A state district judge on Monday issued a temporary restraining order to prevent a Roswell horse slaughterhouse from opening this week before a hearing scheduled for Friday.
The company previously said it planned to open on Jan. 1.
Valley Meat Co. attorney Blair Dunn said the company expected to wait to start operations until management has clarity on two remaining hurdles: the lawsuit filed by State Attorney General Gary King in the 1st Judicial District earlier this month and a wastewater discharge permit required by the state Environment Department.
Judge Matthew Wilson scheduled a hearing for Friday for Valley Meat to show cause for why the temporary restraining order “should not be extended or a preliminary injunction issued,” according to the order.
The potential opening of what would be New Mexico’s only horse-slaughtering facility has been at the heart of an emotional debate over how the state, and the nation, should handle unwanted horses. Currently, the U.S. exports tens of thousands of horses to Mexico and Canada each year, an unknown percentage destined for slaughter.
The Valley Meat plant previously was a beef slaughterhouse, but has been closed since March 2012.
In the lawsuit, King charged that Valley Meat has chronically failed to comply with state environmental and safety laws over the years, and sought a temporary restraining order, as well as a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent the slaughterhouse from opening.
Dunn denies the allegations against Valley Meat, saying of King’s lawsuit, “Their legal claim is not substantiated.”
The attorney general filed his lawsuit after a federal appeals judge rescinded an injunction that had kept the slaughterhouse from opening as a separate lawsuit winds its way through the federal appeals system.
“Judge Wilson has only seen their side of the story so far,” Dunn said. “I expect that when this judge gets all the facts put in front of him, he will dismiss this one, too.”
Valley Meat owner Rick De Los Santos said while the company awaits the judge’s decisions, “We’re definitely moving forward getting ready to open.” He said he has contacted a dozen former employees who are waiting for the green light to return to the plant.
Besides the legal hurdles still ahead, the slaughterhouse requires a water discharge permit from the Environment Department before it can begin operations.
Dunn said the slaughterhouse is seeking a 60-day permit that would allow the company to “pump and haul” wastewater to a facility approved by the Environment Department. The temporary permit could be released as soon as the first week of January, he said, before the department makes a final ruling on the company’s water discharge permit request.
“We’re hoping to have it sorted out before then and open in the next couple of weeks,” Dunn said.
Environment spokesman Jim Winchester said the agency is preparing a transcript of a public hearing on the water discharge permit in October that will go to Secretary Ryan Flynn for final review. “He will look at the merits of the permit request and determine whether to issue the permit,” Winchester said in an email. “That’s not expected until February.”