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Costco's brand-new chicken processing plant will start up right after Labor Day in Fremont with questions still looming as to whether any of the birds for it will ever come from Lancaster County.

The plant, run by Lincoln Premium Poultry, will provide Costco with 2 million chickens each week. The multimillion-dollar project has been under construction since 2017.

Lincoln Premium Poultry spokeswoman Jessica Kolterman said the first birds will be processed Tuesday.

“We will start our first line that day and we’ll make sure all the equipment is operating in tandem with each other, all the machines have to talk to each other,” she said. “We’ll work out that technology, and then by the end of the day, we should have products that will be ready for outbound to wherever it’s headed.”

The plant will have about 500 employees when it starts up, Kolterman said.

“Considering we started the year with probably around 30 or 40 employees, that’s been quite the growth pattern,” she said.

Operations will begin with a 45-week ramp-up period, starting with a first line that will gradually increase in speed once kinks are worked out, Kolterman said. Once the line is at full speed, the second and third lines will begin before moving onto the second shift.

The third shift, which includes maintenance and sanitation, will begin once the first two shifts are up and running.

The plant will have a grand opening and ribbon cutting Oct. 19. Kolterman said a portion of the day will be dedicated to letting the public view the new facility.

A handful of poultry farms are now raising broiler chickens for the plant and dozens of others are in various stages of development and construction.

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It's unclear at this point whether any of those operations will be in Lancaster County.

One operation, which would have 190,000 chickens on a 75-acre farm at 13350 W. Wittstruck Road in extreme southwestern Lancaster County, was approved last year, but neighbors appealed that ruling.

During a bench trial in August in Lancaster County District Court, Walt Shafer, chief operating officer of Lincoln Premium Poultry, said the company had essentially moved the proposed operation owned by Randy Essink to the end of its construction schedule while waiting for the court to rule.

Shafer said the company expects its construction process for the broiler farms to continue through the summer of 2020.

Judge Jodi Nelson took the case involving Essink's farm under advisement but did not say when she might issue a ruling. It's likely the losing side will appeal.

Another operation, which would be double the size of Essink's, has been proposed in northwest Lancaster County, on the Saunders County line.

It's scheduled for a public hearing in front of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission on Wednesday, at which time there's expected to be significant opposition.

Those two applications spurred Lancaster County officials to examine county zoning code, which has very few regulations for large agricultural operations.

A task force last week culminated five months of work by recommending a slew of changes, including introducing setbacks of at least a half-mile for enclosed operations such as poultry barns and one mile for open livestock feedlots.

Those changes, if adopted by the County Board, would not take effect for several months.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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