Chicken plant

FREMONT — Supporters of a proposed chicken-processing plant took a new tack Wednesday, organizing themselves to speak in favor of the plans for the first time in a public forum.

People on both sides of the issue packed the Dodge County Board hearing room in Fremont in a standing-room-only crowd.

Supporters said the project would bring needed growth to the rural county. “The economic benefit to this area, this region, is enormous,” said Chuck Emanuel of North Bend, Nebraska, a member of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association board.

A farmer from Hooper, another Dodge County town, said the chance to add chicken houses to row-crop farms is an opportunity to boost farm revenue, which in turn would give the next generation a chance to stay on the farm, he said.

“If we don’t allow economic development, people’s children and grandchildren end up going to other states even, let alone Omaha and Lincoln,” said farmer Scott Wagner.

And Fremont resident Kathy Rhea, owner of an Arlington cattle feeding business and a Fremont Chamber of Commerce ag committee leader, said recruiting agriculture-related business makes more sense than dreaming about high-tech companies.

“If we’re going to sit around and wait for that, we’re never going to have economic development in Fremont,” Rhea said.

Following heated opposition to the plant at an April 4 Nickerson Village Board meeting, the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska told plant supporters not to attend an April 5 Fremont City Council meeting, where opponents planned to again speak about the chicken plant until the mayor unexpectedly adjourned the meeting without taking public comment.

The ag group’s director, Willow Holoubek, said Wednesday that the County Board meeting was orderly and a good venue for discussion.

Project opponents were there, too, and reiterated concerns about traffic, waste, disease and an influx of workers.

Randy Ruppert, an organizer of opponents’ group Nebraska Communities United, said after the meeting that he welcomed the chance to hear other views.

“This is what we’ve been asking for: debate, good old American debate,” Ruppert said. “They’ve been cloaked in secrecy and this is the first time we even got to hear from the proponents.”

The name of the company behind the project still is being kept secret. State and local officials have refused to name the company.

County Board member Bob Missel, the owner of a Fremont clothing shop, told The World-Herald that he knows the name of the company behind the plans but has agreed not to disclose it, although he said he didn’t sign a formal nondisclosure agreement.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1336, barbara.soderlin@owh.com

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