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Judge denies permit for proposed poultry farm near Raymond Central school
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Judge denies permit for proposed poultry farm near Raymond Central school

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Workers process chickens at the Lincoln Premium Poultry plant, Costco Wholesale's dedicated poultry supplier, in Fremont in 2019.

A Lincoln judge has denied a permit for a proposed, 380,000 broiler chicken facility on a farm about a mile from Raymond Central Junior-Senior High School.

The chickens were to be raised at Sunset Poultry before being taken to a Costco processing plant in Fremont.

County Commissioner Christa Yoakum said: “It was a win for the people of Lancaster County.”

In November 2019, she voted to deny a special permit for the project after hearing opposition from neighbors, including the Raymond Central School District.

“Their concern was for the safety of their community, the safety of the kids who go to the high school,” Yoakum said.

She said the county’s main concern was that the aquifer couldn’t support the poultry operation without compromising the residents’ access to water, including, potentially, the school.

The board's 3-2 denial prompted the appeal and a trial earlier this month. 

There, attorney Mary Jacobsen, who represents landowners Wayne and Charlene Greve, told the judge the proposed facility not only met, but exceeded, the standards for a special-use permit.

She said projects such as these create opportunities for young families, like Josh and Tonya Bussard's, part-owners who would manage the operation and were committed to run the barns properly.

On the other side, attorney Brian Jorde represented opponents of the permit, people who live next to the property and the school district, which sends hundreds of children outside for recess or sports on the northern edge of its property closest to where 2.28 million chickens a year would be raised in barns.

"It's simply not an intelligent location for this kind of infrastructure," he argued.

In a 14-page written ruling Thursday, Lancaster County District Judge Jodi Nelson said the construction and operation of eight large poultry barns was "not consistent with the character of the neighborhood as it exists and would more likely than not have negative effects upon traffic conditions, and other matters relating to public health, safety and general welfare."

An expert, Dr. James A. Merchant, testified about how dust from the chicken facilities would travel downwind toward Raymond Central and said children within 3 miles of feeding operations have consistently experienced increased rates of asthma. 

Nelson said the plan also didn't include any studies to indicate availability of water to service the annual need of nearly 8 million gallons or the effects that would have on nearby residences and the school. 

And, she said, the barns would be a total loss before volunteer firefighters could arrive from Valparaiso in case of a fire. 

The decision is likely to be appealed.

The Sunset Poultry application was the second one in Lancaster County since Lincoln Premium Poultry, a Costco subsidiary, started recruiting farmers to raise chickens for the plant in 2016.

The other application, which is in the southwest part of the county, is half the size of the Sunset Poultry proposal and was approved in 2018 by a County Board with different membership.

That approval of the plan from landowner Randy Essink was upheld in Lancaster County District Court and by the Nebraska Supreme Court in December, after opponents appealed.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger

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Public safety reporter

Lori Pilger is a Norfolk native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been a public safety reporter for the Journal Star since 2005.

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