By Associated Press - Tuesday, July 26, 2016

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) - A citizens group has sued the city of Fremont over actions taken to help Costco Wholesale build a chicken processing plant in the eastern Nebraska community.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Dodge County District Court by Nebraska Communities United on behalf of three Fremont residents. It alleges that the city illegally declared nearly 1,000 acres - including around 400 acres of farmland - to be substandard and blighted so tax-increment financing could be used for property improvements the plant needs.

Tax-increment financing uses the increased property taxes generated by developments to pay off bonds issued to pay for improvements.

“The city of Fremont is trying to sidestep state laws and declare perfectly good agricultural land as blighted and substandard, and it needs to be stopped,” said John Schauer, a local farmer and member of the citizens group.

The interim city administrator, Brian Newton, said Tuesday that the city hadn’t yet seen the lawsuit.

“Of course, we’ll vigorously defend any action against us,” Newton said. City officials and attorneys believe the city correctly followed Nebraska statutes, he said.

Costco and Georgia-based Lincoln premium Poultry have said the plant would employ up to 1,100 people, and area farmers would grow the chickens in about 400 barns for Costco.

Opponents have raised concerns about corporate livestock ownership, the potential for diseases such as avian flu and the potential impact on schools, housing and roads. Earlier this year, the Nickerson Village Board voted against the plant being built between Nickerson and Fremont.

Nebraska Communities United said it was formed to keep area residents aware of developments about Costco’s plans.

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