By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
Emotions were running high Thursday evening as residents filled the Memorial Building to participate in a public hearing on operation of a sewer lagoon at dairy just south of Portales.
The New Mexico Environment Department hearing was called by Environment Secretary Ron Curry after response, including a petition with 166 signatures, indicated there was sufficient public interest.
Stepping Stone Dairy, owned and operated by Kevin Breshears of Portales, since late last year has come under attack by neighbors, residents and officials at Eastern New Mexico University after plans for a new lagoon at the dairy were announced.
NMED officials presented their findings during the hearing and recommended to the hearing officer that the permit be granted with conditions noted in their report.
Janelle Paiz, a neighbor to the dairy, stated for the hearing record that she and her husband began circulating the petition because the lagoon was less than 500 feet from their back door and 400 feet from their well.
Paiz, who has lived near the dairy for 15 years, said she also complained to NMED about standing water in the existing storm water pond last December.
“The ground water is contaminated and will continue to be contaminated with use of this lagoon,” Paiz said.
She also questioned why an increase in the discharge permit from 3,000 to 7,000 gallons per day is being requested if the dairy isn’t getting bigger.
Chester Wyatt of Enviro Compliance Services, who does environmental consulting for several dairies in the area, testified earlier the dairy had been there since 1969 and the number of animals on the property when he became associated with the dairy in 1999 was approximately 800 head. He said that number had not changed substantially since then.
Wyatt said the dairy, in terms of the average for New Mexico, would be termed a small dairy. He said dairies the same size typically discharge as much as 25,000 gallons of wastewater per day. He also testified an evaporative lagoon such as the one proposed would offer the greatest protection to the ground water.
Other expert testimony called by Breshears’attorney, Bruce Garber, included Robert Hagevoort, a dairy extension agent with New Mexico State University’s Agriculture Science Center in Clovis.
Hagevoort testified that measuring odors, flies and dust were very subjective, especially odors.
Hagevoort said the cleaner a dairy is kept from manure and residual feed, the better job of controlling odors operators are doing. On questioning from Garber about what he had observed at Stepping Stone, Hagevoort said, “From what I’ve seen (they’ve done) very well.”
Besides Paiz’ comments, other public testimony during the hearing included Eastern New Mexico University President Steve Gamble and both the school’s past and present student body presidents. All three said they were concerned that moving the hearing from its original date of May 10 hurt turnout at the hearing, especially from students. ENMU graduation was May 12.
Gamble said that student surveys have consistently noted odors present on campus as one of the worst parts of campus life at ENMU. He also said that problems from flies had caused the university to quit planning many outdoor events, such as barbecues, that add to the quality of student life.
“We’re convinced that any dairy within two miles of our university is a threat to our institution,” Gamble said.
Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega also spoke against the permit, saying he had heard many concerns about odors. He said that the proximity of the dairy to the city could threaten outdoor activities for residents and harm “the fresh air” we enjoy.
Ortega also blasted the Breshears for speaking out against a proposed landfill the city wanted to put in within a mile of the Breshears home. Ortega said the city listened to his concerns and Breshears should be ready to listen to the city’s. Ortega also suggested that Breshears could relocate the dairy to other property he owned.
Raynelle Breshears, Kevin Breshears wife, testified that she didn’t understand why the dairy had suddenly become a concern under their ownership. She said that she felt they were operating in a more responsible manner than previous owners.
“It upsets me that Mr. Ortega would come up here and say that,” Raynelle Breshears said. “There was no landfill there when my house was built. The dairy was already there (when the Paiz family moved in).”
“The university and the city say they support dairies but they’re up here protesting one tonight,” she said.
Hearing officer Maria Dominguez will consider the testimony and present everything along with a recommendation to Secretary Curry. She told the audience the process could take as long as three months.