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1998-08-04
Warrenton, VA. Wal-Mart's educational blackmail?

Here's one lesson they won't teach in Warrenton, Virginia schools: In July the town's Board of Supervisors narrowly voted 3-2 to extend town water and sewer lines to a controversial Wal-Mart project that lies halfway outside of the county lines. Here's how one local paper described the vote: "Supervisors approved the extension of sewer and water service by the town...after being told by Wal-Mart's attorney that any delay would 'hold up' the conveyance of donated land for construction of a new Central elementary shcool." It turns out that the owner of the Wal-Mart land also was donating an abutting piece of property to the town for a school. However, if Wal-Mart did not get the water and sewer extended to their site, they might just have to construct a septic system drainfield that might require the developer to obtain additional land, and the whole thing could end up delaying conveyance of the land for the school. At the public hearing, the Assistanst Superintendant of Schools was front and center urging town officials not to bump the school project by another year or more. So, even though one of the Supervisors publicly expressed his wish that Wal-Mart had never happened, he voted FOR the water and sewer connection as a way to keep the school project on track. "We need to get our education moving forward," he admitted, "and to block it is wrong." For some town residents, however, the whole thing smelled like blackmail. "I feel like I'm being held hostage," one resident said. "More important, I feel our kids are being held hostage." Wal-Mart's lawyer scoffed at the very idea of any connection between the Wal-Mart and the school. "There is a difference," he explained, "between a threat and a consequence." "This is blackmail in one form," replied another resident. "I would like to know how the county has spent money on building a school on that property without securing an agreement." Supervisor Jim Green pointed out that the Wal-Mart parcel was not scheduled under the Comprehensive Plan to get water and sewer until the year 2010, thus jumping the plan by 12 years just for Wal-Mart. "I don't like the whole way this thing has come about," he said. The other supervisor who voted against the plan, Larry Weeks, said: "We should not be penalized for Wal-Mart's lack of planning. They have put all their eggs in one basket on a public sewer line. They should not hold their guilt over our heads." By a one vote margin, Warrenton gets a Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart gets a sewer line, and the children get their school. And the town lives happily ever after.

What you can do: Postscript: The leader of the Wal-Mart opposition, was recently elected to the Town Council, beating an incumbent. And a lawsuit filed by a citizen, Mike Udell, against the project, is now headed to the Virginia Supreme Court. The lawsuit was denied in a lower court which claimed that Udell, as a neighbor, had no special standing or injury that allowed him to bring the lawsuit. So after several years, there still is no Wal-Mart in Warrenton. Look under B for blackmail for the complete Warrenton story.










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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