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2008-08-10
Kilbuck and Moon, PA. Wal-Mart Sues Developer Over Landslide

On September 20, 2006, Sprawl-Busters reported that a Wal-Mart supercenter site had been buried in a landslide. Their proposed superstore project had to be cancelled, and Wal-Mart found itself covered in dirt and financial bills to stabilize the site. According to the Pittsburg Tribune-Review, Wal-Mart this week filed a lawsuit against the developer and other parties in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. "The goal is to seek reimbursement of funds Wal-Mart paid to stabilize the site and will continue to pay," a Wal-Mart spokeswoman said. "The defendants are real estate and engineering professionals who said the site was appropriate for our commercial development." The landslide brought down 300,000 cubic yards of earth onto Route 65, closing off traffic for two weeks and disrupting train travel for days. The slide was so severe, Wal-Mart gave up plans to develop the property and instead had to spend money stabilizing the site. The parcel chosen by Wal-Mart had slide-prone geological conditions according to a report released by a state legislative panel that studied the site. Wal-Mart is suing 14 defendents. "We're disappointed that we were led to invest millions in a project we had to abandon," the retailer said. "Our first priority is make sure the site is stabilized." The Pittsburg Tribune-Review reports this week that as a result of this landslide, the state legislature is considering a bill that would require the Pennslyvania Department of Environmental Protection to approve excavation in geologically sensitive areas. A task force issued a 130-page report recommending legislation to prevent similar incidents. The chair of the task force said he would file the legislation this month and predicted the odds for its passage were excellent. The report says an apparent conflict of interest by Kilbuck's former engineer was part of a broader concern about questionable oversight by the township. Part of the conflict of interest stems from the fact that engineering firm which prepared the traffic impact study for the developer, also approved changes to the town's grading ordinance that allowed the developer to work on the Wal-Mart project. The head of a citizen's group that opposed Wal-Mart, had warned the town of the dangers posed by the site. "Our community groups mentioned dozens of times that there was a conflict of interest but no one paid any attention" said Bob Keir, a co-chairman of Communities First!, which celebrated when the project was buried. Kilbuck officials said they are "dealing with how to hold the hill up, how to make it safe, how does it look." The Tribune-Review reports that Governor Ed Rendell would consider supporting the new legislation, his spokesman said. "It is certainly worth considering, in the wake of a landslide that inconvenienced tens of thousands of area drivers," a spokesman for the Governor said. The report recommends that the state create an inventory of geologically hazardous sites in the state, and that developers proposing "earth disturbance activity" in those areas would be required to submit a geological report to the Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP would have the power to "authorize or refuse to authorize" land-clearing, grading, road maintenance or well-drilling.

What you can do: A lawmaker from Moon township, Pennsylvania, Representative Mark Mustio, served on the task force. "A lot of the issues ... were well vetted," Mustio said. Wal-Mart is trying to build a superstore in Moon township, and local residents say the slope there could be a repeat of the Kilbuck site. Citizens in Moon want the township to have Wal-Mart pay for an independent geological study to make sure Kilbuck's situation doesn't happen in Moon. The township would select the consultant to do the geological study. Readers are urged to email Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell's office at http://sites.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/Governor/govmail.html with the following message: "Governor, If the state legislature gives you a bill to prevent landslides like the one at the Kilbuck Wal-Mart site, I hope you will sign it immediately. Wal-Mart and its developers cut corners when it came to public safety and that site -- and they are potentially doing it again in Moon township. No site should be developed that is not stable, and has landslide potential. That's why an inventory is needed, and more state oversight. The story of Kilbuck is one of internal conflicts of interest that ended up in lawsuits, and millions of dollars in site stabilization costs. That's why the state needs to be involved, and why this legislation is needed as soon as possible. I urge you to get the DEP more involved in Moon to prevent another Kilbuck from happening."










 
 
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