Asparagus or Wal-Mart? That’s the choice village officials in Godfrey, Illinois have to make. So far, they’re not choosing asparagus. On February 25, 2007, officials in the Village of Godfrey, Illinois 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 will continue to farm on their remaining 143 acres. Asparagus would have been a better choice to keep on the land, since the Godfrey trade area really doesn’t need another Wal-Mart. 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. Village Mayor Mike Campion told the Alton Telegraph newspaper, “I’m just glad we now know who is interested… The ball is officially rolling.” The land is not zoned correctly, and has 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. “We’re very committed to building a new store, but we don’t regard it as a foregone conclusion. At present, the project wouldn’t break ground until the late part of 2007 or early 2008 and likely wouldn’t open until 2009.” The Village’s economic development planner told the Telegraph, “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 Village’s Building and Zoning Administrator told the newspaper, “From what we’ve seen, they’ve got landscaping on there, and it looks good. They meet or exceed our expectations. It’s a pretty-looking Wal-Mart. It’s not like when you look at Jerseyville [Illinois]. It’s got a very architectural look to it… It’s kind of unique, really.” 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 will become multi-millionaires from this deal. But 15 months after the plan was first announced, the Wal-Mart supercenter has still not won out over the asparagus. A citizen’s group called Sustainable Godrey was formed to fight the project, and they hired Attorney Debra Greider to save the Alfalfa Queen Farm. The project is now before the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) for review of Section 401 and 404 permits under the federal Clean Water Act. The project is also being 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. According to the IEPA, two unnamed tributaries to Rocky Fork Creek are located within the project site. The superstore proposal will fill portions of both tributaries, pass the flows through storm sewers, and through a new channel prior to entering the remaining portion of the unnamed tributary. The channel will have a “stilling basin” designed to slow down the speed of the water, and allow suspended materials and debris time to settle out. The project will also have a stormwater detention basin with a bioretention area to remove suspended solids, heavy metals, oil and grease, excess phosphorus, excess nitrogen, and coliform from the stormwater. The developer claims the release rate from the basin will be equal or less than the flows if no development occurred. Wal-Mart needs IEPA approval to fill 1,550 feet of two tributaries that flow into Rocky Fork Creek, which flows into the Piasa Creek, and from there into the Mississippi. The retailer wants to 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. This past week, 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.
The negative impacts to these tributaries, 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 has 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, has no idea about the economics of this project, and there is no study which shows that this project is, in fact, “a useful project” that will provide new jobs. The IEPA is accepting comments on this project until June 27, 2008. Readers are urged to email the IPEA hearing officer, Charles Matoesian, at: [email protected] with the following message: “The IEPA has decided that the Wal-Mart supercenter project in Godfrey ‘will benefit the community at large by providing economic and employment opportunities.’ This is an unsubstantiated premise, and the IEPA should look at what happened in Jerseyville, Illinois when a Wal-Mart came there. According to the Highland News Leader in November of 1999: ‘”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.’ This site in Godfrey is being significantly compromised despite the fact that there already is a Wal-Mart supercenter only 9 miles away in Wood River. The proposed activity does not avoid or minimize environmental damage to the tributaries, because the developer has been unwilling to examine significantly smaller scale projects more in keeping with the site and the small town character of Godfrey. There are other economically reasonable plans that do less harm to the environment, but they require the developer to pursue a smaller footprint. The IEPA should require an independent economic trade area impact report before concluding that environmental harm is unavoidable because this is a ‘useful project.'”