Fremont Costco plant groundbreaking

Work gets underway during the groundbreaking event for Costco's poultry processing facility.

More than a dozen Fremont-area residents raised concerns Tuesday that Costco’s planned chicken processing plant could hurt air quality in their community.

Evelyn McKnight of rural Fremont was one of several who asked the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to postpone issuing a construction permit. Site work has started on the project, but the plant operator awaits a permit before much more can be done.

“I will not live in an area with polluted and foul-smelling air,” McKnight said.

Project planners have said the facility will not adversely affect the surrounding area. An department engineer told The World-Herald that the department has studied the levels and types of pollutants the facility would emit. It determined that the plant would not have what’s considered a “significant impact” on air quality beyond the plant property.

Project planners are eager to see the permit issued, saying that inaction puts the project at risk of construction delays and cost overruns.

Plant operating company Lincoln Premium Poultry requested the department’s Tuesday hearing, which is not required by the state. The company has also requested a permit variance so it can begin some structural work at the site before a permit is issued.

The chicken facility would include a hatchery, feed mill and processing plant on one site south of Fremont.

The plant would be the first live-animal processing facility for warehouse retail giant Costco. It’s expected to open in April 2019 and process more than 2 million chickens a week.

Others who spoke at the meeting, including Kathy Drawbridge of nearby Nickerson, asked how the state will monitor Costco’s compliance with pollution rules and whether any penalties in place are severe enough to deter pollution.

A spokesman for the department couldn’t comment immediately Tuesday on the residents’ concerns but said that it will prepare a report that will answer questions raised in the hearing.

The project will have an estimated $1.2 billion annual economic impact. It will generate about 800 new jobs at the plant and will support farmers and small businesses that serve the plant, economic development officials have said in welcoming the project. They estimate $400 million in direct investment to build the plant along with barns to house chickens on area farms.

The permit is needed because the planned facility will surpass certain emissions thresholds, according to the Department of Environmental Quality.

People can also submit comments in writing through Thursday, the close of a required public comment period. Email ndeq.airquality@nebraska.gov, or write to Gary Buttermore, Air Quality Division, P.O. Box 98922, Lincoln, NE 68509-8922.

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