County Commission opposes ethanol plant

By Tonya Fennell: CNJ staff writer

Curry County Commissioners passed a resolution at their meeting Thursday stating their official opposition to a proposed ethanol plant west of Clovis.

Presented by Commissioner Ed Perales, the resolution passed in a 3-2 vote, with Chairman Tim Ashley and Commissioner Pete Hulder against it.

Ashley and Hulder felt passing a resolution opposing the ethanol plant was premature.

“This (resolution) sets a dangerous precedent,” Ashley said. “I don’t believe we should make a decision regarding a business that we are not educated about.”

According to Curry County attorney Stephen Doerr, legally the commissioners cannot stop the construction of the plant because there are no county zoning laws.

The decision to pass the resolution came after more than 20 Curry County residents expressed concerns centering around the plant’s possible water usage and potential health issues.

ConAgra Trade Group and Carlyle/Riverstone Renewable Energy have applied for an air permit to build a 110-million-gallon-a-year ethanol plant in the next year near the existing Peavey Co. West grain elevator located on U.S. 60-84 west of Clovis.

Blake Prather of Citizens for the Right Choice presented the commissioners with pages of data he said supported his theory of health risks from pollutants associated with the plant.

“You asked for it, you got it,” Prather said matter-of-factly as he placed the thick packets before each commissioner.

Prather, who lives about a mile and a half from the proposed site, said the plant will emit multiple pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, which will be carried across Curry County by a southwesterly wind.

Clovis resident Martha Sercey attended the meeting with her husband, who was wearing protective, white mask covering his face after undergoing a lung transplant a year ago, Sercey said. With unconcealed emotion lacing her voice, Sercey said the possibility of pollutants being emitted by the proposed ethanol plant would have a devastating effect on her family’s lifestyle.

“If it (ethanol plant) comes here,” she said, “we will have to sell our home and move away for my husband to survive.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency Web site, sulfur dioxide in the air can cause temporary breathing difficulty for people with asthma who are active outdoors. Longer-term exposure to high levels of sulfur dioxide gas and particles causes respiratory illness and aggravate existing heart disease, the site indicated.

ConAgra officials have said two thermal oxidizers will cut down on air pollutant emissions generated at the plant and that emissions will remain below Environmental Protection Agency standards for health.

While Melrose resident John Augenstein was sympathetic to the citizens who spoke of health concerns, the amount of water the plant would use was foremost on his mind.

The proposed ethanol plant will use 880,000 gallons of water per day, or 315 million gallons per year, according to ConAgra officials.

ConAgra officials have said they will likely purchase wastewater from the city of Clovis to operate their plant.

Augenstein, a proponent of the Ute Water Project, said Curry County is in a water crisis.

“I think it is ill-advised to construct any heavy water usage facility,” he said.
Other agenda items discussed:
n Lexie Myers, Special Olympics coordinator, presented the Curry County Commissioners and administration with a framed medal in appreciation for their assistance with September’s Special Olympics Equestrian Games.

n Curry County Commissioners approved the acquisition of an off-road mini-truck for operation at the fairgrounds. The used vehicle will cost approximately $4,900.