By Tony Gutierrez: CNJ staff writer
Aquaranch president Garth Watson said plans to convert the former Swift/Frozefruit plant on Curry Road K south of Clovis to a $4 million-a-year fish farm have already begun.
Although the project still needs state approval, Watson told county commissioners Tuesday workers are reroofing the building, fixing the water systems, and doing electrical and grounds work. Watson also said he plans to build six acres of greenhouses.
Watson said company officials chose Clovis because his late partner, Dale Jennings, was raised in the area. He also mentioned the facility, the “proactive nature of the state’s government in the environment” and area’s labor force as reasons.
“The availability of the facility was a big input to be in Clovis,” Watson said. “A facility like this would be five times more anywhere else.”
He said the company could employ 75 to 150 people its first year and a half of operation and up to 500 after five years.
In addition to raising tilapia — a fresh-water fish of Asian origin commonly raised for commercial sale — the company uses the wastewater to grow organic vegetables in a process called aquaponics. The company would also market the plants.
Watson said there would not be any discharge of water once tanks were filled, and the only water lost would be caused by evaporation or used for the vegetables.
The facility would need about 720,000 gallons of water to fill 24 tanks in which the fish are raised with 30,000 gallons of water each, Watson said, but water would be recycled after the initial deposition since it is a closed-loop system.
Water would be drawn from a well on site.
The amount of water to be used caused concern for one local resident.
“My concern is we have to conserve that Ogallala Aquifer,” said Gloria Wicker, former city commissioner and local activist. “I’m very interested in knowing what their water consumption was. We cannot keep allowing more and more high-usage projects even though we don’t want to turn away development in Curry County.”
Watson said Aquaranch’s parent company, Northern Lights Environment Technologies, wants to build other “environmentally safe” facilities, including a prototype for waste treatment.
“The fish farm is just one step in what Mr. Watson is planning to do,” said Commissioner Robert Sandoval. “I’ve offered Garth Watson my support both as a city and county commissioner. It will still affect the city because the amount of people he’s going to employ is going to be great for the city.”