Wal-Mart talks a lot about being a “good neighbor,” which sounds good to anyone who has never been their neighbor. But for one couple in Hurricane, West Virginia, the experience of living with a new Wal-Mart has been anything but good. On June 22, 2006, Sprawl-Buster’s reported that Wal-Mart had offered money to the Cross of Grace Lutheran Church to buy a piece of its front yard. Church Pastor Jerry Kliner revealed that Wal-Mart wanted to buy at least 2,000 square feet of the Cross of Grace’s front yard. The Church was paid $13 a square foot, or at least $26,000 for the easement. Now, 14 months later, the superstore is being built, with construction in progress since last December. But one couple is turning to the courts to stop it. Mark and Delores Halburn filed a Writ of Mandamus against city officials in Hurricane in late June to force the city to uphold its own noise ordinance against Wal-Mart. Last week, they withdrew the Writ — which they had written themselves — promising to come back soon with further legal action. This week, the West Viriginia Record reports that the couple hired two lawyers, and were back in Putnam County Circuit Court. The Halburn’s lawyers filed an injunction on August 28th against the city and the developer to stop work on the project. The city of Hurricane and its city manager, the construction company, and the developer are listed as co-defendants. The Halburns charge they are being denied their constitutional rights by selective enforcement of ordinances meant to control nuisances. The injunction claims that the construction has created a “private nuisance” because of “blasting, excessive exposure to lights, and excessive exposure to noise.” The massive supercenter project has compromised the Halburn’s “peaceful enjoyment of their premises, interfered with the postal delivery to their residence and otherwise acted so as to constitute an unreasonable and substantial interference with the private use and enjoyment of plaintiff’s land, without just compensation.” The couple says they repeatedly implored the city to enforce its noise ordinance, but officials did nothing. The Halburn’s say the city refused even to take their phone calls, and thus interfered with “their state constitutional privilege to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The Halburns now want the city and the developer to “compensate them for their damages, that they be awarded court costs and counsel fees, and that they be granted all such other and further relief as the nature of their case may require.” Two judges have already recused themselves from hearing the case, so the state’s Supreme Court appointed a retired judge to hear the case. The construction company and its project superintendent are also named in a second suit filed in July by Mark Halburn. The builder promptly filed a motion to have the Halburn’s second lawsuit dismissed, in part on the grounds that the couple “failed to state a cause of action upon which relief may be granted.” The construction company says that Halburn was arrested on January 11th on charges of telephone harassment. Halburn told the Record that the construction company provided false information to the police on Jan. 10 in effort to block a story he was preparing about an unlicensed blaster on the site. Those charges against Halburn were later dismissed by the court. This same week, as the Halburn’s were fighting for their rights in Hurricane, neighbors in Lancaster, New York were in the news complaining about dust covering their homes from Wal-Mart construction. In reply, Wal-Mart said it might power-wash neighbor’s homes when the supercenter is built.
Hurricane, West Virginia is a small community. The city boasts that eleven new businesses have opened up on Main Street, and the historic district includes specialty shops, History Row, a restored CSX caboose and a series of murals. The community describes itself on its website as “the community where the smiles are real and the feeling of friendship resonates from every greeting.” But in Hurricane this week, the lawsuits are real, and no one is smiling over what is happening near Interstate 64. Ironically, shoppers in Hurricane already have 4 Wal-Mart supercenters within 20 miles in Nitro, Barboursville, South Charleston and Huntington, West Virginia. You can call and leave a message for the 5 member Hurricane City Council at 304-562-5896. Tell the Council and Mayor Scott Edwards, “Stop defending Wal-Mart, and start protecting the good neighbors of Hurricane. Enforce your own noise ordinance, and make Wal-Mart pay for the damage it has done to the Halburn’s homestead. For more background on this case, go to www.putnamlive.com.