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Owners of proposed poultry farm file appeal after Lancaster County denied application

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

An entity that wants to build a large poultry farm in northwest Lancaster County has appealed the Lancaster County Board's denial of its application.

Sunset Poultry LLC, which had applied to build eight barns housing approximately 380,000 broiler chickens to be raised for the Costco processing plant in Fremont, filed the appeal Monday in Lancaster County District Court.

The Lancaster County Board voted 3-2 last month to deny a special permit to the operation after hearing opposition from neighbors, including the Raymond Central School District. The Junior-Senior High School is just more than a mile from the proposed site.

The opposition from the school swayed the three Democratic members of the board, who said the proposed operation on roughly 100 acres near Northwest 27th Street and West Ashland Road has too many unknown risks.

Christa Yoakum, who represents that part of the county and was one of the three commissioners to vote against the proposal, said that while she respects Sunset Poultry's right to appeal, "I also think in this particular case the reasons we denied this permit were valid."

Yoakum said the proximity to the school, the unstable water table in the area and the likely difficulty in fighting a fire at the site were among the reasons she voted no.

She also said she was swayed by hours of opposition testimony not only from concerned neighbors but also from professionals who advised against allowing the operation.

While the board needs to be cognizant of zoning laws, "we are bound to protect the welfare and safety of the people of the county."

The Sunset Poultry application was the second one in the 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, but opponents have appealed that ruling.

Yoakum said she believes there are enough differences between the two applications to lead to a different outcome in court.

"I think that this is a different situation with the proximity to the school and the water situation," she said.

Jessica Kolterman, spokeswoman for Lincoln Premium Poultry, said she was aware of the appeal and supports Sunset Poultry.

"We stand by our growers as they follow this through the process," she said.

The company had targeted next summer as the deadline to have all of its growing operations up and running, but that deadline is unrealistic not only for Sunset Poultry but also for Essink, who has yet to start construction as his proposal works its way through the court system.

Kolterman said the company will work with each producer and try to tweak the schedule to meet their situations.

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

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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Business 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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