State chapter joins group’s fight against plant location

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

A state chapter of a Hispanic rights group has joined the local fight to prevent an ethanol plant from being built in a mostly minority neighborhood.

One of the legislative priorities of the League of United Latin American Citizens is gaining support to have the location of a proposed 108-million gallon ethanol plant just west of Clovis moved to another site, according to the group’s state director, Paul Martinez.

Martinez said LULAC will try to convince state lawmakers to encourage the state Environment Department to move the proposed location of Clovis Ethanol from a residential neighborhood in which the residents are predominantly minorities.

ConAgra would build the plant on property adjacent to where it operates a grain elevator along U.S. 60/84, according to company officials.

“We should not be putting outside companies’ interests above the citizens of our state who pay taxes and who have the right to be represented and heard,” Martinez said.

The local LULAC chapter along with several other community groups appealed a decision by the Environment Department to award the plant an air quality permit. They said ConAgra misled residents who would be affected by the plant about its location.

ConAgra officials said the location of the plant was not an issue during several informational meetings with Clovis residents before it applied for an air quality permit.

In December, New Mexico’s Environmental Improvement Board ordered the Environment Department to hold a hearing within 60 days to take any new evidence on whether ConAgra Trade Group should be allowed to build the plant.

The Environment Department already awarded the plant its air quality permit.

“There are many people in this community who believe we’re doing the right thing, and don’t understand why in the world anybody would want to build a plant like that close to where people live,” said David Briseno, president of the Clovis LULAC chapter. “This would be the only city in the nation that that would occur. And it really doesn’t make sense and it certainly is not safe to do so.”

ConAgra will have to reapply for an air quality permit because of the appeal, according to Environment Department Communications Director Marissa Stone.

She said another hearing for the permit must be held by March 8. She said a date has not yet been set.

Briseno said his group will try to get more people in the community to support their cause.

“Hopefully there will be a lot more people involved and willing to speak out now that we were successful in winning our appeal,” he said.