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Work on humane chick hatchery at Bell & Evans pushed back

The opening date for a new chicken hatchery at the quickly expanding Bell & Evans campus in Bethel Township appears to have been pushed back.

In 2015, Bell & Evans officials said the proposed chicken hatchery, which the Lebanon County company calls the first humane, animal welfare-focused chick hatchery in the country, would open this spring.

However, in its latest update on the hatchery, the company said Wednesday in a news release that construction would start in the spring, with full operation expected by the end of the year.

Company officials did not return phone and email messages Thursday morning as to what altered the construction timeline.

Bell & Evans is a poultry processing company that ships to national clients such as Wegmans Food Markets Inc.

The company also announced it will be working with two Netherlands-based companies — HatchTech and Viscon — to supply the technology that will make the hatchery humane.

HatchTech’s technology “will provide immediate access of fresh food, water, air and light for the newly hatched chicks, something currently unheard of in the U.S. poultry industry,” according to a company news release.

Viscon provides live embryo detection so that only live embryos are put into incubation.

Bell & Evans officials have spoken about plans to build the hatchery as far back as 2014. Company officials have been in front of the Lebanon County Board of Commissioners and other government taxing bodies talking about the plan in a successful bid to make the property eligible for Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance. The LERTA designation forgives a property’s improvement taxes on a sliding scale for a set amount of time. The hatchery property has a LERTA approved for 10 years.

Originally, the company had planned to build the hatchery, along with a new rendering plant, on a 113-acre property across Route 22 from the company’s current processing plant.

But to expedite construction, Bell & Evans bought an adjacent 40-acre property to build only the hatchery. The company still plans to build a rendering plant on the 113-acre property.

Last year, company officials said the hatchery is expected to cost between $12 million and $18 million in construction and equipment costs.

The company also is putting the finishing touches on a 158,000-square-foot, $44 million expansion of the poultry processing and packaging plant on the north side of Route 22 in the township.

Michael Sadowski

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