Pullman’s planning department gave final approval Thursday to one of two major steps needed to start construction of a controversial 223,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter in the city.
Mark Workman, director of public works, said the project’s environmental impact checklist has been approved, nearly six weeks after public comments were collected following its initial release in June.
Workman said he took into consideration the 170 comments received by the department, ranging from concerns about the store’s business practices to the potential environmental and fiscal impact on the city.
“With the mitigation that the applicant is proposing, I simply did not feel that any of the impacts had both a probable and significant adverse impact on the environment,” he said.
One group, the Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development, said it will file an appeal of the project and pursue legal action if it’s unsuccessful. The group’s chairman, T.V. Reed, said he’s concerned about traffic congestion, the store’s proximity to the Pullman Regional Hospital and the historic Pullman Cemetery, and possible runoff from the 28-acre site, located on a slope.
“We are prepared to go to court if we have to,” he said. “To us it seems sad that we don’t have a process that would keep it out of the courts, but it’s not looking like that right now.”
Pullman Planning Director Pete Dickinson said the city will allow separate 10-day appeals periods for both the environmental checklist and Wal-Mart’s site review before it will hold a public hearing on appeals filed for either review. State law allows only one public hearing on a single project, he said. Dickinson said he expects the site review decision to be made by mid-September.
Eric Berger, Wal-Mart’s regional community affairs manager in Seattle, said the retailer believes the city has done a thorough analysis of the environmental checklist. He expressed confidence in the review and said Wal-Mart is “looking forward to the grand-opening day.”
Berger said construction could begin as early as December if the project is approved without a lengthy appeals process. It takes about 10 months to build a store the size of the Wal-Mart proposed in Pullman, he said.
Tom Forbes, who’s part of a campaign to support the construction of a Wal-Mart in Pullman, said the city needs the economic boost.
“We need new stores and to keep them locally,” Forbes said. “Right now, our business is exported over the border to another state,” he added, referring to the Wal-Mart store in nearby Moscow, Idaho.
Forbes said having a “big-box” store in Pullman would encourage other stores to locate nearby. Most importantly, he said, he doesn’t want Pullman to be a town that discourages free enterprise by heavily scrutinizing businesses looking to locate there.
“They all have equal protection under the law to come and open if they want to,” he said. “If we are stopping Wal-Mart today, what’s it going to be tomorrow?”