County approves LES ordinances
Group opens Hobbs office to large turnout
By Richard Trout Hobbs News-Sun
December 17, 2003

Between Lea County's adoption of two ordinances helping Louisiana Energy Services, and the group's grand opening of a Hobbs office, Tuesday's economic development hubbub reached a fever pitch.

In November the County Commission adopted an economic development act, and LES is the first entity to apply for a project under the act. By a unanimous vote, the commission adopted two ordinances designed to assist LES in its proposed $1.8 billion uranium enrichment plant near Eunice.

One of the ordinances is a project agreement between Lea County, LES and the State Land Office. The agreement allows Lea County to facilitate the exchange of state trust property to LES for property of equal or greater value.

The recently-named National Enrichment Facility would be located on 550 acres five miles east of Eunice near Highway 18.

Albuquerque attorney Peter Franklin told the commission he didn't find any problems with the ordinance.

"We're satisfied that the proposal meets the local economic development act and the requirements of the county," he said.

The second LES-aimed ordinance would allow the county to issue industrial revenue bonds for the construction of the planned enrichment plant. The bonds would not exceed the $1.8 billion cost of the facility, including an adjustment for inflation.

"The issuance of the bonds will not create any liability for Lea County," Franklin said. "It will be entirely LES' responsibility and we believe the project is sound."

Kathi Bearden, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Lea County and publisher of the News-Sun, expressed the EDC's backing for both ordinances.

Commission chairman Harry Teague said the county made a giant step on Tuesday.

"I would like to thank everyone from the governor to senators all the way down to my neighbors for everything that everybody has done," he said.

LES president Jim Ferland echoed Teague's statement.

"This is a major milestone today with the passing of these two ordinances," he said. "And there was a major milestone (Monday) with the submission of the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) license application."

The state permitting process will begin in January, and last week several new customers signed up to buy LES' enriched uranium once the plant begins operating, Ferland added.

An hour after the commission meeting ended, LES staff were welcoming dozens of visitors to the group's new public information office on 324 N. Turner.

The grand opening of the Hobbs office follows the November opening of a similar LES office in Eunice. Local residents may visit either office to obtain material or ask questions about the Lea County project or the uranium enrichment process.

Spokeswoman April Wade said both offices would have regular hours of operation starting in January. Dana Starr, LES community outreach coordinator, will be working in the Hobbs office on a full-time basis.

Tuesday's grand opening included a ribbon cutting, a key to the city and a $5,000 donation from LES to the United Way of Lea County. LES' multiple volume, 3,000-page application to the NRC was on display as well as several detailed color maps of the proposed plant.

Hobbs mayor Robert Wallach and Hobbs Chamber of Commerce president Richard Fleming provided a few brief remarks regarding the community's appreciation, and Ferland offered his thanks for the strong support LES has been receiving.

"I'm glad you're calling it the National Enrichment Facility and not the Louisiana Enrichment Facility," Wallach joked.

The grand opening even included potential LES business partners.

Cody Tippy of Onda-Lay Pipe & Rental in Hobbs attended the grand opening to support LES, but that wasn't the only reason.

Because Onda-Lay distributes polyethylene pipe to various energy and industrial businesses, Tippy was hoping to discover whether LES may need the product during its construction phase.

Most who attended the grand opening, however, would likely have nothing to do with the enrichment plant's construction -- and that's fine with them.

"I'm just here to support what they're doing for the county," said Kerry Romine of Hobbs.

For more information about the Hobbs office, call 393-9494.

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