the pieces…… The city could have been, should have been, more pro-active, or at least more involved in the future of the site. The mill closed, it was sad…..traumatic really to many people… I feel for those people Mr. Grenier…. I understand….. but the mill is gone….. forget about the mill……its not coming back……unbelievable……Its sad to see this council election shaping up to be all about Laidlaw…. it really is…… Whether Laidlaw operates or not is only a small portion of the future of this great city….. That has always been Mr. Grenier's problem….. he just wants to keep living in the past. Living in the past is why 80% of graduating seniors leave this town and invest in others….and never come back. Young people look to the FUTURE, they don't care about the past……Living in the past is why many companies don't invest in Berlin…..they are concerned about their FUTURE, not their past……(yes, Laidlaw is an exception, but Laidlaw has a golden opportunity here….)I don't know about you Mr. Grenier, but I'm looking to the future…Biomass can surely play a part in that future.The memories of reading the Berlin newspapers and seeing all the stupid quotes this man used to ramble are all coming back to me…… its painful really. I can only hope the residents of this great city remember that pain when they have the ballot in their hand. Whether they are in favor of Laidlaw or not, it would be a tragedy to put that backward thinking attitude, that "living in the past" mindset back behind the Mayor's desk.I promise to come back in talk about the mill soon….. must get some sleep-just got home from work and have a very busy day today….. As always Erik, keep up the good work……Ryan Landry

  4. Ok, I can't sleep (and I feel guilty that I ignored the whole point of your post…. I apologize..I don't miss the mill…. The smell, the noise, the traffic, the lights, the occasional bright green discharge, the constant worry of lay-offs, shut downs, the price of pulp, the chinese imported pulp, the stigma, the multiple bankruptcies, the layer of fine yellow dust that covered the entire east side, the rotten egg smell, the piercing "air compressor x1,000" sound that you could't speak over from a 1/2 mile radius, the chip trucks, the accidents, the stacks, the trains, the smoke, the jokes from out of town friends, the lost opportunities, the closed minded thinking…I don't miss any of it. I'm sorry for the people who lost their jobs, I'm sorry for their families, I truly am, but I'm not looking back.I do miss the friends that moved away as their parents' jobs were lost due to 20 years of slow but steady downsizing….the generosity of the James River Company and the events they sponsored etc, the payroll, the christmas tree above the mill every December, the free Thanksgiving turkeys….and I do miss the secirity that it falsely provided my parents, my in-laws, myself…But I surely don't miss the mill.PS: I'm 37, I have an associates degree in science, nursing, licensed RN, and I drive a Toyota Corolla….Have a great day everyone…..(I should sleep good now)Ryan Landry

  5. Well Erik, I think asking the question "do you miss the mills" is a useless/pointless exercise. Economically speaking, asking if we miss the mills is a bit like asking if you miss your parents after they pass away. The mills were the economic life blood of the region, but in my mind it's a moot point after we've grieved for years. People like Paul Grenier are stuck in "that" past and only recognize things that look, smell and behave somewhat like a paper mill. Quality of life is never a priority for folks living in the past and health issues related to industry are ignored or trivialized. Remember back then, these same people were laughing and saying "the smell of money" while the chemicals like chlorine were burning the lungs of their loved ones. There's a way for Berlin to develop a new economy without having to prostitute its quality of life or the health of its residents. Those who fail to see the full potential of Berlin need our sympathy not our vote and are wasting our time.

  6. I don't miss the mill. I have an interesting statistic for everyone. When I was in high school my mom (who was working in health care in the Berlin/Gorham area) told me that a NH study indicated that the highest childhood leukemia rates in NH (per capita) were in Berlin & Groveton. Do you know what both communities had in common? That is right, paper mills. When I was in high school I actually mentioned this statistic to a paper company representative (in front of others) and he gave me a look of pure death. A look that said, "How dare you question my industry when we are providing good jobs to your community". He was a real piece of work. I had a friend who lived on the east side who developed childhood leukemia. What a dreaded disease. She survived (thankfully) and lives a good life today but she can thank the "smell of money" for what she suffered through. I can remember waking up in the morning to a film of yellow dust on my parent’s cars and wondering out loud how this disgusting residue was impacting my health and the health of others in the community. I remember my parents warning me that if I saw green vapor coming out of the mill that I should be really careful because I could die a horrid death from inhaling it (that was chlorine by the way). I can remember that horrid smell of rotten eggs every day. A smell you could never escape in almost all parts of the city (depending upon which way the wind blew). I can remember going to college and being embarrassed to tell people I was from Berlin because their first response would almost always be, "Oh, you're from stink town. How do you tolerate that smell?" With all due respect to the hard working men & women who worked in the paper industry for many years, I simply do not miss the pulp mill. It is time to move on. If you agree, then I strongly recommend that you do not vote for Mr. Grenier. He does not have the vision needed to lead this City into a post industrial America.

  7. Thanks for the responses. I particularly appreciate those who answered my questions.Background and experience play a huge part in people's perspective, and while I have mine I have no interest in imposing it on the city of Berlin. The Reporter is not my paper; it is the city's paper. If there are people in Berlin who miss the mill the paper should represent their views too.I think its valuable to register where perspective comes from. I see a lot of critical remarks and little self-reflection throughout the debates that hold the city captive. It's too bad, because its harder to demonize an opposition you feel empathy towards. The city might reach compromises and solutions by bridging those gaps, but neither side seems interested in developing a solution. They are too busy hurling insults at each other. It drains some of the community from the community.Imagine if the various parties reached a compromise to work toward promoting the city's future instead of denigrating each other. Wouldn't that be crazy? I wonder what the city could accomplish.But that's just naive, right? I mean, people can't even talk openly about where they come from and how it affects their views.

  8. Sorry, to the point of your questions. No I don't miss the mills (but I didn't work there). I have some college, but no degree. I started and operated several businesses in Berlin over a period of 30 years and I drive a 88 Town car with 140,000 miles. Now what's the point of this?

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