FREMONT - The brand-new Costco chicken plant in Fremont has fully begun its operations, but some area residents remain opposed to the facility.

The plant has been under construction since 2017 and is being run by Lincoln Premium Poultry (LPP), a company created to handle Costco's poultry management. LPP's Jessica Kolterman says the first chicken was run through the process last week to test all of the machinery, and that the line will be started slowly at first before full operating speed is enacted.

Kolterman says at least 97% of the employees are Nebraskans, the majority of which coming from the Fremont area, which she says is directly in line with labor studies the company conducted.

"Our labor studies said the people were here, they were either underemployed or unemployed," Kolterman said. "It's been really gratifying to have employees who are engaged, excited to be here, and want to be part of something new and special."

Kolterman says the 400,000 square foot facility will not only be providing poultry for the Costco warehouses in Nebraska but also to warehouses in the western parts of the country. In all, Kolterman says 40% of Costco's needs will be coming from the Fremont facility.

The Fremont plant has faced its share of controversy however, as advocacy group Nebraska Communities United was created in direct opposition to Costco's presence in the state. President Randy Ruppert says the type of extreme vertical integration Costco is attempting in Nebraska has not worked anywhere else in the United States.

"It's destroyed the Chesapeake Bay, it's destroyed Iowa, Oklahoma now has moratoriums on it," Ruppert said. "So the taxpayer is picking up the tab to clean up their mess, and we don't see Costco, Lincoln Premium Poultry being anything different because they have never been honest with the citizens of Nebraska."

Lincoln Premium Poultry has been contracting poultry farmers to grow for the Costco plant over the last year-and-a-half, and Ruppert is concerned with the lack of regulations the state has regarding the construction of chicken barns in close proximity to area farmers.

"There's a lot of counties that don't have zoning laws in place, so you can put eight chicken barns 200 feet from this house and there's nothing the zoning committee can do about it," Ruppert said.

Kolterman believes the Fremont plant is providing a great opportunity for Nebraskans to be part of a business operation which will span across the entire western part of the United States.

"It's really a fantastic story for when my cousin goes to buy her Costco chicken in Arizona, she's going to know that chicken came from a family in Nebraska who raised it, and then a group of people in Fremont, Nebraska who processed it," Kolterman said.

But as the Fremont plant begins its first full week of operations, a coalition of citizen and state organizations are now calling for a moratorium on Costco's vertical integration in Nebraska. The group wants adequate protections for rural communities and farm-workers through state and county regulations.

Ruppert says a different way of thinking is needed if value-added agriculture is what the state is looking for.

"We need to look at it totally differently than having one company come in here and select 100 farmers to produce a product, we don't even call it farming," Ruppert said. "Whenever these corporations are allowed to function in their own world, it's always the taxpayer that has to clean up the mess at the end of it."