GROVETON — Progress has been grindingly slow for the past six years in the attempt — or rather, several of them — to find new uses for a former paper mill's hulking vacant industrial buildings, which do little these days but cast long shadows on Northumberland's once-thriving business center, the village of Groveton.
Selectmen have given the Bethlehem-based North Country Council permission to explore several options, including growing plants — possibly marijuana — for medicinal uses.
North Country's economic development coordinator, Pat Garvin, stressed Monday that "therapeutic cannabis" would be a "tiny, tiny little piece" of the eventual business puzzle at the old mill, and wouldn't come to fruition for years, if at all.
"I was there just to try to get a feel for what the town wanted to do," she said of her recent meeting with the Northumberland selectmen.
They did not object. But as Garvin pointed out in an interview Monday, although New Hampshire is poised to become the last of the New England states to approve limited use of marijuana for approved patients, Gov. Maggie Hassan has not yet signed the measure into law.
That use would also come with a host of restrictions. For example, the enterprise could be run only by a nonprofit.
"Our goal really is to get the word out that the property will be available for any number of uses. The largest dairy farm in Coos County is nearby, so maybe artisanal cheese could be manufactured there," Garvin said.
Wausau Paper closed its doors in 2007, dropping the final curtain on an industry that saw Diamond International Papers, followed by James River Paper Co., make the plant a major North Country employer.
Since then, several potential buyers — some with big plans for a renewed local economy — came and went over the years. They included one outfit whose principals disappeared without a trace on the eve of a sale.
A later deal fell through when a New Hampshire-based buyer died shortly after signing a purchase and sales agreement for the 107-acre property. So the old paper mill and its price tag of more than $2 million remained on the market until Green Steel of Scottsdale, Ariz., stepped in last year with a check for $2.6 million for the owner, Groveton Acquisitions.
Garvin said Green Steel has been salvaging the metal that can be salvaged, and has agreed to clean up the rest of the property. She believes that work is headed toward completion.
Garvin said plans call for only a couple of the site's many buildings to be left standing, along with a greatly reduced total of some 70,000 square feet of floor space.