Battle continues over proposed chicken barns for Costco

Aug. 1, 2018, 5:16 a.m. ·

Crowd at public hearing on Costco barns proposal (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Supporters and opponents of proposed chicken barns to supply the Costco plant near Fremont, Nebraska continued their fight before the Lincoln/Lancaster County Planning Commission Wednesday. Both sides say the battle extends beyond this one specific project.

Costco’s plant under construction in Fremont will eventually supply the warehouse retail giant with 2 million chickens a week. The proposal at issue in rural Lancaster County, outside Lincoln, is for four 600 foot long barns each containing 47,500 chickens, for a total of 190,000. Randy Rupert, who opposed Costco’s plant in Fremont, says that fight is over, and the battle has now shifted to the barns, which some neighbors say could increase air and water pollution. Rupert says the larger issue is what he called “corporate slavery.”

“We’re bringing people in and paying them low wages, when Costco pays $21 an hour to work in their box store. They’re paying a meatpacker $13 an hour. Those are the injustices. Those are the things that -- not only do we have to clean up the environment. We have to clean up social injustice,” Rupert told opponents at a rally before Wednesday’s public hearing.

Actually, Costco announced in June the starting wage in its stores would be $14 or $14.50, according to Fortune magazine. Business Week has said Costco’s average wage for hourly workers is above $20. Officials have said workers at the Fremont chicken processing plant will start at $13 and could earn up to $17 an hour.

Testifying in support of the proposed barns, farmer Dave Nielsen said agriculture is changing. “You know, everyone wants to have the Norman Rockwell painting. You raise a few hogs, raise a few cattle, raise some chickens and stuff. And that’s great. I have no problem with locally grown food. If you can make it work on your operation and your acreage I think that’s wonderful. We need all sources of food production in the U.S. and in the world. But this is modern agriculture,” he said.

The Lincoln/Lancaster County Planning Commission voted 4-2 late Wednesday afternoon to approve the poultry barns.However, a majority of five votes on the nine member commission were needed, so proposal still not passed. Another vote is expected Aug. 15 when all nine commissioners are expected to be present. Any decision is expected to be appealed to the Lancaster County Board.