Plant gets recommendation from hearing officer

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

A hurdle for a company that wants to produce 108 million gallons of ethanol annually in Clovis has been cleared, albeit with suggested concessions, according to a state hearing officer.

New Mexico Environment Department hearing officer Felicia Orth recommended ConAgra Trade Group be issued a permit for the construction and operation of Clovis Ethanol on a site just west of city limits on U.S. Highway 60/84. She also recommended ConAgra provide community members information about its operations and emissions at least once a year, according to report released Friday.

The report was submitted to Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry, who has 30 days to issue an ultimate decision on the plant, according to NMED officials.

Orth conducted a public hearing Jan. 11 in Clovis to form her recommendation.

Her recommendation for regular updates and easily accessible information on the plant stems from “significant public interest in the plant,” her report reads.

Dozens of Clovis residents opposed giving the plant a permit to operate nearby Clovis neighborhoods.

Interested community members should be able to check on the plant’s operation and emissions through the NMED Clovis Field Office, Orth recommends.

A copy of ConAgra’s permit for operation and the results of emission tests conducted by NMED should be kept at the field office, she also recommends.

There is no evidence that the plant will violate NMED statutes set to protect public health and, therefore, the permit cannot be denied, according to the report and NMED officials.

Frank Dottle, who lives across from site for the plant on U.S. 60/84, said he will move if the plant begins operations because of health fears tied to emissions.

He said he was “surprised” the report includes suggested concessions for residents, but those concessions do not alleviate his concerns.

“This (plant) is awful close to a residential area,” he said.

Mostly low-income and minority residents live near the proposed ethanol site.

The plant is expected to create 55 jobs as well as an additional 50-75 indirect jobs in service of the plant, according to ConAgra officials. About 300 people are expected to be employed in construction-related jobs.