Residents testify about ethanol plant location

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Randall Thomas of Clovis voices his concern Thursday about an ethanol plant being built near his neighborhood during a hearing held Thursday by the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board.

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

The hearing regarding an air-quality permit issued to ConAgra Foods to build a 108-million-gallon-a-year ethanol plant along U.S. 60/84 continues today to hear testimony from witnesses for the food company.

Witnesses for the New Mexico Environmental Department and citizens concerned about health issues and property values testified Thursday at a New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board appeal hearing at the Clovis Civic Center.

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. Members of the group said they did not oppose the plant, but its location.

Several area residents testified they were misled about the location of the plant.

Evelyn McClure said letters from ConAgra did not explain clearly where the company would build its plant. She said the first letter she received gave her the impression that it would be located three miles from city limits. She said the plant would be located three miles away from downtown and right across the street from her home.

Environment Department permit specialist Sam Speaker testified ConAgra followed regulations in notifying communities affected by the plant after issuing another notice with the correct address.

Clovis City Commissioner and Curry County Commissioner Robert Sandoval also spoke at the public portion of the hearing.

He said the plant directly affects his constituents.

He said he has spoken to doctors who told him they expect respiratory diseases in the immediate location to rise if the plant is built at its proposed location.

Environment Department Air Quality Bureau Chief Mary Uhl said a food company model projecting the amount of pollution the plant would create was below the state and federal limits. She said the company used data from Roswell to include ambient pollution in its calculation to create the model.

Sandoval said he was not opposed to the plant, but opposed the location. He told the Environmental Board that he would work with the company to relocate it in a more suitable location, such as the Clovis Industrial Park.

Hearing officer Felicia Orth said ConAgra agreed to more stipulations in response to public concerns. The stipulation included higher smoke stacks, more inspection visitations by Environment Department inspectors and an initial compliance test.

The Rev. Joe Callahan of St. John Baptist Church testified that economics was an issue for the placement of the ethanol plant.

“I really do wish that some money will be spent to move this to the Industrial Park,” he said.

He said people in the area directly affected by the plant don’t have the financial resources to fight the placement in close proximity to where they live.

“And that’s the path of least resistance (for ConAgra),” he said.

The public will be given a chance to speak to the board after ConAgra Foods presents its witnesses at 9 a.m. today