Contrasted to the previous night, at the Fremont City Council special public meeting concerning annexation and zoning issues related to Costco Wholesale’s plan to purchase 417 acres of land for a large broiler production facility, only a scant attendance greeted the seven Dodge County Board members at their regular gathering.
Nevertheless, when board members unanimously approved the adoption of a resolution that pledged “its support to the responsible development of Costco’s proposed poultry operation” and also resolved to work alongside any development partners to reach the best possible outcomes for the company and the community, impassioned voices sounded their opinions.
The board’s resolution, first suggested by board member Lon Strand at the June 8 board meeting, also detailed several motives and observations by the board that lead to the document’s approval.
The resolution highlighted Dodge County as a Livestock Friendly County that encourages growth in the areas of dairy, swine and poultry production. It states the Costco operation could function as a conduit through which area farmers and producers can diversify their investments, increase income and “support the return and retention of young family members to support family farming into the next generation.”
Additionally, the resolution reiterates significant job creation, capital investment and economic impact in the Fremont and Dodge County areas that proponents say Costco’s operation will bring.
“Since we’ve heard so much comment from the public both for and against (Costco’s proposal) … I agreed … we needed to take a stance on the issue,” said Chairman of the Dodge County Board Bob Missel.
Strand, who represents district 3, a largely agricultural base, explained his reasons for support by citing the majority of calls he received that backed Costco’s plan.
“You’re placed on a board to represent the people,” Strand said. “This is one of those things that I am very passionate about.”
With her own passion and a bit of acknowledged anger, Dr. Jolene Schauer addressed the board in opposition.
“What are you going to do for the people that don’t support (the project),” she said.
Schauer, who earned her PhD. in community and human resources and works with Nebraska Communities United, told the board that she felt like the project and its approval process was “being shoved down our throats” by city officials and others with vested interest in the operation, and it would affect the quality of life for many individuals in the area. She also alluded to the lack of transparency in the initial stages of Costco’s evaluation of the Fremont area for the establishment of their poultry facility.
Board member Rob George offered his voice to the discussion stating that he felt the poultry operation would boost the community tax base and increase jobs. Board member Gary Osborn echoed, citing Costco’s economic impact study which projected 1,100 new jobs created by the facility as well excellent job benefits.
“This is a chance for eastern Nebraska and Fremont to grow,” George said.
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But Schauer disagreed.
“We see (the project) a possibility of problems,” she said.
Referring to the economic and community benefits Schauer added that “until you do it, you don’t know what the outcome will be.”
“I have listened to many people,” Missel responded, adding that he speaks from his heart. “When I weigh (everything), I feel good about this resolution.”
Randy Ruppert, spokesman for Nebraska Communities United, expounded his organization continues to remain steadfastly opposed to the integration of agriculture and farming into a vertically integrated business structure.
“My concern is what this will bring to the Midwest,” Ruppert said. “It will devastate the farming community even more than low crop prices.”
Ruppert added that he was not implying that Costco was a malicious company, saying that if they do what that have stated then the poultry operation could be a good thing for Fremont.
“But right now everything (information) is filtered and I think that causes the majority of the anger in this community,” Ruppert said. “We need to slow down, we need to have Costco answer the questions to us personally.”
On behalf of the Greater Fremont Development Council, Executive Director Cecilia Harry expressed great appreciation to the Dodge County Board for its resolution of support for Costco.
“It’s very clear to me that the board members have done a lot of homework and truly want to see good growth opportunity come to Dodge County,” Harry said.
“I think the (resolution) is timely as the city now moves through the extensive process in dealing with this (project). It sends a message,” Missel said.
More public discussion and information will continue to disseminate this week as the final poultry contract information meeting takes place in Arlington tonight at 7:00 p.m. in the Multipurpose Senior Center, 305 North 3rd Street, Arlington.