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2006-05-29
St. Albans, VT. Police Warn Of Wal-Mart Crime Impact

More than ten years after the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that Wal-Mart could not build in the town of St. Albans, Vermont, the retail giant is back in this small community seeking to locate on the very same spot where it was originally rejected. But a series of consultants hired by the abutting city of St. Albans say that for the city, the 160,000 s.f. store will mean lost tax revenues, major public safety costs, and the closure of 20 to 30 businesses. Wal-Mart's proposal is now going through what is known in Vermont as an "Act 250" review, a regional impact process which weighs the public benefits versus the costs of large developments. Twelve years ago, the Act 250 review found that for every $1 in public revenue gained from the Wal-Mart, there would be a $2.50 public cost. This past week, the city of St. Albans and the Vermont Natural Resources Defense Council entered lengthy testimony outlining the negative impacts of the Wal-Mart proposal. Public hearings on the project will begin June 26th. At that time, the Environmental Commission for the St. Albans district will review publicly all the testimony submitted. The city's police Chief, Gary Taylor, submitted testimony that he spoke with former Williston, Vermont police chief Ozzie Glidden, whose town has a major Wal-Mart store. "The Williston police have seen tremendous increases in crimes," the St. Albans Police Chief wrote, "including shop-lifting, check and credit card fraud, burglaries, embezzlements and internal thefts and prescription fraud violations," since the Wal-Mart store was built at Taft Corners after lengthy opposition. Taylor said that bad check violations at Wal-Mat reached such high levels, that the Williston Police decided to retain a private collection firm to handle such cases. Taylor said Williston is planning to ask the Wal-Mart and the Home Depot stores to fund additional police to address the increased need for police services to the mall. St. Albans city also hired a traffic engineer to review the studies submitted by project developer Jeff Davis -- the same developer who built the Taft Corners Wal-Mart. The city's traffic consultant said the developer's study underestimates the traffic counts, and paints a misleading picture of the impact the store will have on the city, through which much of the traffic will flow on its way to the town's Wal-Mart. "The identified deficiencies in the study are so significant, and leave such large gaps in information, that it makes any assessment of whether this project will result in unsafe and/or congested conditions... extremely speculative." The city's traffic engineer concluded that the Wal-Mart "is likely to result in or contribute to exacerbating unsafe, unreasonable congested conditions in the city of St. Albans, and could seriously deteriorate access to and the experience had by drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists within the city, especially within the designated downtown area." Finally, the city's economic consultant found that the Wal-Mart would produce "no net employment gain in the region, instead of the estimated increase of 66 new jobs" that the developer claimed. The city's consultant also predicted "a small net decline in retail employment in Franklin County, instead of a net gain of 137 jobs. The city's report said that as many as 200 to 400 retail jobs could be lost if secondary impacts are counted. The Wal-Mart would result in significantly greater negative fiscal impacts on towns affected by competitive job loss, especially St.Albans city. The study also said that Wal-Mart would bring lower net personal income to the area, and cause businesses in direct competition with Wal-Mart to close within one to three years of the retailer's opening. "There appears to be 20 to 30 businesses that would fall into this category," the study found. "There could easily be more than $200,000 of tax revenue to the city jeopardized by the project in the first several years of operation."

What you can do: It is likely that this Wal-Mart proposal will end up in court. Either the developer, or local citizens will sue, depending on how the case is decided. Since the Wal-Mart was first rejected, Hannaford's and Price Chopper grocery stores have opened nearby, so the area has no need for additional grocery store space. When the nearby Ames department store closed, its place was filled by a Peebles discount store. So a Wal-Mart discount store brings no added value to the St. Albans area -- especially one three times larger than the size of a football field. For earlier stories on this community, search Newsflash by "St. Albans."










 
 
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