In the middle of 1992, LePage was called in to serve as chief operating officer of another troubled company, Down East Peat, which had built the continent's first peat-fired power plant in Deblois Township three years before at a cost of $51 million. But the weather in Washington County was wetter than expected, foiling a key peat-harvesting technology and leaving the plant short of its intended fuel. "We are just creeping along hoping for a miracle," LePage told reporters that December, adding that the plant could not compete with cheap electricity flowing into the state from the new nuclear power plants in Seabrook, New Hampshire, and Point Lepreau, New Brunswick. He also blamed the DEP for refusing to issue permits to allow the company to partially drain the 650-acre Denbow Heath to facilitate peat harvesting. The DEP, he said, wanted the company to first secure an electricity supply contract (to demonstrate economic necessity), something they could not do without the drainage project. (While campaigning in 2010, he would falsely claim that the DEP also forced him to conduct black fly and buffalo surveys in the area.) The plant closed its doors shortly thereafter, putting 16 out of work. Once again, the DEP could be assigned blame.
In 1996, LePage started what would prove to be his final consulting assignment. Mickey Marden, head of one of the nation's most successful salvage retail operations, wanted help planning the succession of power to his children, who ran individual Marden's stores across the state. According to a source close to the late Marden, the sons resented the intrusion, but Mickey liked Paul so much, he hired him as the chain's full-time general manager. Though a generation apart, the two had much in common. Both were self-made Mainers who, despite humble upbringings, had excelled in college and the business world. They also had similar personalities. "Mickey knew a lot of people around town and had his opinions and was willing to say them, even though they weren't in the mainstream, of where people in Waterville or the state were," says Colby College government professor Sandy Maisel, who also knew both men. "Mickey was bigger than life, but not as much as Paul is. LePage is like Mickey Marden on steroids."
Marden had built a traveling auctioneering business into a nine-store chain with 550 employees, scouring the country for merchandise on auction after sales, bankruptcies, fires, and natural disasters. (Marden's shipped 135 trailers' worth of goods out of the Northridge, California, earthquake in 1994; approximately 100 from Louisiana and Mississippi malls flooded by Hurricane Katrina in 2005; and, in late 2001, 24 trailers of designer clothes from the Century 21 store adjacent to the World Trade Center — "Aside from a slight smoky smell or debris dust on a few items," the AP reported, most items "bore no evidence of the terror attack.") But while LePage had been working in industrial plants, Marden had been buying up the ones that failed, converting them to warehouses or renting them out as cheap commercial space. He'd already purchased the sprawling Androscoggin Mill back in Lewiston and, when the Winslow Mill closed in 1998, he sent LePage in to negotiate its purchase as well. LePage had gone from trying to save struggling industries to literally salvaging the carcasses of those that had died.