No ethanol plant for Clovis

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks ConAgra withdrew its plans to build an ethanol plant near Peavey Grain Elevators located on highway U.S. 60/84 west of Clovis.

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

Plans to build a $200 million ethanol plant on the edge of Clovis have been scrapped.

ConAgra foods withdrew its application for an air quality permit Tuesday, spokeswoman Stephanie Childs said. The company needed the permit to build a 108-million-gallon-a-year ethanol plant.

Childs said costs of constructing and operating the plant in Clovis as well as volatility in the ethanol market were the main reasons behind the decision.

“Over the last two years the cost for building materials and water has increased,” she said.

The company planned to build the plant on property it owns along U.S. 60/84 just west of the Clovis city limits. Residents who live around the area have complained about potential pollution.

The New Mexico Environment Department granted ConAgra an air-quality permit last May. Then last month, the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board ordered another permit hearing after Clovis community groups appealed.

The plant was first proposed in mid-2006.

While some Clovis residents see Tuesday’s announcement as an environmental victory, others see it as a missed opportunity to bring jobs and economic development to the community.

Clovis Industrial Development Corp. Executive Director Chase Gentry said the company’s decision cost the city about 60 high-wage jobs, $200 million in capital investment and additional tax revenue.

“When you’re talking about a project that’s a $200 million investment in the community, you hate to lose that kind of economic impact,” Gentry said.

Clovis residents testified in a September hearing that the company sent misleading information about the location of the plant. Letters, radio announcements and print notices said the plant would be located three miles west of Clovis, but the location straddles the city limits.

Plant representatives said residents were made aware of the proposed plant’s exact location in open houses prior to the first air quality permit hearing.

Concerned Citizens of Curry County member Frank Dottle said the group was against the plant location, not the plant itself.

“My thought is it’s a shame that they chose this location,” he said. “I don’t think any one of us was against the ethanol plant.”

County Commissioner Bobby Sandoval represents constituents who live near the proposed ethanol plant. He considers Tuesday’s news a victory for citizens.

“Right now, I’m ecstatic,” Sandoval said late Tuesday afternoon. “It showed that our people do have a voice in this city. I think part of the reason was people in my district opposed this so vehemently.”

Sandoval, like Dottle, said he didn’t object to the plant, but had problems with its potential health risks and water usage.