Derby, VT. Governor Takes Heat For Warming Up To Wal-Mart
On January 16, 2013, the Associated Press reported that Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin of the Green Mountain State of Vermont had stunned environmentalists by touting a Wal-Mart plan for the small town of Derby, Vermont.
Shumlin, who has been outspoken on the issue of restricting nuclear power plants, apparently has a blind spot the size of a superstore parking lot. Shumlin revealed this week that the same developer who has two Vermont Wal-Marts under his belt already, is aiming to build another one on Route 5 in Derby.
Shumlin reportedly told the media that developer Jeff Davis' plan was "good news" for this high unemployment region, and he's hopeful the Wal-Mart won't be greeted with a lot of opposition. But the Mayor went even further. He said the Wal-Mart would bring 300 jobs and had "hed huge support" in Derby and surrounding towns.
A spokesperson for the Vermont Natural Resources Council, which has done much of the legal work over the years to slow Wal-Mart down, said the developer's proposal was the wrong scale in the wrong place, and would have a negative impact on Newport City, a traditional downtown that Shumlin wants to see reinvigorated.
Residents in the city and town of St.Albans, Vermont, who fought Jeff Davis for years over a store in their communities, have offered to help Derby fight off this store. Opponents in St. Albans lost their epic battle last year in court to protect a tract of farmland from Wal-Mart, but they fended off the plan for nearly two decades.
No construction on the St. Albans store has begun yet, but opponents say the new store will only detract from existing jobs, a bit of Wal-Math that Governor Shumlin apparently never learned. Shumlin critics also charge that the Governor has used his appointment powers to stack the deck with pro-big box commissioners on regional Environmental Review Boards.
The VNRC issued a statement saying: "We're especially disappointed to see the Governor supporting big box sprawl. We are very concerned that this development - which is the wrong scale in the wrong place - will undermine Newport City, one of the many downtowns that the State and so many others have been working hard to revitalize."
According to anti-Wal-Mart activist Sue Prent of St. Albans, "Governor Shumlin is making precisely the same statements about Walmart coming to Derby that Jim Douglas made a decade ago about St. Albans. To this seasoned veteran of the Wal-Mart wars, Peter Shumlin might as well be a Republican...now he endorses the 'Walmartification' of Vermont.
In an article on the Green Mountain Daily, Prent added: "He even parrots the same lie about folks being unable to buy underwear locally that was a feature of the ignorant arguments for Wal-Mart in St. Albans. It is beyond me to guess what kind of special underwear Mr. Shumlin imagines is available only at Wal-Mart; but those of us who live and shop in the real world are fully capable of buying cheap underwear and socks in either St. Albans or Newport. My guess is that he gets his own knickers from far pricier places than JC Penney and the Dollar Store."
"The Governor has disappointed me a-plenty over the past couple of years," Prent wrote, "but never more so than when he endorsed the completely false premise that Wal-Mart means local prosperity. He's 'hopeful it won't be greeted with lots of opposition' and hints darkly at 'forces outside the [Northeast]Kingdom' which he fears might get involved. I'm hopeful that there will be plenty of opposition; and as someone 'outside the Kingdom' I will welcome the opportunity to share all that we in the Northwest Citizens For Responsible Growth have learned throughout the past decade about how Wal-Mart impacts communities and how Mr. Davis works his way through the permit processes."
Prent notes that when Shumlin "had barely assumed office, aided in no small part by the efforts of progressive minded folks like myself who abhor the exploitation of Wal-Mart, the Governor made it clear that his loyalty is to the monied class of developers and pocket-padders. Brushing aside our objections, he reappointed as [environmental board] commissioner, a man whose family business has recently re-located from downtown St. Albans City to Exit 20, so as to take advantage of the Wal-Mart and other potential development out there; all of which has been and will be under review by that commissioner. Not surprisingly, Davis' Wal-Mart slipped through Act 250 [environmental review process] like butter."
What you can do: Readers are urged to email Governor Peter Shumlin at http://governor.vermont.gov/contact-us/opinion with the following message:
Tell the voters of Vermont why one of the worst corporate actors in America is 'good news' for Derby, Vermont? Your embrace of Wal-Mart is bizarre, because it appears you are oblivious to the voodoo economics and the environmental downside of sprawl.
There is Green in your Mountains, but not the kind that Wal-Mart sees. Numerous economic studies, including reviews done in Vermont as far back as 1993 (Williston) show that Wal-Mart is a form of economic cannibalism, that "captures" sales from local and regional retailers.
So where are the 300 jobs going to come from? Do you seriously think Vermonters are going to spend more money simply because they have another place to buy Chinese-made underwear? Cutting the retail pie thinner does not create net new jobs.
If economic dislocation is 'good news' to you, what about the enormously wasteful land consumption associated with big box development, and the traffic congestion? Vermont's existing land use patterns are anti-thetical to sprawl. You and Jeff Davis are teaming up to change the Green Mountains state to the Sprawl-Mountain state, all for the richest family in America.
How odd that you are fighting corporate power at Vermont Yankee, and yet embracing it at Wal-Mart. What's next? Are you going to tell us that Wal-Mart is not a corporation, its a person? Please stop shilling for Jefferson Davis. He has plenty of people on salary now who can do that."