Wastewater expansion project cost doubles

Construction equipment sits in what will be the new lagoon for the Southwest Cheese plant on the property of the Clovis wastewater treatment plant. Construction was on hold Wednesday due to the cold weather. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Tonya Garner: CNJ staff writer

In the three years since the city agreed to expand its 5 million-gallon wastewater facility to bring the Southwest Cheese plant to the area, the price of the project has more than doubled to $5.1 million, according to city officials.

At full production, the cheese plant is expected to produce 1.2 million gallons of wastewater byproduct daily, according to plant officials.

Harry Wang, Clovis’ public works director, said the city originally budgeted $2.2 million to expand the wastewater lagoon. Due to the increase in fuel and concrete prices, Thomas said the project actually came to $5.1 million, which leaves a deficit of $3.1 million.

Curry County Manager Dick Smith said he advised city officials in an August meeting the county had $500,000 available to help defray the cost of the project. Smith said the funds come from the county environmental tax, which was enacted in 1991. The purpose of the tax was to have funds available for issues arising from handling solid waste and wastewater.

According to the county manager, 12 cents of every dollar from gross receipts goes toward the environmental tax.
“This will not affect taxpayers,” Smith said. “This tax has been around a long time.”

Smith plans to hold meetings with city officials and a county environmental committee before asking the Curry County commissioners to approve the appropriation of $500,000 from the environmental tax fund toward the lagoon expansion project.

“The city and the county work together in a cooperative effort to best use resources,” Smith said.

Thomas said Southwest Cheese will also contribute funds toward the project, which is estimated to be completed in the spring of 2006.

Southwest Cheese officials did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Clovis’ city manager said Chase Gentry, executive director of Clovis Industrial Development Corp., is seeking to acquire additional funds through state grants.

Thomas said city taxpayers will not see a hike in taxes due to this project.

“We have ample capacity to accommodate the cheese plant’s effluent until the lagoon is complete,” Thomas said.