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Chicken Plant

A sign near Nickerson expresses opposition to a chicken-processing plant previously proposed for the area.

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s Ag Department on Monday released the first draft of new guidelines intended to offer a standardized approach to locating and approving large livestock operations.

Construction of large livestock facilities can become contentious with neighbors concerned about smell, the impact on quality of life, pollution, roads and other issues. Designers of the Nebraska Livestock Siting Assessment Matrix intended it to be a science-based tool to balance farm growth with protecting neighbors and natural resources.

“It’s a tool that has been designed to site livestock regardless of who owns them,” said Mark McHargue, a pork producer and vice president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, who served on an advisory committee.

“This was designed to be a third-party analysis of the siting process.”

The matrix is only a suggested guideline. It will be up to local and county officials whether they follow it. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture will accept comments on it through July 31. The committee will review and consider submitted comments prior to final publication of the assessment matrix in August.

It could soon be put to the test, McHargue said.

Costco Wholesale Corp. is looking to build a massive chicken processing facility south of Fremont and looking to sign up farmers to raise the poultry.

To support the facility’s need for chickens -- it would process nearly 350,000 birds daily -- the company plans to create a network of 330 barns.

Farmers could sign up to host as many as 12 barns. Each barn would house up to 43,000 chickens and produce about 300 tons of litter a year, which is used or sold for fertilizer.

Costco scrapped its first choice for the plant south of Nickerson earlier this year after the village board voted against a rezoning proposal. The decision came in the wake of local outcry against it, with opponents citing concerns about potential impact on area schools, housing and roads.

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The Greater Fremont Development Council has said the plant would create 1,100 jobs and give the economy a $1.2 billion annual boost.

Nebraska legislators this year also passed a contentious measure to lift the state’s ban on meatpackers owning swine. Proponents of the move say it’ll make Nebraska more competitive with neighboring states and allow new pig farmers to enter the business without assuming the financial risks of ownership.

The Nebraska Legislature called for the creation of the matrix last year with the passage of LB106, which was only approved after removing language from the bill that would have made abiding by the siting regulations mandatory for elected county officials.

The matrix can be viewed at nda.nebraska.gov. Comments can be emailed to agr.webmaster@nebraska.gov, or sent by mail to Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Attn. Steve Roth, 301 Centennial Mall South, Fourth Floor, Lincoln, NE 68509.

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