After more than 80 years in operation, the paper mill in Dalhousie, N.B., will be shutting down at the end of Thursday.

AbitibiBowater Inc. announced in November that it would be permanently closing down the mill in the small coastal community in northern New Brunswick.

About 330 workers at the mill were putting in their last shifts on Thursday.

Billy Audfroid, 53, has been working at the mill since he was 18 and was only a year and a half away from when he could retire with a pension.

But now, no one knows when workers will see their severance packages or their pensions, Audfroid said.

"We're not getting much information concerning pensions or anything else. Seems everything's unknown. We're in the dark," Audfroid said. "We don't know. It's scary."

Audfroid said now he will be taking a course to learn to operate heavy machinery and expects to have to move to western Canada.

The uncertainty around the pension plans and severance packages is adding to an already stressful situation in the town of 3,600, said Mayor Clem Tremblay.

"I don't know what's the blockage between the union and the management up there — I don't know," Tremblay said.

The Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union was not available for comment.

Jean-Philippe Cote, spokesman for AbitibiBowater, said there isn't a problem but the company can't discuss the details of the packages publicly.

The town is continuing to look at options for new businesses in Dalhousie, Tremblay said.

Merger downsized

The town still has a future because of its port, the local tourism industry and the potential to attract new industries, he said.

The mill closure follows the downsizing of the merger of Montreal-based Abitibi-Consolidated and the paper division of Bowater, an American forestry company based in Greenville, S.C.

The new company's management said it would move quickly to reduce debt by $1 billion over three years and to reduce annual costs.

The restructuring is a blow to the forestry industry that's been hit by high fuel costs, a slowing U.S. economy and the competitive disadvantage of a high Canadian dollar.

The Dalhousie mill, which has been operating since 1928, was a cornerstone to the local economy. Beyond the 330 people directly affected by the closure, other job losses are expected in the town were many local firms supplied products to the mill.

Of 85 mills that were running in New Brunswick in 1995, only 16 are now fully operational. The others have permanently or temporarily closed or are running at reduced capacity.