On March 31, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that a Wal-Mart backhoe had begun removing an endangered species of tortoises from the proposed site of a superstore in Tarpon Springs, Florida, on the banks of the Anclote River — before they even had their building permits. The site has been a source of controversy for several years. The Concerned Citizens of Tarpon Springs took the city to court for approving the supercenter project on a 3-2 vote. In March of 2006 a three judge panel in the 6th. Circuit Court for Pinellas County ruled against the Concerned Citizens of Tarpon Springs, and the group, running out of funds, had to end their legal challenge. But the battle did not end there. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Wal-Mart opponents continue to push their charge that Wal-Mart has incorrectly delineated where the wetlands are on the property. The citizens group, Friends of the Anclote, has asked Wal-Mart to agree to allow a third-party wetlands survey. The Southwest Florida Water Management District has given Wal-Mart their permits twice, but the Friends of Anclote say they will challenge the stormwater management permit. “That’s our main concern,” a spokeswoman for the group told The Times. “It’s a river of special significance and state agencies have not taken that to heart.”
When the state originally issued a permit for stormwater management over a year ago, the Friends of Anclote River said that the sale of part of the property had invalidated the permit. Wal-Mart then resubmitted its application at the request of the city. Wal-Mart had promised the city that it would use part of its land for a nature park. But when the first site plan was produced, the nature park was shown as a floodplain. The city then asked Wal-Mart to put back the park, so Wal-Mart’s second plan moved the water storage underground, below the parking lot. The state then approved the second permit, repeating that the project would not affect the wetlands. Friends of Anclote River asked for an independent review of the wetlands boundary, but Wal-Mart would not approve one. The citizens pointed out that Wal-Mart said initially there were more than 33 acres of wetland, but their site plan showed the wetlands 5 acres smaller. The city agreed with the Friends, and asked Wal-Mart to go along with an independent delineation. Wal-Mart said the state had already signed off on the wetland boundaries, so the issue was resolved. The retailer also objected to the Friends doing their own survey, arguing that their survey would be partial. “If you’re looking for an independent third party, it’s not them,” a Wal-Mart spokesman told The Times. By implication, that makes Wal-Mart’s study partial as well.
The first time the Tarpon Springs Commissioners voted on this case was back in January of 2005. After nearly 12 hours of testimony, the Commissioners voted just before 7 a.m. in the morning 3 to 2 to approve this Wal-Mart supercenter. Now, two and a half years later, Wal-Mart still is not in the ground. That means citizen activists have cost Wal-Mart well over $200 million in lost sales at that location, not to mention enormous legal bills. What the company thought would be quick approval process has turned into a legal morass, and the opponents in holding this project up have already scored a great victory against money and corporate power. The irony, of course, is that there are no less than 15 Wal-Mart stores, including 5 supercenters, within 21 miles of Tarpon Springs. The Wal-Mart store in Palm Harbor is less than 4 miles away. Let the Mayor of Tarpon Springs hear from you. To reach Mayor Beverly Billiris, call 727-938-3711, or email her at [email protected] Tell the Mayor, “Don’t let Wal-Mart cheat on where the wetlands really are. Your city doesn’t need a Wal-Mart to begin with. People should drive the 4 miles to Palm Harbor and leave the Anclote River alone.” For more history on this project, go to www.friendsofancloteriver.org