Farmers, neighbors and Gov. Ricketts zone in on latest chicken farm proposal in Dodge County

Farmers, neighbors and Gov. Ricketts zone in on latest chicken farm proposal in Dodge County
World-Herald News Service

An Omaha-area family is trying again after twice failing to hitch their Dodge County land to northeast Nebraska’s growing poultry business.

They hope that their third proposal — for an eight-barn chicken farm instead of a county-record 10 barns — charms at least two of the Dodge County Board members who rejected the project in January because of its size.

Lee and Pamela Camenzind go before the Dodge County Planning Commission on Tuesday with the reworked proposal for their son, Case, and daughter-in-law, Joscelyn, who would live on and farm the land near Nickerson.

Joscelyn Camenzind said Friday that she and her husband want to ease fears about ruined views, runoff and livestock smells with a smaller footprint and additional tree and plant buffers that she says they were always planning.

Because leaves knock down some of the particulates in the air that carry livestock odor, such plant barriers can make a marginal difference in the smell that wafts over to neighboring land, research shows.

“I think that once these barns are built, I feel that people will be pleasantly surprised at what they see and don’t see and smell and don’t smell,” she said.

She said she wants people to give them a chance. She is moving her husband and two children to within 1,800 feet of these chicken barns, she said, and would not do so if she were concerned about her family’s health or safety.

Neighbors say they are still ready to fight, many having testified for hours on their concerns about locating a large confined animal operation near their properties.

Some have said they hope that the Camenzinds get the hint.

Among them is Randy Ruppert, a Nickerson-area resident who has organized much opposition to the chicken farm and an earlier proposal to locate the Lincoln Premium Poultry processing plant on the Camenzinds’ land.

One of the most common worries expressed at recent hearings is the potential for the new operation to depress nearby residential property values.

Some shared fears that they would be stuck, unable to sell.

The new proposal “is not a significant reduction in traffic issues or airborne ammonia emissions, and those are what we are still fighting on,” Ruppert said.

But agricultural boosters across Nebraska, including some in the State Capitol, say they are watching the Dodge County Planning Commission and County Board to see whether the “livestock-friendly” county lives up to that designation.

This year, Fremont will open a massive Lincoln Premium Poultry plant to supply membership club Costco with more than 2 million a week of the $5 rotisserie chickens it sells in its stores, including in Omaha and La Vista.

Gov. Pete Ricketts took the side of agriculture during a visit to Fremont after the mid-January vote, telling a crowd that included the Camenzinds that he hopes that Dodge County works with the family to grant the permits.

“These value-added agriculture opportunities — like being able to put up a poultry barn for Costco — is creating those opportunities for our young people to come back,” he said, according to the Fremont Tribune.

Ricketts also mentioned his previous support for right-to-farm legislation like Iowa’s, which reduced local control of the approval process and created state guidelines that, once met, essentially approve similar projects.

Lincoln Premium Poultry spokeswoman Jessica Kolterman said she hoped that Costco’s record as a responsible partner would be enough.

It requires more of its farmers than the state does, she said, including additional permits.

Farm groups across the state are engaging on the Camenzinds’ behalf, lobbying the County Board on the economic need to embrace Costco’s chicken-farming partners.

Board member Lon Strand, who already supports the plan, said he asked county employees to explore some of the traffic concerns neighbors shared in January. The traffic studies are not quite done.

Strand said the county should be willing to take some reasonable steps by installing warning signs about truck traffic and potentially reducing speed limits nearby.

“I really have positive feelings this time around,” he said.

Neighbors say they aren’t feeling as positive. Ruppert and his group have all but conceded defeat at the Planning Commission, which approved the previous 10-barn proposal without a dissenting vote.

They say they will make their stand Feb. 27 with the County Board — regardless of who wants them to stop.

“Pete Ricketts coming to Fremont and telling the Dodge County Board of Supervisors that they need to pay attention to ‘livestock-friendly’ is not what’s best for the locals of this area,” Ruppert said. “We need to keep local control.”

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