WAHOO – At different ends of Saunders County, the fight over large chicken farming operations continues.

A conditional use permit to build a large poultry confined animal feeding operation in Morse Bluff Township was approved by the Saunders County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 1, after a week of deliberation and with numerous conditions attached.

The Lancaster County Planning Commission gave their recommendation to approve a conditional use permit for a poultry operation to be located by the Lancaster County border near Raymond Central Junior/Senior High School.

At the Oct. 1 Saunders County Board of Supervisors meeting and at previous county board and county planning commission meetings, a large and vocal group of opponents made their case against the 12-barn operation proposed by Bruce and Amy Williams of rural Morse Bluff.

Attorney Maureen Freeman-Caddy was the spokesperson for an opposition group, Community Advocates for Responsible Ag (CARA) that was formed by neighbors, residents and others concerned about the possibility of having a large poultry farm nearby.

She said the two nearest neighbors, the Zakovecs and the Schoenherrs, who live one-half mile south of the proposed site, spent hundreds of hours researching the subject and alerting their neighbors to the permit application.

Despite the fact that the neighbors became aware of the applications about five days before the first planning commission meeting in early August, they filled the meeting rooms when the planning commission and county board were discussing the permit.

“Over 140 people attended each of the two planning commission meetings, most in opposition,” said Freeman-Caddy. “The courtroom was full at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting.”

The opponents produced literature, testimony, scientific papers and other research that was presented to the county officials and was made part of the public record, Freeman-Caddy said.

The opposition group addressed environmental concerns regarding water runoff from a facility that will have over 10 acres of impermeable rooftop and requested a drainage plan approved by an independent engineer. They also asked for biomass filters and a vegetative barrier to deal with air quality and odor, Freeman-Caddy said.

CARA’s conditions also included recommending the Williams’ submit to a groundwater plan through the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) with monitoring wells for both quality and quantity.

They also asked the Williams voluntarily submit state permits that are not required by state law. The Williams had agreed to these in earlier meetings.

Financial assistance for the township to maintain County Road 24, which will be the route to the highway, was another of the group’s conditions. They also requested that the county address safety and line-of-sight concerns on County Road X.

Rearranging the location of the barns that will turn the dead animals into compost was another condition requested by CARA and the county board. The two lists also included an annual review for compliance, said Freeman-Caddy.

The supervisors listened to the requests and used many of the suggestions as they placed a list of conditions on the Williams’ conditional use permit. Originally proposed by Supervisor Dave Lutton of Ashland, but including input from other county board members, the list included the following.

- Obtaining a Construction and Operation Permit through the state Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) that also incorporates a nutrient management plan.

- Complying with the retention pond and drainage system plan that was submitted to the county board at a previous meeting.

- Compensating Morse Bluff Township $2,500 to maintenance of County Road 24 prior to construction of the facility.

- Installing a vegetative barrier around the facility that is made up of two rows of conifers and one row of poplar trees.

- Constructing and maintaining fire hose access fixtures for fire protection as approved by local fire department.

- Placing the compost barns to the north of the poultry barns.

- Using PLT on all manure within the facility.

- Complying with any remediation plan present in the NDEE permits or submissions if the facility is closed or consolidated.

- Abiding by all local, county, state and national regulations and laws.

- Submitting to an annual review by the county to renew the conditional use permit.

At the Oct. 1 supervisors’ meeting, Bruce Williams indicated they would go along with any conditions imposed. He had already altered the original plans to include a different drainage system as requested by the Saunders County Planning Commission.

He also reiterated that he needed a 12-barn operation to complete the plan he had to create enough fertilizer for his crops and to provide a family business his children could take over in the future.

Freeman-Caddy said the CARA members have not issued a public statement but she said the conditions imposed by the supervisors were a positive move.

“To the extent that the board approved conditions, that some protections may be available to report violations of those conditions in the future, we were happy at least something was done,” she said.

However, CARA’s main request to deny the application outright or to reduce the size of the poultry operation was ignored, according to Freeman-Caddy.

“That had been done in Dodge County earlier in the year and there were advocates for that approach on the (Saunders County) Board of Supervisors,” she said.

Supervisor Scott Sukstorf, in whose district the chicken farm will be located, said during the Oct. 1 meeting that he’d like to see Williams reduce the number of barns to four or six. County Attorney Joseph Dobesh said the supervisors had to vote on the permit as is, and could not request a reduction in the number of barns.

“It is my position that that would fundamentally alter the permit,” said Dobesh.

One of the most vocal groups opposing a proposed chicken barn operation in Lancaster County near the Saunders County border is the Raymond Central Board of Education. The school board voted in August to oppose the conditional use permit applied for by Wayne and Charlene Greve.

Even though the conditional use permit has moved through the Lancaster County Planning Commission, Superintendent Dr. Derrick Joel said the school board is not done with its activism on the project.

“First and foremost, we’re still approaching the situation that we are working hard so that another school district does not find themselves in a similar situation,” Joel said.

In August, a Lancaster County task force recommended changes be made to how close a livestock operation with over 1,000 confined animals can be located to certain public facilities. The Confined Animal Feeding Operation Working Group voted to recommend that operations with over 1,000 confined animals be at least 1.5 miles from healthcare facilities, churches and schools.

The Greve poultry operation is proposed for a location just over a mile from Raymond Central Junior/Senior High School and would house around 380,000 chickens total.

The school board also has concerns about safety for its students and faculty, Joel said. The farm’s entrance would be on NW 27th Street, which is one of the major roads used by students, faculty and parents to drive to the rural school.

The other main thoroughfares to and from the poultry farm would be North 14th Street and County Road A. North 14th Street is the other major road leading to the junior/senior high school. Trucks from the poultry operation using County Road A to reach Highway 77 will pass through Ceresco, directly in front of the school district’s elementary school there.

Like the Williams’ conditional use permit, conditions have been placed on the Greve application by the Lancaster County Planning Commission. Among those is that before building permits are received Sunset Poultry, the company working with the Greves, and the Greves must submit a grading plan to the county engineering department. They must also complete a drainage study to confirm that the change in land use will not affect runoff to nearby properties and county property.

The Raymond Central school officials expressed apprehension about water quality affecting the school facilities. Joel said that he had concerns that runoff from the barns could contaminate the water source used by the junior/senior high school.

The planning commission did require that the Greves acquire a permit “to ensure compliance with and prevent impact to ground water and to reduce odors” from the NDEE, which is not a regular requirement by the state agency.

School officials are not done fighting the chicken barns, the superintendent said.

“Our next step is to continue our research and conversations,” Joel said. “(We are) looking at the different partnerships that we can have that help us tell our story, but also remain on our focus. And that is what we feel is best for kids at Raymond Central.”

Freeman-Caddy said CARA is following as the Greves’ proposed poultry operation goes through the Lancaster County planning commission and county board, but they are not taking an active stance as they have been focused on the Williams’ operation. The group has also not determined if they will take any further action on the supervisors’ decision to approve the conditional use permit.

Waverly News editor Allan Christiensen contributed to this story

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