For more than a year and a half, continuous talk has swept through Fremont regarding the Costco Wholesale/Lincoln Premium Poultry chicken processing plant.
As with any project of this magnitude, the Fremont community has been divided in terms of support and opposition. Groups have rallied and spoke about how the project could cause extreme harm to the area in terms of toxic nitrate levels in the soil, overall smell concerns, air quality and pollution.
Those in favor focus on the project’s overall economic impact; how it will generate more than 800 jobs and how the project could comprise as much as $1.2 billion – approximately 1 percent – of the state’s Gross Domestic Product annually.
And while conversation on both ends is unlikely to stop prior to the processing facility’s anticipated opening date of June 15, 2019, the land purchased for the project starting coming to life throughout 2017.
In early 2017, a land purchase acquiring the more-than 440 acres was completed, opening the door for the logistics of the project to start being formed.
“Costco started working extremely hard to develop their actual physical layout of roads, streets and the overall entire plat of where things were going to be laid out on the property,” Mayor Scott Getzschman said. “This was in the first 3 to 4 months of 2017, and that included the layout for streets and all the utilities, and the design for the processing plant, the feed mill and of the hatchery – all three were in the final design phases.”
After a recently-held 10-day-long concrete pour, people traveling through south Fremont are able to see the 160-foot-tall feed mill on the property site. The constant pour was completed by Younglove Construction, based out of Sioux City, Iowa.
With the mild late-fall temperatures, construction continued progressing in other areas of the project.
“If you’ve driven out past there, they have some streets in, they have a parking lot in, and that basically provides a hard surface to the processing plant,” Getzschman said. “They were also able to get some footings and foundation poured during the mild fall we had, and that will allow them to progress and get to work on the processing plant.”
The hatchery will be built due west of the processing plant.
“All they’ve been able to do there is get the pad stabilized and it’s all ready for footings and foundation, but they probably won’t do any of that now until they get some good weather when the frost is gone,” he said.
While work hasn’t ceased in regard to the project, neither has public input and talk about various aspects of the processing plant.
One of the major recent controversies regarding the plant happened in July when the City of Fremont revealed its intention to move the site of three proposed industrial waste lagoons from the plant, to south of the Fremont Wastewater Facility.
During a prior interview with the Tribune, City Administrator Brian Newton said that the city, not Costco, made the decision to move lagoon sites. Initially, he said, the original plan of having three, 200-foot by 400-foot lagoons at the processing plant, made perfect sense because it would benefit numerous businesses near Cloverly Road; such as Hormel Foods, the Costco plant, Fremont Beef Co. and Purina Animal Nutrition Co.
“When it started out we thought this was a great opportunity to put the industrial (waste) in a second pipe and have a lagoon there right on site so that all the industrial customers could go to the lagoon,” Newton said. “And then we were going to sell the methane back to the industrial customers to burn in their boilers. It sounded really good.”
As the design and engineering process continued, however, Newton and his staff learned just how valuable the methane produced inside of the lagoons truly is.
“It’s five-times the price of natural gas, that’s how valuable it is,” Newton said of produced methane. “Where natural gas sells for $3 BTU (British thermal unit), renewable natural gas sells for $15 – just incredible. So the engineers came to us and said that we would be just nuts if we didn’t take those lagoons and put them out there.”
Several members of the public, however, believed that Costco –- which will be the city’s largest industrial client – played a large role in the decision. In August, the Fremont City Council approved use of eminent domain – if necessary – to acquire approximately 40 acres of land for the lagoon’s home, sparking outrage.
Fremont resident John Wiegert was one person who argued that the lagoon move was something that directly benefits Costco.
“Eminent domain is not something to be used for private gain,” he said. “ … (The law) does not permit property to be taken for a private purpose. Economic development may be for the purpose with some public overtones, but giving for-a-profit company an advantage by putting the city’s name on a sewer lagoon and taking private property away from families that use it to make a living so that the company can profit is not a public use. This is a use strictly designed to subsidize a private for-profit company.”
Ultimately, the matter was resolved when 38 acres of land south of the Wastewater Treatment facility was purchased from David M. Lamme, Nicholas J. Lamme, Barbara Harrington and Elizabeth E. Vance, for a lump sum of $880,000.
With the project underway, work continues with finding farmers within a 13-county – approximately 60 mile radius — to man the 400 to 480 hatch operation necessary to provide birds for the processing plant, Getzschman said. In late September, the Dodge County Board of Supervisors gave approval to Hooper resident Colton Schafersman, a sixth-generation farmer, to have a hatchery operation on his land.
“The pullet houses will start being built in February and March of 2018,” Getzschman said. “And those have to be in place first because that is where the hens lay the eggs.”
According to Getzschman, approximately 25 percent of the jobs being provided by Costco will be high-paying, technical jobs, and an additional 550-600 manufacturing jobs will open, too.
“Most of those jobs are going to come from folks who are underemployed today,” he said. “And they live within a 60-mile radius of Fremont, and by underemployed I mean folks who maybe have two or three jobs right now, and these are $10-per-hour jobs. And this may mean that they are able to get one job with all of their benefits and come in and be able to serve the needs of their families, so it’s really exciting in that way.”