By Darrell Todd Maurina
Cheese production plants in two eastern New Mexico cities have had major economic impacts on those communities, according to business and city officials in those communities.
The plants provided a major source of new employment to Lovington, which is trying to diversify an economy largely based on oil and natural gas, and Roswell, which is still recovering from the loss of several large employers, business leaders and city officials said.
The Lovington plant is owned by Dairy Farmers of America, which has partial ownership of the proposed $200 million Clovis plant along with Glanbia Foods, an Ireland-based multinational company.
The Glanbia southwest plant is expected to be completed sometime in the second half of 2005
Lovington’s city manager Pat Wise said plans to treat the cheese plant’s waste water went afoul shortly after the plant was built.
“We had one infrastructure problem and it was colossal,” said Wise, who was mayor pro-tem when the DFA plant overwhelmed the city’s waste water plant three years ago.
“The whole town smelled of a waste water treatment plant that had gone septic and it wasn’t pretty,” Wise said. “The public was irate, and quite frankly, they had a reason to be.”
Wise said the main problem was that a city plant built to handle residential waste water couldn’t efficiently handle waste milk products, leading to an order from New Mexico state officials to build a separate treatment system.
Buster Goff, a Portales native who owns Goff Dairy and was a major proponent of getting the Lovington plant to town, said that as a DFA board member, he made sure the Clovis plant wouldn’t have the same problems he experienced in Lovington.
“When we worked at getting it (to Lovington), they were looking at 400,000 pounds of milk, it is now at 1.7 million,” Goff said. “I think it was partly the extreme growth and also expansion of the waste water areas lagged a little bit behind.”
Goff and Lee agreed that plant management worked hard to correct the problems.
“The people operating this plant and who will be involved in your plant are the kind of people who will get things right,” Goff said.
Chase Gentry, executive director of Clovis Industrial Development Corporation, said Clovis planned from the beginning to have a separate waste water treatment facility, partly to avoid sewer overflows and partly so the water could be reused rather than wasted.
“This facility is not close to homes, so even if there was anything that had an odor to it, with the location there wouldn’t be a problem,” Gentry said.
Gentry said the closest home to the new plant is a half-mile away, and that home belongs to a dairy farmer.
Roswell officials said they have had no problems and the plant has been an unqualified benefit to their town.
“Leprino Cheese is the world’s largest mozzarella cheese factory and Roswell is the dairy capital of the southwest as far as milk produced annually,” said Roswell city planner Zach Montgomery. “Basically Leprino foods had to build and install their own waste water treatment plant. Their plant could actually support a small city with the size of the waste water treatment.”
Dusty Huckabee, director of Main Street Roswell, said the cheese plant has been crucial in attracting dairies and other businesses to town.
“A lot of these dairy farmers were trying to get out of California because of the environmental hassles,” Huckabee said. “We address that and work with the people.”