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Plans for a large poultry farm in southwest Lancaster County are ruffling the feathers of nearby residents.

Randy Essink, a Cortland businessman, has applied for a special permit to put 190,000 broiler chickens in four buildings on land at 13350 W. Wittstruck Road, less than a mile from the Saline County line.

The operation would be a supplier for the Costco poultry processing plant that's under construction in Fremont.

It's the first application in Lancaster County for a poultry operation related to the Costco plant, and it's not being well received.

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Department already has received more than 50 emails from people in opposition to the proposal, the vast majority from people who live near the site.

Georgia-based Lincoln Premium Poultry, which is the entity managing the Costco plant, has said it hopes to have contracts with about 100-125 producers. Several operations have been approved in other counties, though some have faced significant opposition.

Hundreds of people showed up in April to oppose six proposed broiler operations in Washington County. Two of the six eventually withdrew their applications, while the other four were approved by the Washington County Board.

Other operations have faced little or no opposition, however.

Saunders County in January approved plans for a 170,000-chicken farm near Valparaiso.

Last month, the Madison County Board approved a 380,000-chicken operation.

In the case of Essink's proposal, neighbors have cited a number of concerns, ranging from traffic to environmental issues to a feared decline in property values.

A staff report prepared by the Planning Department lists seven homes within a mile of the proposed operation, but neighbors say that's not accurate.

Pam Wakeman, who lives in Lakeside Estates, an acreage subdivision about a mile southeast of the proposed operation, said there are dozens of homes and farms in the area that would be affected.

"It's going to impact quite a few people," said Wakeman, who also owns farmland nearby.

A map provided by a neighbor shows 65 homes within a 1 1/2-mile radius of the site.

"It's almost like you're putting it in the middle of a small town," said Greg Hollman, who lives on a farm less than a half-mile from the site. He pointed out that the site is less than three miles from Crete's hospital and high school.

Despite the proximity of nearby homes, the Planning Department has recommended approval of the operation, largely because it meets the standard for a special permit under the zoning code. Despite its size, it's considered an agricultural operation, and the land is zoned for agricultural uses.

The proposed operation also has not raised any concerns for the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department, the Lancaster County Engineer nor the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality.

According to the application to the Planning Department, the operation, including all waste, will be contained inside the buildings. Truck traffic will be limited to an average of less than 10 trips a week. Waste will be removed once a year and spread on fields as fertilizer.

Not everyone who has expressed opposition is a nearby resident.

Diane Walkowiak of Lincoln said she's concerned about how the poultry operation would affect the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, which is a few miles northeast of the site.

"The south winds would bring not only odor but dangerous fecal particles," she said in an email. "I have respiratory problems and hate the smoke that floats in each spring from Kansas. Now I'm faced with not being able to enjoy Spring Creek Prairie."

Jessica Kolterman, a spokeswoman for Lincoln Premium Poultry, said technology has advanced quite a bit in poultry operations, "and it's often the case that people don't understand what this will look like."

She said she hopes that as they learn more about the operation, they'll find it will not impact them "in any way," and they'll be less concerned.

Hollman, the nearby farmer, disagrees, believing the impacts will be large.

He raises chickens himself, just a couple dozen for personal use, and said the smell from the small amount of manure they produce is "horrible."

He also said poultry operations, even when they are inside barns, attract insects, mice and other pests.

Officials in Crete also are concerned about the potential effects.

City Administrator Tom Ourada said city staff have met about the proposal and it also was discussed at a City Council meeting Tuesday.

Ourada said Crete has many of the same concerns as nearby landowners and currently is in fact-finding mode.

"We're going to do the research and provide that information to our elected officials," he said.

Elected officials are likely to be the ones to decide whether the poultry operation comes to Lancaster County.

The proposal had been scheduled for a Planning Commission public hearing last Wednesday, but it was postponed until July 18 because of a clerical error in the public notice.

Typically, special permits are one of the few items that the Planning Commission has the final say on, but in this case it appears certain that the losing side will appeal and force a Lancaster County Board hearing.

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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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