By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
For most of Thursday — and possibly some of Friday — a decision to grant an air quality permit for Clovis Ethanol will be revisited.
The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board is holding an appeal hearing at Clovis Civic Center regarding an air quality permit issued to ConAgra Foods to build a 108-million-gallon-a-year ethanol plant along U.S. 84.
The New Mexico Environment Department granted the permit to ConAgra in May to build a plant just west of the city that would convert corn into a fuel additive.
A petition to appeal the decision was filed by Concerned Citizens for Curry County, the Clovis branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Petitioners contend the permit was issued in error because the permit application did not accurately represent the location of the proposed facility.
“The issue is the notices were incorrect and people were not properly notified,” said Blake Prather, a leader for Concerned Citizens for Curry County. “They did not give people opportunity to respond because they misled them with location.”
Prather also said the location is inconsistent with environmental justice and social impact factors. The demographics of the area near the plant, Prather said, shows a disproportionate minority population.
ConAgra witnesses contend citizens were properly informed, and pollution will not be as significant as critics claim. ConAgra spokesperson Melissa Baron said the company’s hands are tied unless the permit goes through.
“We hope this represents the final step in obtaining the air-quality permit,” Baron said, “and we will continue to work closely with the Environment Department.”
The plant is expected to create 200 to 250 construction jobs and 50 more permanent positions.
The Environment Department stands by its May decision, assistant counsel Bill Grantham said, but he and department communications director Marissa Stone lauded the hearing as a chance to give citizens a chance to hear all sides of the story.
“We’re basically defending this decision to issue the permit,” Grantham said. “It’s not that common that appeals go to the improvement board.”
Representatives for all three petitioners, as well as representatives on behalf of the Environment Department and ConAgra will testify during the hearing. There will also be public comment periods.
Prather is hopeful the public comment sections will be just as informative as the technical witnesses.
“I think it lets the officials, the hearing officer, know that people are concerned it’s too close to the neighborhoods.”
What: Ethanol plant appeal hearing
When: 8 a.m. Thursday
Where: Clovis Civic Center
Public comment periods: noon, 5 p.m. and following the conclusion of technical witness testimony
Those expected to testify, according to documents available from the Environmental Improvement Board.
Kurt Menke: Will testify about location of the ethanol plant.
Blake Prather: Leader for Citizens for Right Choice and Concerned Citizens for Curry County.
David Briseno: LULAC chapter leader.
Joe Callahan: Representative for local NAACP chapter
Two hours of testimony is also set aside for non-technical witnesses from the Clovis community.
New Mexico Environment Department
Sam Speaker: Permitting Specialist in the New Source Review Unit of the NMED’s Air Quality Bureau Permitting Section.
Mary Uhl: Chief of the NMED’s Air Quality Bureau since April 2005.
Felicia Orth: NMED Department Hearing Officer.
On behalf of ConAgra
Steven Frey: Will testify about notices given by Con-Agra during application process.
Kirk Johnson: General Manager of Clovis Ethanol.
Tim Lyman: Curry County Assessor’s office.
Chase Gentry: Economic benefits to Clovis and Curry County.