By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
Ongoing debate over controlling odors in Portales moved to the Eastern New Mexico University Board of Regents’ arena Thursday during a special meeting.
The Stepping Stone Dairy south of Portales has drawn complaints from residents and has been the topic of discussion at County Commission and City Council meetings in the last few weeks a wastewater lagoon under construction at the dairy.
The dairy is leased by Kevin Breshears of Portales
The discussion Thursday also ranged into other sources of odor, including the city of Portales wastewater treatment plant.
On the agenda was consideration of a resolution opposing the issuance of permits to build or expand local industries that fail to control noxious odors. Stepping Stone Dairy’s permit for the lagoon is subject to a review May 10 by the New Mexico Environmental Department.
Regents and administrators of the school said that they didn’t want to be labeled anti-dairy or anti-industry, but each member in turn, along with President Steven Gamble, said their concern is with the health and well-being of students, faculty and staff.
They said odors have been expressed as a major concern by many at the university.
“Our purpose in the past has been to protect the safety and health of our faculty and staff,” Board President Jay Gurley said. “It’s (odor) a serious concern for our board.”
Gurley said the board is aware the dairy and ethanol business are major economic factors in the community, but he reminded the audience that ENMU is a major economic factor in the community as well.
Regents Alva Carter and Marshall Stinnett advocated for ordinances that would help control nuisances in the areas surrounding the city limits.
Many at the meeting say that would require what is known as extra-territorial zoning, which has to be approved by county residents. An attempt to enact such zoning over a decade ago was defeated.
Stinnett said he didn’t want Portales to smell like Hereford, Texas, or Muleshoe, communities with large cattle feeding operations nearby.
“I want somebody to do something to bring this under control,” Stinnett said. “I can tell you this — the faculty and students on this campus are upset and the faculty and students represent a hell of a lot of votes.”
Breshears defended what he is doing at the dairy, saying he is just taking the steps the NMED has required of him to operate his dairy. He told regents he has no plans for expanding the dairy, which has been in its location two miles south of Portales since the 1960s.
Breshears said the evaporation lagoon he is building, along with drainage measures in his containment pens, will result in less odor than under previous ownership.
“My roots are deep here … I went to this university,” Breshears said. “I’m going to do everything possible to improve the property.”
After dairy industry representatives spoke, regents asked Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega Jr. to address the odor issues from the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Ortega told them work had been ongoing at the plant to remove sludge and additional aeration had been added. He also said ordinances controlling the amount and types of wastewater discharge allowed by industrial users had also been enacted.
He said Abengoa Bioenergy’s discharges, which has given the city the most problems, would be in compliance within the next 30 days.
“The truth is the system is so old. We can manage for now but we need to build a new plant,” Ortega said.
Ortega said the price tag would likely be $16 million.
Portales City Attorney Stephen Doerr and Dairy Farmers of America spokesman Walter Bradley asked the regents to rework the wording in the resolution to a more positive posture.
Gurley asked Ortega directly if he would consider making it a joint resolution between the city and regents.
Ortega said if Doerr reviewed the wording, a resolution could be proposed to the council.
Gurley asked Doerr and Bradley to forward their input on the resolution and directed Gamble to have ENMU’s council rewrite the resolution to be considered no later than the next regular meeting of the regents.