June 24, 2005 in Business

Wal-Mart clears hurdle in Pullman

Jennifer Sudick Staff writer

Public comment

Public comment on the preliminary environmental impact report will be taken until 5 p.m. on Monday, July 11. Written comments may be submitted in writing to: Public Works Director Mark Workman, Pullman City Hall, 325 S.E. Paradise St., Pullman, WA 99163.

Plans for a controversial 223,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter in Pullman are moving forward.

On Wednesday, the city of Pullman tentatively approved a revised environmental impact report initially submitted by the retail giant in late October.

The environmental review is the first stage of the application process Wal-Mart must complete before it could begin work at the 28-acre site, located near the Pullman Regional Hospital. Mark Workman, director of public works in Pullman, said Wal-Mart’s plan appropriately addressed areas of concern such as traffic congestion and wetlands preservation.”It is not likely to have a significant adverse environmental impact,” Workman said of the project.

Among the actions Wal-Mart said it would take are: re-grading land to replace damaged wetlands; providing a storm water collection system; alleviating traffic congestion with a raised median and the installation of a traffic light; and using about a quarter of the land for landscaping.

After a public comment period, open through July 11, the Pullman Public Works Department will make a final determination on the project’s environmental impact. Then comes a 10-day appeals period, and if an appeal is filed, the legal process could take one to two months, Workman said.

A site review of the proposed development, which includes looking at water and sewer facilities and landscaping, is already under way by the city. Pullman Planning Director Pete Dickinson said he expects that review to be finished shortly.

Eric Berger, Wal-Mart’s regional community affairs manager in Seattle, said the company sent postcards to 7,000 longtime Pullman residents to gauge community support for the project, which would include a garden center, tire center, lube express and grocery services. He said the response in favor of the store was nearly two to one.

“We felt comfortable from the support we received from Pullman residents,” Berger said.

T.V. Reed, chairman of the Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development, a grassroots organization that started a “Pullman Against Wal-Mart Supercenter” campaign in January, said the report submitted by Wal-Mart was disappointing. He called for a full environmental impact statement that would take a closer look at potential drainage problems. Nearly 75 percent of the property would be covered by impervious surfaces such as the store itself, its parking lot and expansion of a street near the proposed store that would cover about 200 cubic yards of wetlands, according to the preliminary environmental study.

The group plans to appeal the city’s preliminary environmental determination on the grounds that the report should have been considered by members of the city council, Reed said. If the appeal is unsuccessful, the group plans to take the issue to court. The group will also turn in nearly 8,000 signatures collected from residents opposed to the store’s construction, he said.

“We have argued all along that there needs to be a full, open political process involving our elected officials, not just one member of the public works department,” Reed said. “We feel like the weak zoning laws and the weak political process has forced us to use the courts, but we think there are many options in the courts to protect Pullman from what we feel is a culturally and economically disastrous plan.”Chris Kofinis, communications adviser for Wake-Up Wal-Mart, a Washington, D.C.-based campaign that’s attempting to alter the company’s health-care and employment practices, said this kind of community movement against Wal-Mart isn’t unusual.

“People are questioning the real value of Wal-Mart to the community,” he said. “Wal-Mart’s vision of America is that the only store in that community is a Wal-Mart. This is the reason why so many people are concerned.”

Kofinis said opposition to Wal-Mart ranges from big cities to small towns, with current campaigns against the store in Florida, California and Arizona, among other states. Opponents charge that Wal-Mart stores cause problems ranging from increased crime and traffic to paying “poverty-level” wages.The average wage for a full-time Wal-Mart employee in Washington is $10.14 per hour, according to the Wal-Mart Web site. Berger said the store would bring about 300 competitive-wage jobs to Pullman.

If the store is approved, construction could start by December, Berger said.

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