Verso Paper Corp. (NYSE:VRS) announced today that it has completed a preliminary assessment of the damage resulting from the recent explosion and fire at its paper mill in Sartell, Minnesota. The incident at the Sartell mill on May 28, 2012, which claimed the life of one Verso employee and injured four others, caused substantial damage to the mill’s paper warehouse and important infrastructure including the electrical system. While a visual inspection of the mill’s paper machine indicates that it was not damaged, the operability of the paper machine has not yet been confirmed. Based on the preliminary damage assessment, Verso has concluded that a period of several months would be required to complete the necessary repairs to the mill. Verso intends to continue the damage assessment and will make a decision on the mill’s future once the assessment is completed. Verso has determined that over 5,000 tons of finished paper and work-in-process inventory were destroyed by the explosion and fire at the Sartell mill. Verso is working closely with its customers to provide alternative paper supplies in an effort to meet their needs in a timely manner. “Verso is appreciative of the cooperation and flexibility that our customers have demonstrated as we work together to resolve the production, supply and logistical issues resulting from this unfortunate, unforeseen event,” said Mike Weinhold, Verso’s Senior Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Product Development. “The tragic loss of our employee, Jon Maus, makes this an especially difficult time for Verso and our employees,” said Dave Paterson, Verso’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “Our collective thoughts and prayers continue for Jon’s wife Lucy, their children, and the rest of the Maus family.” Verso also continues to offer counseling services for all employees affected by the Sartell incident. Parallel with the damage assessment, Verso has begun an investigation into the origin and cause of the explosion and fire at the Sartell mill. “Our top priority is to determine why this unfortunate event happened and to make sure that nothing like it ever happens again,” said Paterson. The Sartell mill has consistently achieved “Star” status in the Voluntary Protection Program sponsored by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which recognizes employers and employees who have demonstrated exemplary achievement in the prevention and control of occupational safety and health hazards.
The State Fire Marshal Division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and Verso’s insurer also are investigating the explosion and fire at the Sartell mill. Verso is voluntarily and fully cooperating with these investigations.Verso is grateful for the tremendous assistance provided by many organizations and individuals in response to the Sartell incident. “We want to thank everyone – including the mill’s first responders, fire departments, law enforcement agencies, emergency response organizations, emergency relief agencies, governmental officials, and concerned businesses and citizens – for their outpouring of support for Verso and the Sartell mill,” said Lyle Fellows, Verso’s Senior Vice President of Manufacturing and Energy. About Verso Based in Memphis, Tennessee, Verso Paper Corp. is a leading North American producer of coated papers, including coated groundwood and coated freesheet, and specialty products. Verso’s paper products are used primarily in media and marketing applications, including magazines, catalogs and commercial printing applications such as high-end advertising brochures, annual reports and direct-mail advertising. Additional information about Verso is available on the Company's website at www.versopaper.com. Forward-Looking Statements In this press release, all statements that are not purely historical facts are forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Forward-looking statements may be identified by the words “believe,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “project,” “plan,” “estimate,” “intend” and similar expressions. Forward-looking statements are based on currently available business, economic, financial and other information and reflect management’s current beliefs, expectations and views with respect to future developments and their potential effects on Verso. Actual results could vary materially depending on risks and uncertainties that may affect Verso and its business. For a discussion of such risks and uncertainties, please refer to Verso’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Verso assumes no obligation to update any forward-looking statement made in this press release to reflect subsequent events or circumstances or actual outcomes.