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BRATTLEBORO — A maker of compostable food containers and plates shipped 20 truckloads of pulp to Long Falls Paperboard in anticipation of a trial run of compostable products earlier this month.

But that pulp hasn’t been used and Ralph Bianculli, founder of Emerald Brand, is wondering what the hold up is.

“We’ve spent a lot of time, energy and money to try to move this project forward,” Bianculli told the Reformer on Tuesday. “We have made a full commitment to get in there and make this work.”

“I’m deeply concerned and have considerable professional frustration due to Long Falls sudden and unexpected change in direction regarding the paper board trial we had agreed upon and has been scheduled for weeks,” wrote Keith Roenelt, executive vice president of operations for Paradigm Group and Emerald Brand, in an email Bianculli shared with the Reformer. “In my professional career I have never experienced such unprofessional and disingenuous treatment of a potential partner.”

Bianculli told the Reformer he and others met with Richard Normandin, one of the managing partners of Long Falls, earlier this year and worked out the details for a trial run of Emerald’s compostable products.

However, said Bianculli, Normandin pulled the rug out from under Emerald and no one really knows why.

“As disappointed as I am at the actions of current management, I am still interested in pursuing the rebirth of this plant,” he said.

“Our longstanding policy is not to discuss customer orders,” Normandin told the Reformer via email on Wednesday when asked why the trial run was stalled. However, he wrote, “We always listen to all business opportunities, including partnerships and joint ventures.”

Three years ago, Normandin, Ben Rankin, Phillip Farmer and Mike Cammenga purchased the plant from Georgia-based Neenah Paper.

Normandin is the president of Northrich Inc., which operates a paper mill in Granby, Quebec. Farmer referred all questions to Normandin. Rankin did not respond to a request for comment.

Cammenga told the Reformer that the Long Falls has not been producing paperboard since since Nov. 5 and he expects paperboard won’t be run at all this week.

He also confirmed there are 20 truckloads of pulp “awaiting our long anticipated trial” with Emerald Brand.

“Emerald has expressed an interest to partner with the mill and bring its strategic product line, brands, and marketing expertise to combine with our expert papermaking skills and technology,” said Cammenga.

Bianculli told the Reformer Emerald Brand can’t keep up with the demand for its products, especially from Fortune 500 companies such as CitiBank and American Express that use Emerald’s compostable products in their in-house food services, where they provide meals to more than 100,000 people a day in offices across the country.

Rather than build a mill from scratch, he said, Long Falls could be converted relatively easily to produce paperboard made from sugarcane stalks and other agricultural byproducts that are biodegradable.

“Long Falls could be a very important piece in bringing our products to our clients who are based up and down the Eastern Seaboard,” he said.

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Bianculli still hopes he can get the trial run kick started, but if that doesn’t happen, he will have to find another paper mill to partner with. He will also have to file a complaint to be compensated for the nearly $200,000 Emerald has spent on the stalled trial run.

But Bianculli understands getting money from Long Falls might be akin to getting blood from a stone.

FINANCIAL TROUBLES

According to court documents, Long Falls has lost nearly $14 million over the past three years. Those court documents were filed by Troy Boiler Works, which claims it retrofitted boilers at the plant in Brattleboro but has yet to receive more than $400,000 for the work.

The court documents also note that Long Falls has defaulted on a $2 million loan from the Vermont Economic Development Authority.

A spokesperson from the VEDA did not respond to a request for comment.

Long Falls also has not paid back a $500,000 “bridge loan” to the Windham County Economic Development Program.

In addition, the plant had not paid its property tax for 2020, nor its sewer and water bill, totaling $440,000. It also owes nearly $130,000 for 2021, according to the Brattleboro Tax Collector’s Office.

Adam Grinold, the executive director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, said the BDCC bought the property earlier this year during a tax auction and has paid off some of the taxes owed. It has until October 2022 to pay off the rest of the taxes and the sewer and water bill.

Grinold had no other comment.

Normandin told the Reformer he is currently working on restructuring the plant’s debt and all the outstanding issues will be dealt with when that process is finished.

“Our short term focus is restarting operations and implementing our current financing,” he said.

Normandin also confirmed that while the plant has been idle it has allowed them to “catch up on maintenance.”

He also said there are no plans to shutter the plant because “demand for our product is strong.”

In 1961, Case Brothers opened the plant in Brattleboro, which was purchased by Boise Cascade in 1967. In 1989, the facility broke away from Boise Cascade and was renamed Specialty Paperboard. In 1997 it was renamed Fibermark. In 2015, it was purchased by Georgia-based Neenah Paper, which sold the plant to Long Falls in late 2018. BDCC bought the building and the property in a tax sale earlier this year, but Long Falls still owns the equipment housed in the building.

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.