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2007-05-25
Spooner, WI. Residents Say No Public Subsidy for Wal-Mart

On April 28, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart's plans to build a supercenter in Spooner, Wisconsin had hit a major speed bump. The city, the Wisconsin DOT, and Washburn county officials had sent Wal-Mart a "list of improvements" they wanted for highways and access to the proposed supercenter. The officials told Wal-Mart these improvements are "required to be completed at Wal-Mart's expense prior to the opening of the proposed Wal-Mart store. Opponents of the Wal-Mart project sent Sprawl-Busters the following update today: "Senior Public Relations manager for Wal-Mart in Wisconsin, Lisa Nelson contacted our local town newspaper this week to finally break the silence. She said Wal-Mart is at a "crossroad" with the plan to build in Spooner. There has been little or no word from Wal-Mart since the Department of Transportation made their requirements, public in April. In a letter sent to the engineering firm Olsson Associates, the DOT outlined all the traffic issues that need to be addressed and explained that the costs of these improvements would have to be paid by Wal-Mart. This was the first public statement that Wal-Mart -- not the taxpayers of Spooner or Washburn County -- would be held accountable for these road improvements attributable to the Wal-Mart store. It has been estimated that the cost could reach 4.8 million dollars. A proposed 153,000 sf. Wal-Mart Supercenter has been slated for a 35 acre parcel of land that is currently owed by Washburn County. In November of 2005, the land sale for $1 million was of course "top secret", with officials saying only that it involved a Fortune 100 retailer By March of 2006 the Mayor of Spooner admitted the retailer could be "a Wal-Mart Concept". Finally it was revealed that Wal-Mart wanted to come to Spooner, Wisconsin, population 2600, with two Supercenters 20 minutes away in two directions. The grass-roots citizens group Washburn County First (WCF) formed to get information out to the public about the negative impact this development would have on our small town retailers and the county at large. WCF filed a lawsuit against the county for open meetings violations and against the City Board of Alderman for alleged irregularities in granting a variance for the Supercenter with regard to highway access. The county admitted to one count of the open meeting case and has paid a fine. A judge dismissed the Alderman case based on the meaning of the word "freeway" as written in the city ordinance. WCF has filed an appeal in this case, that is pending. Wal-Mart initially had a 3 month option on the land sale and has asked for 4 extensions in total. The last one in January, 2007 was for 6 months and the retailer paid $30,000 in fees. The Wal-Mart spokesman recently said that they are at a "threshold" in this project and find the cost may be getting too high! The richest company in the world, is playing the Squeeze Game and wants our residents to subsidize their store by hesitating to finalize this sale in hopes that the City or county will come to their aid. The city is already putting them in a TIF (tax increment financing) district to offset taxes, and Washburn County is one of the poorest in the state. It seems it is time for Wal-Mart to end this guessing game and let our community heal from this debate. Other issues that have come to the forefront have stalled this plan. The major impasse has to do with access the state highway 53 that runs just to the east of the proposed site. The state DOT will close the median at this site to prevent cross traffic movements. The city has passed a resolution asking the state for an overpass and cloverleaf for Wal-Mart. This has been denied and in fact a study is being done to eliminate all "at grade" intersections along the entire length of state highway 53 in the near future and to create a freeway. Through the lawsuits, WCF has provided a pause in this development to allow more debate and study which helped discover the traffic issues. The Supercenter could have been built prematurely and then the City,County and DOT would have been forced to react to the problems with taxpayer dollars."

What you can do: Washburn County First says that for Wal-Mart this project is only about the $50 million dollars they hope to get from the local economy."Maybe finally the local authorities can see they were never partners in this, only pawns in the plan to carry it out." WCF is optimistic this will be over soon, and the group vows to "remain active in local government to help aid in the natural growth and development that will occur in our community in the future." For now, you can join WCF in opposing any corporate welfare to Wal-Mart in the form of tax breaks or publicly-subsidized road improvements. If Wal-Mart wants Spooner, let their projects financially stand on their own feet, and not rely on public money. Wal-Mart made more than $11 billion in profits last year, and could buy the entire city of Spooner if they wished to. You can contact the Spooner City hall at 715-635-8769 and tell the Mayor not to spend a single tax dollar on this project. You can read the news story at www.spooneronline.com










 
 
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