Residents lodge odor complaints at public meeting

By Tony Parra: PNT Staff Writer

Brian Bonebright, vice president of operations for Dairi Concepts, summed up his company’s position when he said “Our intent is to fix the problem (odor).”

However, whether or not residents living near the plant believe him is a different story. Some of the residents said they have heard that promise before. DairiConcepts officials tried to alleviate residents concerns during a meeting Tuesday evening at the Jake Lopez Building. DairiConcepts wants to expand the plant which produces milk protein concentrate. The public meeting was a part of the process being undertaken to expand the plant’s wastewater handling capabilities in anticipation of that expansion.
Some of the people in attendance said they have been told previously that the smell won’t be so bad and that it will be reduced.

“No one has met with me until now,” Bill Rice, who lives north of the plant, said he has tried to meet with DairiConcepts officials about the problems. “We don’t believe you. All I see is a bigger opportunity for more stink. How can you convince me? It has to be a proven solution.”

DairiConcepts officials feel they have solutions to the problem. Bonebright said DairiConcepts want to build a new wastewater plant and use more land to discharge the wastewater to reduce the odors. DairiConcepts officials say they currently use 230 acres for a lagoon to store wastewater. Michelle Hunter, environmental scientist, said with the proposal the plant have an additional 1,130 acres located near the old lagoon to store the wastewater.

Hunter works for the Hicks Consulting group out of Albuquerque and was hired by DairiConcepts to investigate the groundwater around the plant to make sure there were no problems.

Bonebright said another way of reducing the smell is by treating the wastewater 99 percent. He said when the DairiConcepts plant was opened in 1992 the intent was to partially treat the wastewater, the plant is treating it 90 percent currently.

He said the new wastewater plant will offer a better treatment system and that four times more aeration will help decrease the smell significantly.

“I wake up at 2 a.m. with my eyes watering and throat burning,” Raymond Mirabal, a plant neighbor, said. “It gets so bad that I have to leave my house and stay somewhere else for the night.”

The milk-processing plant has changed ownership since 1992. DairiConcepts is a joint venture of Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) and New Zealand’s Fonterra Co-operative Group.

Bonebright said $500,000 has been spent in engineering fees to find a solution for the odor. He said they have expansion plans for the future, also.

Ed Steven, DairiConcepts plant manager, said the plant discharges 400,000 to 480,000 gallons of wastewater a day. Proposed expansion would increase it to a million gallons per day.

DairiConcepts officials admitted plant production outgrew the current lagoon used to store wastewater. Steven said when the plant first opened in 1992 the workers were working four to six months and producing one to two million pounds of MPC per day. With the milk supply growing in the area, the plant production grew to 6 million pounds per day.
The public notice period concludes on July 18. DairiConcepts representatives want to start construction of the irrigation system a month later. They will also pipe completely clarified water from the plant to acquired land located southwest of the Portales Municipal Airport. The four-mile pipeline will start at the plant and extend to the acquired land.

DairiConcepts officials want to complete construction of the new wastewater plant by March.