There is no doubt our Dodge County Commissioners have a difficult role. They are our elected policymakers, setting high-level goals and evaluating long-term outcomes. These responsibilities include, but are not limited to, adopting budgets, approving taxation and financial decisions, adopting ordinances, and making land use decisions.
Last Wednesday the Dodge County Board of Supervisors voted against approving a conditional use permit for a 10-barn poultry operation near Nickerson, which would have produced chicken for Lincoln Premium Poultry and the Costco plant going up in Fremont.
Many were left scratching their heads as to why, we were too.
Wednesday’s vote came in spite of a unanimous recommendation for approval from the Dodge County Planning Commission.
That body listened to public comment on the proposal on the evening of Jan. 15, and voted to recommend the project with conditions requiring the property owners, Lee and Pamela Camenzind, to do the following: address safety on county road by having the driveway to the facility go to the east or to the south, develop a road maintenance plan with Nickerson Township; and create a shelter belt or buffer on the west and north side of the facility.
The board’s vote was also given despite the project’s score of 114 on the Nebraska Livestock Siting Assessment Matrix, which the county has used to judge the quality of these types of livestock proposals. A score of a 75 or higher on the matrix is generally considered appropriate for approval.
We understand that the Dodge County Planning Commission is an appointed board. They are appointed to do much of the research for the commissioners. They only provide a recommendation, however. The County Commissioners are still the ones who make the decision.
Governor Ricketts said, while in Fremont on a State of the State Fly Around Jan. 17, that Dodge County is part of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture’s Livestock Friendly County program—which is a voluntary program created by the Nebraska Legislature in 2003 to recognize counties that support the livestock industry and new livestock developments.
“Dodge County has to live up to that,” he said.
Are we living up to that designation? Do we want to live up to that designation?
Those who spoke against the proposal listed numerous concerns: the environmental impact of chicken litter produced and applied as fertilizer at the site; the potential odor; the impact on property values; the size of the site; and the impact of increased truck traffic on traffic safety and road conditions.
Proponents, meanwhile, said they believed that Lincoln Premium Poultry was going above and beyond the necessary regulations to monitor its environmental impact, and argued that the project has distinct economic benefits that could boost a struggling agriculture industry and keep families on the farm.
Case Camenzind, son of Lee and Pamela Camenzind, was hoping to operate the barns with his wife. He described himself as a fifth-generation farmer trying to diversify his operations. He told the board that his family was intending on moving to live next to the barns, which would have sat on a 15-acre parcel of land west of Nickerson, boxed off by County Road O to the north and County Road 22 to the east.
If we want to grow not only the area but Nebraska, create better-paying jobs, keep our kids and grandkids here while attracting others to our state, we have to have some give and take.
Based on the planning commission’s unanimous recommendation, the matrix score and even though both sides will dispute facts we encourage the board to vote as they have for other livestock producers in the past.
We believe board supervisor Lon Strand, who supported the project, said it best, “We have livestock producers in other industries in Dodge County that we deal with road maintenance all the time.”
“It’s just part of living in an ag county,” he added.