Ethanol plant permit hearing planned

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom Newspapers

A hearing has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 27 at the Clovis Civic Center on an appeal of the air quality permit granted to ConAgra Trade Group for its Clovis Ethanol plant.

The petition was filed by Concerned Citizens for Curry County, the Clovis branch of the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens, according to an Environmental Hearing Board document.

The groups contend the permit was issued in error because the permit application did not accurately represent the location of the proposed facility and the location is inconsistent with environmental justice and social impact factors, according to the petition.

The hearing will be before the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board.

An air quality construction permit for ConAgra to begin construction was granted in May.

Blake Prather, spokesman for Concerned Citizens for Curry County, said Monday the hearing could set the permitting process back to the beginning and lend stronger emphasis to his group’s position if the board finds ConAgra misstated the plant’s location.

Prather said his group plans to present a case hinging on environmental impacts to minority and low income residents near the planned location. They also plan to show potential property value losses in the future if the plant is constructed.

“The social impact of this facility — we’re looking to make that a larger issue and there’s concern amongst some of the people, mortgage companies and real estate, that this is going to impact property values as well as limit (home) financing,” he said.

ConAgra spokeswoman Melissa Baron said Monday it is too early to speculate on the outcome of the hearing but said her company is dedicated to enriching the community through its presence.

“We’ve always stated we would work very closely with city officials and other people to make sure that our plants were set up (to meet safe standards),” Baron said.

“We feel confident that we have a project that would offer benefit to the community and the state.”

The ethanol plant is planned for a grain handling facility ConAgra operates along U.S. 84 and will produce 108 million gallons of ethanol a year from corn to be used as a fuel additive.

The plant is expected to create 200 to 250 construction jobs and 50 more permanent positions.

— CNJ news editor Jean Verlich contributed to this report