By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
If one community shuts its doors to an ethanol plant, another may open its arms.
The Melrose City Council wants partners who have proposed an ethanol plant for Clovis to consider rural Melrose as a site, according to city documents.
“There are a lot of people that seem to be against the plant in Clovis. In Melrose, we could really use the amount of revenue that it will bring,” said Melrose City Councilor J.B. Burns, who pitched the alternative at a council meeting in late October.
Fellow Melrose councilors have endorsed Burns’ idea, and Burns said he is composing a letter to introduce it to Clovis Ethanol LLC.
But the prospect hasn’t budged ConAgra Trade Group — a partner in the ethanol venture — from Clovis, a ConAgra spokeswoman indicated Thursday.
“We are pleased to hear that Melrose city officials are supportive of Clovis Ethanol’s plans to build in New Mexico. Quite frankly, their support is indicative of what we are hearing from other communities around the country who understand the facts and economic benefits of building the type of plant we have proposed. Our current plan is to build in Clovis because its unique infrastructure complements and supports our long-term business objectives,” wrote ConAgra spokesperson Stephanie Childs via an e-mail to the Clovis News Journal.
According to economic development officials, Clovis Ethanol would bring more than $70 million in tax revenue to Clovis, Curry County and New Mexico over a 10-year period. An estimated 100 people would be employed directly and indirectly by the plant, according to ConAgra officials.
A village in Curry County, Melrose has a population of 736, according to Melrose Mayor Lance Pyle. Tucked about 24 miles west of Clovis, Melrose has two assets that lured ConAgra to Clovis: a grain elevator and nearby railroad tracks, Melrose officials pointed out.
The elevator is owned by ConAgra’s Peavey Company West, although it is not in operation, ConAgra officials said.
“I feel Melrose has been overlooked a lot,” Burns said. “We are actually a diamond in the rough … with access to a lot of different industrial areas and sites.”
Plans by ConAgra Trade Group and partner Carlyle/Riverstone Renewable Energy Infrastructure Fund to build an ethanol plant near a ConAgra Peavey grain elevator in Curry County on U.S. Highway 60/84 have been hampered by public outcry over health concerns.
Those concerns center around air pollutant emissions from the plant — which include nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide — and the plant’s proximity to homes and schools.
The Curry County Commission passed a resolution against the proposed plant Nov. 9, while two economic development organizations, Clovis Industrial Development Corp. and the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce, passed resolutions in support this week.
ConAgra officials have said pollutant emission amounts would not exceed federal standards.
Some in Melrose aren’t entirely convinced the village would make an ideal spot for Clovis Ethanol, but the yen for big business is potent.
“I strongly support economic development, and the village of Melrose desperately needs economic development,” said Pyle, who noted the plant would be the largest employer in the village.
“But currently,” the mayor said, “the village of Melrose doesn’t have the infrastructure needed to support a project of this nature, which will include water, piping, sewing, housing, etc., or the revenue needed to acquire the infrastructure.”
Federal, state and local funds would be needed to launch the plant in Melrose, and public input would need to be garnered before Pyle would be comfortable proceeding, he said.
Pyle said homes also lie within a mile of the Melrose Peavey elevator.
And water concerns abound in Melrose.
To operate, Clovis Ethanol officials have said they would need about 315 million gallons of water per year. In Clovis, plans are to purchase wastewater from the Clovis treatment plant for operation.
Melrose has a wastewater lagoon, but Pyle isn’t sure how much water could be gleaned from it.
“Our wells sometimes have a problem in high summer providing for the needs of the community. I am assuming from that it might be a difficult situation (with the plant),” Melrose citizen Jeanne Augenstein said.
Melrose City Councilor Tuck Monk echoed, “We don’t have the infrastructure to support it, and I would have a hard time supporting it because we are short on water over here.”
The village councilor was quick to add, “Any kind of development would sure be welcome here if we had the means of supporting it.”
Operation of Clovis Ethanol is contingent upon the receipt of an air quality permit from the New Mexico Environment Department.
Spurred by public demand, the NMED intends to hold a hearing in Clovis to determine whether to issue the permit.
That hearing was originally set for late November, but has been postponed to allow interested parties to gather information for the hearing.
ConAgra officials announced their plans in June to build the plant — which would produce 110 million gallons of corn-based ethanol annually — near Clovis, and early projections from the company indicated construction of the plant would begin in October.