Domtar Corporation will be closing its pulp mill in Baileyville on May 5, according to an announcement on March 5. The move will put roughly 300 employees from Baileyville and surrounding towns out of work.

The shutdown will also mean a stoppage of the Port of Eastport’s primary, and virtually only, export at present-kraft pulp.

Ironically, the mill’s closing comes on the heels of what Eastport Port Director Chris Gardner called a “record year” in 2008 when the port shipped out 376,877 metric toms of pulp.

Those who work at the port include four staff at the port authority, five staff at the Federal Marine terminal, two harbor pilots, 50 longshoremen and 30 truckers.

While on the one hand expressing the hope that the shutdown will be temporary, Gardner added that it points dramatically to the need for Eastport to diversify.

“I’ve been port director for two years,” he said, “and during that time I’ve been working hard toward the goal of diversification. I think the future for us means bulk commodities and for that we need to improve our infrastructure such as adding an automated conveyor system. We’re looking at ways we can do this.”

Gardner noted that Eastport and the mill have a long history together.

“For 30 years we’ve had a great working relationship with Domtar, although under different names,” he said, “and obviously we want that relationship to continue. For that to happen it’s going to take a cooperative effort by the local, state and federal governments. We need to bring that mill back on line.”

But he added, “However, there’s just so much we can do, there’s no escaping the fact that the global downturn is affecting us.”

In the March 5 statement Domtar CEO and President John D. Williams said, “Current worldwide economic conditions with weaker global demand for pulp, historically high inventory levels and depressed prices make it extremely challenging for northern hardwood pulp mills to compete. With no immediate recovery in sight, we must temporarily reduce our pulp manufacturing capacity.”

Gardner concluded, “The Port Authority remains committed to investing in it Estes Head cargo operations and will work with state officials, our stevedores, Federal Marine Terminals, the Northeastern Longshoremen’s Association, the area harbor pilots, the local independent trucking operators, the City of Eastport, and all the surrounding communities to ensure that the Port of Eastport remains a viable and integral part of the local and statewide economy, We understand the need to remain strong in these times for all the families and local economies that we help support.”