Fremont Tribune: Costco opposition holds town hall meeting
· Fremont Tribune
· July 19, 2016
Costco opposition holds town hall meeting
· John Liesveld
Dr. Don Stull, Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas addresses audience at Woodcliff Lakes town hall meeting related to issues on Costco project.
· John Liesveld/Fremont Tribune
The dichotomous narrative of the Costco poultry plant unfurled again this week at a town hall meeting Monday night at the John G. Poehling Community Center in Woodcliff Lakes two miles south of Fremont.
The meeting featured two professionals in the fields of civil engineering and sociocultural anthropology. The town hall event encapsulated the enduring divisions existing over Costco’s planned poultry processing plant.
The plant proposed would sit within a large area south of Fremont that the city council recently designated “blighted and substandard.” The designation enables Costco to acquire certain economic incentive tools for development of its project. Based on prospective information, the project would employ 800-1,100 workers, invest $180 million in regional capital investment, boost the area tax base by $63 million and provide additional investment into the rural agriculture community.
THE SOCIOCULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGIST
“This could change the whole structure of commodity production,” said Dr. Donald D. Stull, Professor Emeritus in Sociocultural Anthropology at the University of Kansas, referring the economic framework of vertical integration. Costco would have influence over the final product starting from the egg and moving all the way down stream of production into the very grocery isle where its broilers would be sold.
“It could be a real game-changer as to what it means not only for producers but for consumers as well, and I think we should all be very nervous about it,” Stull added.
However, Stull, one of two speakers at the Woodcliff meeting, clarified: whether a person decides to welcome or reject the plant, or whether an individual believes the plant denotes a good opportunity or potential community risk, depends on where that individual stands.
With over 30 years of experience as a cultural anthropologist – the past 20 years focused on the meat and poultry industry in the United States – Stull stands in a place that he believes provides some insight on the industry. He said, through his experience he frequently saw the same community impacts ensue when large processing operations moved into small communities.
“I’ve studied enough communities to know the same things (impacts and changes) happen everywhere,” Stull recounted in an interview prior to the meeting. “Whether you think those things are bad or good depends on where you stand …. My role here is just to talk about what happens in the community (when a large processing plant arrives).”
The impacts Stull addressed encompassed the interwoven play between social and economic factors within communities, factors he said inevitably influence issues of public services, community infrastructure, income, healthcare, education, social matters, ethnicity and more. And in order to avoid the negative impact of those influences, Stull emphasized that people within a community need to work together, promote community impact studies and continue the open discussion afforded by meetings like the Woodcliff gathering.
“You need to bring together all of the various interest groups in the community to talk about what’s going to happen (if the processing plant comes),” Stull informed listeners. “There’s a lot of lateral learning that (community members) can benefit from.”
For Randy Ruppert, spokesmen for Nebraska Communities United an organization firmly opposed to the implementation of the vertical integration in agricultural, such “lateral learning” described by Stull represented a primary goal for Monday night’s town hall.
“We’re hoping to present some of the challenges that these types of plants bring to a community,” Ruppert said, listing a few concerns that continue to pique the anxieties of those opposed to project. Some of those worries stem from issues of water, wastewater, traffic, utilities infrastructure, and factory floor working conditions at the plant.
THE CIVIL ENGINEER
Offering a vista from a civil engineer’s perspective, Kathy Martin also addressed the town hall gathering. A civil engineer with over 25 years of experience in areas of environmental consulting, agriculture wastewater management, air quality and related state and federal regulations, Martin covered topics on the importance of “optimizing the best possible engineering” for the poultry plant and related municipal infrastructure upgrades required to service significant increases in wastewater production, water usage and other issues.
“(Speaking) as an engineer, if you are for the Costco (project), then you definitely want them to have the best engineering plan possible … and to be up front about those engineering challenges,” Martin said in an interview before the meeting.
She emphasized, it is in the best interest of everyone to have an efficiently functioning and reliable wastewater treatment plant and to know that related facilities adhere to proper construction and waste management regulations.
Attempting to alleviate some worry General Manager of the Fremont Department of Utilities Brian Newton, who attended the meeting, discussed water and wastewater lagoon concerns in a follow up interview.
“I think (Kathy’s) experience was more with general agricultural lagoons … and not much with municipal lagoon experience,” Newton said.
He said the proposed waste management lagoons will sit in 20 foot high embankments above ground and utilize leak detection mechanisms. Though, at this point, he could not specify whether the lagoons would be concrete or some other material.
Additionally he elucidated that the zoning for the Fremont wellhead protection plan does not extend across the proposed site/land of the Costco facility.
“There are no restrictions to what Costco is doing in or out of the wellhead protection plan (area),” Newton said.
Martin however, encouraged the community to remain alert and educated on existing state and federal regulations mandated for such large-scale agricultural operations such as permits pertaining to air quality and wastewater treatment.
“Those (permits) have a public due process that is required by law,” Martin said, also citing the fact that public appeal processes also exist. “There are some fairly substantial permit hurdles that cannot be controlled by the city.”
Approximately 150 area residents attended Monday night’s Woodcliff town hall. For Ruppert and other organizers like Graham Christensen of GC Resolve, the meeting represented a successful and a long sought after forum of public discussion on the Costco issue.
“Education is the foundation to our communities,” Christensen said. “And there was definitely a lot of information to absorb … I think everyone is looking forward to continuing community discussions and seeking answers to these tough questions.”
“Both (Martin and Stull) were pretty fair in their assessments (of the issues),” Ruppert said. “(Both speakers said) if done right (the Costco operation) could be a good thing. But if it’s pushed through the way it’s being pushed through, with no discussion of possible impacts, that will only lead to issues in the future.”
Ruppert said organizers are working on the next town hall meeting tentatively scheduled in about two weeks and will delve deeper into the environmental impacts of the poultry industry.