Costco chicken

Rotisserie chickens cook at the Costco store in La Vista in October. The store's corporate office has given final approval for construction of a poultry plant near Fremont.

Costco’s corporate office has given the go-ahead for construction of the company’s planned poultry operation in Fremont.

Site work could begin in a few weeks, and project managers plan a ceremonial groundbreaking for June, they told The World-Herald on Wednesday.

Plans for the plant drew heated opposition from some area residents in a series of Fremont city meetings last year. The plant is now projected to open in April 2019. It would process 1.6 million chickens a week for retail sale in Costco’s warehouse stores. Economic development officials touted its potential impact.

Costco would invest about $280 million to build a processing plant, hatchery and feed mill complex. A network of area farmers would raise chickens to be slaughtered there, a system that would generate about $1.2 billion in annual economic impact for eastern Nebraska, backers said.

Costco still has to secure permits from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and the City of Fremont.

Documents on the state department’s website indicate that project engineers and permitting officials have discussed a timeline in which an air quality construction permit could be issued in August following a public comment period and public hearing. Costco also would need wastewater permits from the department.

The city of Fremont has issued a permit for grading work, and reviews for other needed permits are “moving right along,” said Brian Newton, Fremont city administrator.

He said it’s typical for large projects to begin without all the needed permits in place.

“It’s just a matter of working with their engineers to get the comments and everything addressed,” he said.

Jackie Frank, Costco vice president of real estate, said site work could begin this month, and it will take a few months to grade the site, south of downtown Fremont, before construction begins. He said Costco’s construction management team would work closely with consulting architects and engineers to oversee the project.

Project manager Walt Shafer of Lincoln Premium Poultry said Costco decided to move forward on the project based on progress with the permitting process, and on feedback from enough farmers who are interested in raising chickens.

Farmers who want to put up chicken barns also would need permits from their home counties. Shafer said Lincoln Premium Poultry will make presentations to area county boards about the project and answer board members’ questions. The boards likely will have questions about the type and location of the barns that would be built and about how farmers will manage chicken waste.

“I would say the easy part is over,” Shafer said. “We have to deliver everything we said we’re going to, which we will.”

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