MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — The Verso paper mill in Sartell, Minn., which sustained heavy damage from a Memorial Day explosion and fire, will not reopen, Verso announced Thursday.

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The Memphis, Tenn.-based company says it based its decision on the length of time it would take to rebuild, and on market challenges.
Verso official Lyle Fellows told a news conference Thursday the decision “is not based lightly.”

“Very, very difficult decision for us. Just a tremendous work force, very skilled group of people. It’s very hard for us. “It’s an emotional day for all of us to have to do this,” Fellows said.

Before the blast, the mill employed more than 250 people. Most had been laid off since the explosion, which killed one worker and injured four others. Still, many held out hope that the plant would eventually re-open.

“Trying to figure out what to do next, too young to retire,” said Dave Slimmer, a Verso worker.

“I believe they did everything possible to keep this going, and I know, as a local we did everything we could do,” said Lyle Fleck, a Verso worker.

Fellows said the Sartell mill has not been competitive for many years. A fact not lost on employees. In December 2011, the company shut down two of the facilities three paper machines.

“I know the paper markets have been tough. We’ve been struggling with that, trying to make it work,” Slimmer said.

Gov. Mark Dayton plans to travel to Sartell Friday to meet with local officials and show his support for the community.

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A Dayton spokeswoman says the governor will do everything he can to recruit a company to buy the mill or find an investor for the site.

“We will consider every possibility and nothing’s off the table at this point,” the spokeswoman said.

State Rep. Tim O’Driscoll, R-Sartell, calls the mill’s shutdown “clearly an end of an era for Sartell.”

“The city of Sartell and the paper mill have grown up together … and a lot of families have had an opportunity to work there,” O’Driscoll said. “We’re very stunned by the news.”

But the announcement gives Sartell an opportunity to find a new employer for the site, O’Driscoll said.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann says she understands Verso’s decision. She says anytime Minnesotans lose their jobs “is a heartbreaking day.”

The workers heard the news from their plant manager and the vice president of manufacturing and energy.

The mill is more than 100 years old.

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