Late Tuesday afternoon, the Greater Fremont Development Council announced a change in direction and strategy of Costco Wholesale and Lincoln Premium Poultry’s plan to construct a state-of-the-art poultry processing facility north of Fremont and approximately two miles west of the Village of Nickerson.
Costco’s initial proposal was to locate the large facility on approximately 300 acres of land about seven miles north at the intersection of County Road P and Hwy. 77. The facility would have been composed of three main structures: a hatchery, a feed mill and a processing facility, and would have spanned both sides of Hwy. 77 leading to a significant increase in industrial traffic, greatly distressing the lives of area residents.
In addition to the dangers of increased traffic opponents and other concerned parties, such as Nebraska Communities United, argued that such a facility could bring environmental hazards like ground water contamination, intense odor from the processing plant, risks of bird flu and other health issues.
The use of tax incremental financing to fund the cost of laying and overhauling utilities for the facility also concerned many area residents. They worried that TIF funding would have greatly impeded the ability of surrounding school systems and community subdivisions to cover the costs of increased populations and other stressors without the corresponding increase in tax revenue to cover extra expenses.
At a crowded and contentious board of trustees meeting in Nickerson April 4, the village board voted unanimously to reject a proposal to change a future land use map. Had it been approved, the proposal would have paved the way for an eventual zoning change to industrial usage, allowing Costco to establish the plant at the proposed location.
Cecilia Harry confirmed that the Nickerson vote played a big part in Costco’s elimination of the Nickerson area as a potential location.
“They (Costco and Lincoln Premium Poultry) have to feel wanted,” Harry stated. “It’s really important to them to locate in a community that wants them there; and the Nickerson village board decision made it clear that (Costco) needed to look at other options. It’s very clear that most of the influence came from the decision of the village board of Nickerson.”
Harry remains optimistic, however. She said the project continues to remain active, and the company continues to assess eastern Nebraska – and more specifically the Greater Fremont Area – as their favored location to build the facility.
“It’s disappointing to hear that the Village of Nickerson won’t receive the direct benefits of the project but I’m excited to hear that other options in the Greater Fremont Area are still being considered,” said Executive Director of the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce Ron Tillery.
Harry emphasized her hopes and enthusiasm that Fremont will still benefit from a poultry operation located in eastern Nebraska. However, she explained the economic benefits to the community and area farmers would be affected by the distance from which the community is removed from the facility.
The farther away such an operation is located, Harry explained, the more Fremont residents and Dodge County farmers will miss out on the bulk of the economic impact, the boost to population and the opportunities for farmers to diversify their operations as poultry growers.
“We can still expect to see some benefits but we won’t be able to realize the full potential of the project,” Harry said.
Harry then alluded to last Sunday’s large gathering of Costco officials and project supporters, as well as Dodge County and Fremont City government officials, at Scott Wagner’s Hooper-area family farm. The assembly served to ignite continued fervor and support for the project.
“The fact that they (Costco) came to us last weekend … speaks not only of our excitement for (continued consideration) for project location, but also the company’s,” Harry said.
Fremont Mayor Scott Getzschman, contacted after the initial announcement, had not yet heard the news, but offered his support for a continued assessment of Fremont as a good fit for location.
“The goal is that we need to keep the focus on Fremont as the home to the Costco poultry plant,” Getzschman said.
He underscored that he felt no discouragement by Costco’s decision to eliminate the Nickerson site.
“I think it is was the right decision because there was considerable controversy around that particular location, and it would have been difficult to move forward without the support of Nickerson,” Getzschman said.
He added, “I believe that Costco took the time to listen to its citizens. We know (Costco) wants to be here and will continue to review sites.”
Randy Ruppert, spokesman for Nebraska Communities United, after hearing about the company’s decision, reiterated the organizations opposition to Costco establishing a poultry operation anywhere in Nebraska.
“We are going to continue our opposition,” Ruppert declared. “This is not a good way of farming. Nebraska Communities United is for farm values. (The Rawhide Project) does not represent the values of farming in Nebraska.”