Ethanol plant looks to put in retention pond

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

A retention pond is the latest issue between a company that wants to build an ethanol plant near Clovis and residents, some who can see the proposed site from their home windows.

ConAgra Trade Group is proposing to build and operate a108-million-gallon-a-year ethanol plant at 1327 U.S. Highway 60/84, about three-tenths of a mile from Clovis city limits.

The seven- to nine-acre pond would hold water that cooled the plant’s equipment, according to ConAgra spokesperson Melissa Baron. None of the pond water would come into contact with ethanol, she said. The pond would be located south of the proposed site and directly south of railroad tracks near the site, she said.

Many who live near the plant were not aware of plans for the pond until recently, according to Frank Dottle, who lives across from the proposed site of Clovis Ethanol.

“We don’t know what kind of pollution will come from (the ponds),” Dottle said.

Johnny Chavez, who lives less than a mile from the proposed plant, said his neighbors “are absolutely appalled” about the pond. He said the pond will be a magnet for mosquitos.

Discussion of the pond is included in a New Mexico Environment Department report released this month. The report is based on a public hearing regarding a permit for the plant. It was written by NMED hearing officer Felicia Orth, who recommends giving ConAgra an operating permit.

Clovis Ethanol Manager Kirk Johnson said plans for the pond can be traced back to the beginning of the project and were discussed at several public meetings.

Orth recommends adding stipulations to the plant’s permit that would prevent pond odors in her report.

The overall condition and operation of the pond will be monitored by NMED officials, Baron said. She said plans for the pond also include a boundary around the pond to ensure public safety. ConAgra officials aren’t sure yet what type of boundary it will be.

“(NMED) does not usually include permit conditions for sources that are not the source of emissions, such as lagoon ponds,” Orth’s report reads.

But smells from a retention pond at an ethanol plant in Portales led NMED officials to recommend the conditions, the report reads.

The first permit condition requires dried distiller’s grain with solubles to be stored in an enclosure to prevent that material from becoming windblown and settling in retention ponds.

Odors from ethanol retention ponds are usually caused by the decay of organic matter, such as grain, the report reads.

The second condition requires the operation of the retention ponds in a way that will prevent odors.

ConAgra has agreed to these conditions, according to the report.

But these and other permit conditions — one stipulates ConAgra hold a mandatory, annual meeting about the plant — have not quelled public concern over the plant.

A new coalition opposed to locating the plant at ConAgra’s chosen site — Concerned Citizens for Curry County — was formed officially about two weeks ago, according to its president, David Briseno.

He said the coalition sent letters opposing the plant to NMED last week and is researching other actions that can be taken to halt construction of the plant in its current location.

NMED Secretary Ron Curry should make a final decision about whether to give the plant a permit by May.