Cheese plant agreements approved

By Jack King: CNJ staff writer

The City Commission approved three agreements related to launching the Southwest Cheese Plant in Curry County at its meeting Thursday.

Unanimously approved were a project participation agreement, a memorandum of understanding and approval of preliminary engineering work on a pipeline and storage lagoon to handle the cheese plant’s wastewater discharge.

Under the terms of the project participation agreement, the city of Clovis will pay Southwest Cheese $6,550,000 in city economic development tax funds, plus up to $250 million in industrial revenue bonds to cover the cost of the project.

Chase Gentry, executive director of the Clovis Industrial Development Corporation, told the commission the project is a boon for the region. In addition to the 205 workers Southwest Cheese will employ once it goes on line, construction work will provide more than 700 construction jobs, he said.

Gentry said Southwest Cheese will donate $100,000 a year to Clovis Municipal Schools, beginning in January 2006.

In addition to increased retail and housing growth in the area, the plant is estimated to created 355 spin-off jobs, he said.

Maurice Keane, Southwest Cheese’s president and chief operating officer, said the company is pouring foundations for the plant and plans for the plant to go on line in late 2005.

“We’re pleased the agreements are in place and we would like to thank the commission and the city staff for their help in putting it together. Obviously time is of the essence,” he said.

Of participation agreement’s $6,550,000, $2,050,000 will be paid as a loan, forgivable over a 10-year period, conditioned on the company employing 205 employees at no less than $9.75 an hour. In addition, the city will pay the company $4.5 million for title to an on-site wastewater treatment plant. The state of New Mexico also has provided $1.5 million for the treatment plant’s construction, according to commission documents.

Last year, the city and the cheese plant’s owners discussed building an additional cell at the city’s wastewater treatment plant to handle wastewater from the plant. The cell and related infrastructure were estimated to cost $8 million. But, the company decided to build the treatment facility on site, Gentry said.

Assistant City Manager Joe Thomas said Clovis will not be liable for the $250 million in IRB bonds and, in addition, Southwest Cheese will pay the city two monthly fees, one for wastewater service and one equal to the debt service amount on the pipeline.

The engineering agreement will cover a 5.25-mile-long pipe line from the plant and a storage lagoon at the city wastewater treatment center. The construction will be paid for with a $2 million state loan, but the city must pay up front for an environmental assessment for the project, said Clovis Public Works Director Harry Wang.

In other business:

• The commission elected three members for its Civil Aviation Board. Dr. Allan L. Haynes and Jan Parker were re-elected to the board, and James T. Curtis was elected as a new member.

• The commission approved a liquor license for La Cabana restaurant, at 2018 Mabry Dr.

• Commissioners Isidro Garcia and Robert Sandoval reported a course they took at the Municipal Officials Leadership Institute, April 22-24, in Las Cruces. The institute covered such issues as risk management, the state Open Meetings and Open Records acts and New Mexico tax structure, they said.

The city paid $250 apiece for the course, plus the commissioners’ mileage, they said.