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2010-01-18
Godfrey, IL. Wal-Mart Breaks Promise To Hire Local Construction Workers

Local labor leaders in the Godfrey, Illinois area have sent the Rat Patrol over to the construction site for the new Wal-Mart supercenter. Building trade workers thought they were going to get some of Wal-Mart's cheese -- but all they got was the trap. This story tracks back to February 25, 2007, when officials in the Village of Godfrey revealed that Wal-Mart, and its developer, Retail Realty Group, wanted to purchase 37 acres of farmland known as Joehl's Alfalfa Queen Farm to build a supercenter. The landowner said he would continue to farm on his remaining 143 acres. There's already a Wal-Mart supercenter roughly 9 miles from this site in Wood River, Illinois, and a second supercenter 13 miles away in Jerseyville. There are a total of six existing Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of Godfrey. The land was not zoned correctly, and had to be changed from B-4 (agriculture) to Highway Business. "Godfrey is a project that has been reviewed internally, and our real estate team and operations team have been designing a project that would allow us to move forward with a Supercenter in Godfrey," a Wal-Mart spokesman said at the time. The Village's economic development planner told the media, "We're very, very happy about it. This will bring income to the village if it's approved." Village officials were promoting the project even before it moved to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a rezoning vote. The Joehls admitted that Wal-Mart would kill the farm's well-known asparagus crop. "It's going to take out the asparagus, but maybe down the road, we'll have it again," said Joehl, whose family became multi-millionaires from this deal. But 15 months after the plan was first announced, the Wal-Mart supercenter had still not won out over the asparagus. A citizen's group called Sustainable Godfrey was formed to fight the project, and they hired Attorney Debra Greider to save the Alfalfa Queen Farm. The project went before the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) for review of Section 401 and 404 permits under the federal Clean Water Act. The project was also reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The citizens had to file a public records request to get more than 400 pages of material. Wal-Mart needed IEPA approval to fill 1,550 feet of the two tributaries that flow into Rocky Fork Creek, which flows into the Piasa Creek, and from there into the Mississippi. The retailer will relocate 660 feet of river, and create a buffer along both banks and enhance the corridor along both banks of the tributary in the southwestern corner of the property. Sprawl-Busters reported on June 1, 2008 that the IEPA held a public hearing on the 401 water quality permit. Attorney Greider, and Attorney Penni Livingston of the Livingston Law Firm, charged that storm water runoff and the huge parking lot would adversely affect water quality. "The creek is teaming with life and the IEPA should conduct an independent study," Livingston, a former IEPA attorney, told the IEPA panel. The adverse impacts of this project have required the developer to "buy" credits from a "mitigation bank" to improve another area off-site, known as the Crooked Creek Wetland Mitigation Bank. One year and eight months later, the asparagus crop is gone, Wal-Mart got approval to build its supercenter, and a large inflatable grey rat has shown up at the building site. According to the Transcript newspaper, members of the Operating Engineers Local 520 union, along with the Alton Labor Local 218, have set up a picket line around the Wal-Mart construction site, and they brought Godfrey The Rat with them. The headline for the newspaper's story reads: "Union Smells A Rat At Wal-Mart Site." Sprawl-Buster's contacts at the Godfrey site filed the following report: "The Wal-Mart in Godfrey is under way. The local 'so-called' leaders gave way to the Wally World of corruption. My local IUOE 520 has a picket line up along with the Laborers local 218 at this jobsite. Everyday the general contractor, Ledcor, calls the cops on us trying to run us off. The reason for the picket line is an 'Area Standards Picket.' The general contractor on the project, Ledcor, is using out-of-state labor at substandard wages for the area. When this project was first discussed in Godfrey, the Wal-Mart reps. said they would use all or mostly local contractors and employ local people. That's not the case, in fact they have been using just the opposite. The contractor they are using to do some excavating, the Greenway company, is a front for a union contractor out-of-state that's trying to get away without hiring local help -- union or non-union. The contractor has no regard for safety of their employees. The unsafe equipment they operate does not have back up alarms that will alert nearby workers that a piece of equipment is backing up, risking the safety of workers. They are not using any kind of warning signs, traffic control, or flag people alerting traffic/motorists on a very busy road and there have been several near-miss accidents. The local police are more concerned with removing the picketers than they are with public safety. Evidently construction savings is more important then safety at this project. The Godfrey politicians are concerned with one thing and that's hurrying up to get this store built so the tax dollars will roll in like the low wages. The local taxpayers are flipping the bill for infrastructure improvements, like water and sewer line upgrades, that have cost millions for this project. Not to mention the future roads, additional police, and fire protection needed. The future environmental impact will greatly effect nearby landowners by paving and building on a 37 acre site with impermeable surfaces. With record rainfall amounts in the last 2 years alone this project's engineers have not adapted a new plan to accommodate possible impact from heavy rains that will cause erosion and flash flooding. They plan to build a five acre retention pond to act as a collection basin to store water runoff from the impermeable areas of the parking lot and rooftops. Their environmental studies were done in late 2006 and early 2007, 2 years before record rainfall amounts have affected the area before construction. Their plan is to re-route 1550 feet of the creek encasing it in a concrete structure dumping it into the retention pond along with the store's runoff then dumping the overflow of the pond into the Rocky Fork Creek. This creek runs across many acres of property including farmland, residential property, a college, golf course, parks, and into a Boy Scout lake (that was recently dredged). After dredging of the Boy Scout lake, which took hours of volunteer work and donations, the lake has now been cleaned up to make it useable again for the local Boy Scouts. But this lake will once again be threatened. The lake then drains into Piasa Creek which runs into the Mississippi river. Not to mention other pollution of noise, light and air that will effect nearby residents of subdivisions, a group home facility across the street, parks, and churches -- all within a 1/4 mile of the new store. Crime is expected and will increase like every other Wal-Mart that's developed, creating another safety issue for nearby residents/visitors. Not to mention the drain of public assistance and increased police presence putting the Godfrey residents at risk. The traffic, school buses and safety of the mentally challenged residents at the group home across Airport Rd. will also be at risk on a road that's already heavily traveled. The additional traffic in the general area will be a strain on the roads that were not designed for urban purposes, creating another burden on taxpayers paying for road and bridge improvements that will cost in the millions of dollars to taxpayers."

What you can do: A standard part of Wal-Mart's presentation for a new supercenter or any kind of expansion is that the store will not only create hundreds of permanent new jobs, but temporary new construction jobs as well. Sometimes deals are made with local building trades unions -- sometimes they are not. Sometimes promises are made and broken, as was done in Godfrey. Wal-Mart says publicly that local workers will help build their store, but once approvals have been granted, local officials move onto other issues, and forget about promises made by Wal-Mart and its developers. "So in short," writes the Sprawl-Busters contact in Godrey, "Wal-Mart buffaloed their way into Godfrey by claiming no TIF(Tax Increment Financing) money was or will be used for this site, yet the millions of dollars of necessary infrastucture improvements will indeed cost the taxpayers." Ironically, the negative environmental impacts to the site, and the rezoning of farmland would not have been necessary if Wal-Mart had chosen an already developed site and recycled it for their store. Wal-Mart was supposed to demonstrate that it considered alternative site locations for the proposed project. The retailer says it examined four other sites, which were all rejected because the land was too small or too narrow, or would not provide enough parking spaces. Wal-Mart also considered using the town of Alton's Municipal Golf Course as a potential site. Wal-Mart also considered piping the entire tributary through its site, or relocating the entire tributary. Wal-Mart reduced the size of its store to allow the detention basin to be moved further away from the remaining portion of the unnamed tributary and increase the corridor along the tributary. The least intrusive alternative, according to the IEPA, would be to not impact the tributaries at all, but the IPEA said, "This is not an acceptable alternative given that this is a useful project and will provide the community with additional employment and economic opportunities." The IEPA, however, had no idea about the economics of this project, and there was no study done to show that this project was, in fact, "a useful project" that would provide new jobs. It turns out that even the jobs building the store did not go to area laborers. Just as Wal-Mart seeks to cut costs in its provider network, the retailer also seeks an everyday low wage for the people who build its stores. Local officials in Godfrey should have learned about Wal-Mart and 'economic opportunity' from nearby Jerseyville, Illinois. In November of 1999, the newspaper in Jerseyville wrote: '"Four years ago Jerseyville, IL was a thriving, county seat business center for Jersey County. It had four men's clothing stores, two women's clothing stores, an auto supply store, a hardware store, and a furniture store, among others. Then Wal-Mart decided to open a superstore, and Jerseyville's downtown changed forever. Only one men's store remains in business, along with a women's shoe store. The dime store is now a tea room and gift shop, the hardware store is now City Hall, a clothing store has become a craft and antique mall, another clothing store has become a sports bar, and the furniture store has become an antique and craft mall." Readers are urged to email Godfrey's Mayor and Treasurer, Michael J. McCormick at mayor@godfreyil.org with the following message: "Dear Mayor McCormick, There's a big inflatable Rat at the site of the Wal-Mart construction in your Village. The Rat is a reminder that Wal-Mart promised to hire all, or mostly local contractors, and employ local people. Now they have broken that promise. You should use your office to get Ledcor to commit to using local contractors and paying decent wages to area people. It's bad enough your Village fell for the line about jobs and taxes for this project. At least now you can do a little work to make sure the local jobs promise is kept."










 
 
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