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2008-06-16
Newberry, PA. Wal-Mart Plan Sits Atop A Steep Slope

Thirteen years ago, a woman in Newberry township, Pennsylvania wrote a letter to Wal -- Mart's president, David Glass, in the form of a petition to encourage the retailer to come to her small town. Glass indicated he was interested in the woman's efforts to attract a Wal-Mart supercenter to her community. The woman said she was shocked that Glass even responded to her. "I was shocked when I got this," the Newberry resident said "I could have died." The resident wanted Wal-Mart to consider replacing the Jamesway department store -- a regional chain that was killed off by Wal-Mart -- in the Newberry Commons shopping center. Newberry Township, population roughly 15,000, describes itself as "a growing residential community situated between Harrisburg and York... a progressive Township, which is looking at its future growth by updating the Township's Comprehensive Plan, Zoning and Land Development and Subdivision Ordinances." Apparently none of the township's updates dealt with the impact of big box stores on small communities. There are already 5 Wal-Marts within 16 miles of this site, including a Harrisburg Wal-Mart 8 miles away, and two in York 14 miles away. Thirteen years after that resident wrote to Wal-Mart, there still is no giant retailer in Newberry -- but not because local officials aren't trying. In March of 2008, officials in Newberry approved a Wal-Mart Supercenter on Old Trail Road, after more than two years of talks and concessions by the developer, Pacific Development. But this week the Patriot-News reports that the store is still hung up in red tape. "If that goes in, it will be the biggest commercial development we've had," Newberry Supervisor Carl Hughes told the newspaper. "It would really help our tax base. We didn't have to raise taxes last year, and Wal-Mart should help us not raise taxes next year." But the ground-breaking was supposed to happen in May for "Newberry Pointe." The Patriot-News says that local officials are getting increasingly frustrated by the delay. The ball is reportedly in the York County Conservation District's court. "There's just a lot of things that they want to be sure of, that we've got the flow going the right way, that there won't be flooding," explained a spokesman for Pacific Development. "The process is you submit the stuff, they comment on it, you review it and send it back and they have 60 days. Every time they send a comment, it starts the process over again." The developer warned that if they don't get to building the store this summer, the opening of the superstore might not happen until 2010. Township officials may be aware of the fact that at least 70 Wal-Mart supercenters have been cancelled or delayed over the past year. "With the market and the way things are now, every deal that teeters out there can be taken off the table," the developer said. "But nobody wants to see that happen, and we are ready to proceed." The York County Conservation District, said that the site Wal-Mart wants is a "marginal" place to build because it is at the top of a steep slope. In fact, this project would have died back in 2007 if the Newberry Supervisors had not changed the town's slope ordinance to allow building at that site. A slope can mean water runoff and siltation of nearby streams. Wal-Mart has been fined by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in the past over construction impacts on streams. "Erosion and sedimentation are the number-one source of pollution in the Susquehanna River and in the Chesapeake Bay," a York County Conservation District official told the newspaper. "It chokes out aquatic life and makes areas more prone to flood."

What you can do: One local resident responded to the Patriot-News article by saying, "We do not need a Wal-Mart here in north York County. If the elected leaders were honest, they would admit the same. I like my hometown hardware and will have to drive farther for another one once Wal-Mart kills ours. Make no mistake, the Waltons do not love us; they only want our money. Keep our money here and not in Arkansas... Wal-Mart does nothing but damage the local economy of anywhere it opens another store. I saw what it did to Lewistown, Pennsylvania. The whole town is all but a ghost town, a relic shell of what it once was. No jobs, no money. Say no to Wal-Mart and preserve our country living." Newberry township officials should have the Wal-Mart site checked by an independent geologist. In Kilbuck, Pennsylvania, a massive landslide buried Wal-Mart hopes of building a supercenter. The landslide was predicted by the citizen's group, Kilbuck First, but town officials ignored the citizen group's expert testimony, and before the store could even be built, the landslide covered a local highway in debris, and ended Wal-Mart's plans. The retailer ended up spending its own money to repair the slope they destabilized. In the Newberry case, a county official is warning the township that the site is 'marginal' to begin with, and the Wal-Mart would sit at the top of a steep slope. Readers are urged to email the Newberry Board of Supervisors, Tom Peifer, Chairman, Stephen J. Pancoe, Vice-Chairman, Carl Hughes, Ernest Helmick, and Robert Conley by contacting the township manager at: dkeener@newberrytwp.com, with the following message: "Newberry Pointe has no point. Putting a Wal-Mart at the top of a steep slope makes no sense, and hopefully will not end up like Kilbuck township, where Wal-Mart's site was destroyed in a massive landslide. Instead of being frustrated with the County's Conservation District, you should be studying why the County considers this site 'marginal,' and what alternatives there are to locating a store this size at the top of a slope. Once you allow Wal-Mart into town, you are literally climbing a slippery slope. Don't rush the County. The township should ask Pacific Development to underwrite the cost of an independent geological assessment of this site, to protect the public -- especially in light of the supervisor's decision to change the slope ordinance to allow this specific project. The supervisors will be legally liable if a slide or other damage is done at that site."










 
 
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