Most workers laid off at fire-damaged Sartell paper mill - KMSP-TV

Most workers laid off at fire-damaged Sartell paper mill

SARTELL, Minn. (AP) - Verso Paper has sent layoff notices to a large portion of its Sartell workforce after a devastating Memorial Day explosion and fire.

A cross stands outside the plant in honor of Jon Maus, the worker who died in the blast -- but the pain of loss is coming anew with a round of layoffs in a community that largely depends on the mill for work.

A spokesman for Verso, which is based in Maine, told the St. Cloud Times a "clear majority" of the mill's 259 hourly and salaried workers has been laid off.

Duffy Aleshire is a boilermaker who performed several jobs at the Verso paper plant, and he is one of many who -- though not employed full-time at the plant -- will feel the pain of its hiatus.

"It's a huge hit," he said. "Most people that work in that town work there, you know? It affects all the unions and everything else -- the whole community."

Spokesman Bill Cohen says a fraction of the staff remains involved in determining what would be required if the plant were to reopen. The mill likely will remain idle into the fall as the company waits to learn the exact cause of the explosion and a dollar amount to repair the damage.

Meanwhile, state leaders are stepping in with ideas for the site. Rep. Tim O'Driscoll is the former mayor of Sartell, and he -- along with Gov. Mark Dayton -- are encouraging Verso to remain committed to Minnesota.

"This could actually be an opportunity for the mill to do some expansion," O'Driscoll said.

Verso has reported more than 5,000 tons of finished paper and work-in-process inventory were destroyed. That could have a value of $5 million, based on industry costs. Much of the warehouse that was the site of the fire has been dismantled.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights are reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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