Emotion flowed at the Dodge County Courthouse Wednesday as county board convened with an open public comment and discussion session over the large Costco Wholesale and Lincoln Premium Poultry operation/facilities proposed for the Fremont and Dodge County area.
At one point during the long, heated discussion, board member Lon Strand suggested the Dodge County Board consider a resolution supporting the Costco project.
In a follow up discussion, County Board Supervisor Bob Missel said he may begin looking into the possibility of preparing a draft for such a resolution. Missel clarified that it is important to realize that throughout this process the board, as a whole, has attended various meetings and received a lot of information and public comment both for and against the operation.
Speaking for himself, Missel “feels the positives far outweigh the negatives.”
Public comments spanned issues of environmental impacts, contract farming and the overall effects on the community of Fremont.
Matt Rasmussen, of Soil Analytics LLC, and Fremont Resident who supports the proposal, works in the science of precision agronomy in the business of agriculture and food production. He assists in the measurement and monitoring of nutrient levels in soil and manure fertilizers.
“I would like to voice overwhelming support for the project,” Rasmussen began. “I think there’s thousands of folks that are supportive and share a desire to see the entire area grow and prosper.”
Rasmussen has had the opportunity to engage with officials from Costco and Lincoln Premium Poultry. He informed the board that he pressed the companies with some hard questions and feels confident the operation will continue to support the unique synergy between the robust rural and urban environments and economies in and around Fremont.
Many parameters are in place to regulate both the facilities and the network of growers contracted with facilities. In conjunction with his company, Rasmussen often works with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) and is knowledgeable of its regulations. He emphasized, the official with NDEQ – charged with enforcing environmental regulations for air, land and water resources – take their role very seriously and remain watchful and diligent when it comes to issues of construction of poultry housing complexes, the storm water runoff and the transportation of poultry renderings (such as feathers) related to the facility. They also regulate the levels of manure application to farm fields.
“The thing I appreciate about the the NDEQ is that they are nonpartisan and their role is to enforce the law,” Ramussen said. “They will give a very robust environmental impact assessment for both the plant and the (poultry housing complexes).”
Rasmussen informed the board that the Costco will need to comply with several stringent regulations related to water, land and air quality. According to those regulations – which can be found at the NDEQ website (http://www.deq.state.ne.us) – rainwater runoff at the plant must be captured and treated and not allowed to make its way to natural waterways. Additionally, all the renderings (leftover parts from the processing process) will need to be put in sealed trucks and shipped off site.
Rasmussen highlighted the Lancaster and Dodge County Biosolids Farmland Application Program and encouraged the board and the community to read it. The program denotes a leading example of the recycling of biosolids into valuable organic fertilizers that add nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulfate to the soil, all essential for plant growth. Those biosolids are valued fertilizers for prescriptive application onto fields using satellite technology, varying rates of application and grid mapping that prevents over application.
“As a resident that brings me a great degree of comfort and confidence,” Rasmussen said.
However, several area residents remained uncomfortable and unconvinced. They offered up critical statements about community impacts, stress on schools, immigration issues, farmer indebtedness and the contracts that bind farmers in the grower’s network to Lincoln Premium Poultry.
Dawn Wiegert showed great concern over stresses to the school system if the proposal carries through, alluding to issues of immigration laws and its bearing on our culture.
“This (project) is going to impact our whole culture, and it’s not reversible,” Wiegert said.
Wiegert also wondered why a company like Costco, a large and wealthy company, needs to utilize tax incremental financing to help cover some project costs.
Board member Strand answered her queries, explaining that TIF funding helps Nebraska remain competitive with other states that also endeavor to attract profitable business from companies like Costco.
Denise Richards, a retired school teacher, directly challenged Rasmussen’s statement about hauling feathers and other renderings from the plant in sealed trucks, citing safety of the surrounding neighborhoods bordering the Hills Farm land south of Fremont were the facility would locate.
“How many stinking trucks are we going to have?” she said. “If you have trucks delivering chickens, taking chickens out, hauling refuse from the chickens … the baseball field (Neil and Bonnie Schilke Fields) is down there … that’s going to be a mess, (adding to) safety concerns for the kids going to and from the games.”
Richards also expressed unease over the amount of debt farmers in the grower’s network will accumulate in order to pay for the poultry housing complexes.
However, board member Lon Strand challenged her assumption.
“Farmers are very wise investors and they use their money wisely … adding chicken production to your farm sight is a great way to diversify. Farming has always been about diversification,” he said.
According to documents released by the Greater Fremont Development Council a four-barn complex will cost a farmer approximately $1.5 million.
Scott Wagner, a fifth generation farmer with five children, two of whom would like to continue that family tradition, expounded that farmers take risks all the time; it’s an inherent part of farming. He deals with contracts on a daily basis and admitted that the farming economy lends itself to difficult times; but as an experienced farmer he knows the business goes through peaks and valleys.
For Wagner, who has dealt with Coscto/Lincoln Premium Poultry officials first hand, he believes the contracts will be solid, upstanding and profitable for the growers allowing them to pay off the $1.5 million in just the 15-year length of the contract.
“This contract is the type of situation where it’s a consistent income. I’ve got a floor, my price does not go below a certain point,” Wagner said.
Addressing the contracts directly, Wagner said he has seen highlights of the documents and believes all entities involved will sustain their responsibilities.
“I’ve seen enough to know that this is a good situation,” Wagner added.