This week, at an economics conference in California, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott told a rapt audience, “We are not green.” When asked how his company would achieve its ‘sustainability’ goals of 100% renewable energy and zero waste, Scott replied: “I haven’t a clue.” The “green reality” of Wal-Mart can be found in small towns across America, like Lehigh township, Pennsylvania. Lehigh is a tiny community of roughly 10,700. People who came to settle in Lehigh to shop don’t have to travel far to find sprawl. There are 5 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of Lehigh. But Wal-Mart, the “green” retailer, is coveting 35 acres of open land being used for farming, and wants to turn it asphalt- black. The company wants to build a 127,000 s.f. store on Route 145 and Birch Drive. According to the Morning Call newspaper, the site is just 12 miles north from Wal-Mart store # 2145 in Whitehall township, and not too much further from the Wal-Mart superstore in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The Lehigh store has not yet come before Lehigh township officials, according to Township Manager Alice Rehrig. But if experience in Lehigh is anything like that in nearby North Whitehall (Schnecksville), local citizens are not going to be pleased with this kind of suburban sprawl. The farmland that Wal-Mart will destroy is owned by a developer called the LURRS Corporation, which is also building 245 modular homes in the area. After all, modular homeowners need a Wal-Mart to go with their home purchase. Local residents are already battling LURRS over this residential project, euphemistically known as “Northwoods,” despite the absence of woods. LURRS told the newspaper that it has a sales agreement with Wal-Mart for the 35 acres of farmland. Another developer, Hirschland Co, will actually build the store. This area of Pennsylvania has a rich history of Wal-Mart battles. Residents in Schnecksville are currently in court trying to gain access to Wal-Mart’s copyrighted site plans, and residents of a proposed 203,000 s.f. store in Mahoning, Pennsylvania, sued their township when supervisors there approved the superstore. That case was “settled” in December. Mahoning is a town of less than 5,000 people. Wal-Mart’s site plans for Lehigh have been reviewed by Township engineers, and officials say the plan will come up for review in April.
The Morning Call newspaper said the store would bring 350 jobs to Lehigh, but that, of course, is a gross figure, not a net figure. Given the fact that more than 600 Lehigh residents are now employed in retailing, or roughly 12% of the employed population, it is likely that little or no “new” jobs will be created by this project — but existing jobs will merely be transferred to a new store. There is clearly no market need for another Wal-Mart store in the Lehigh trade area. The small town of Lehigh cannot support a store that size, and all around Lehigh are other stores. This Wal-Mart project will end up cannibalizing existing Wal-Mart stores, and will likely replace some “older” Wal-Marts the company wants to shut down. Wal-Mart continues to defy smart growth principles by taking open farmland and converting to huge asphalt and concrete landing strips. This is why Wal-Mart has no “clue” about environmental policy. It is hard to believe that there are no existing commercial brownfield sites in this area where a retail store could be built. By going after “greenfields” sites, Wal-Mart shows its true environmental hand. Forget about its carbon footprint. Here, at the local level, is where you see the true footprint of this company, in towns like Lehigh, which should know better than to allow farmland to be lost. Wal-Mart’s attraction to farmland reveals their lack of any environmental policy literally at the ground level. Readers are urge to contact Lehigh Township Manager Alice Rehrig by calling her at 610-767-6771, faxing her at 610-767-1452, or emailing her at: [email protected], with the following message: “How can Lehigh allow Wal-Mart to present a plan to destroy 35 acres of farmland? Isn’t your township sensitive to the enormous loss of agricultural land to sprawl? Lehigh is already swimming in Wal-Marts. If anyone in Lehigh is addicted to Chinese goods, they can take the short drive south to the Wal-Mart in Whitehall. Lehigh’s population of under 11,000 does not warrant a huge store twice the size of a football field. This kind of project is what got folks in Mahoning upset, and what has residents of North Whitehall in court. Before you convert this farmland forever, consider the negative impacts of sprawl on your community, and realize that economically speaking, a Wal-Mart store brings no added value to Lehigh, because they make nothing, and most of what they sell will come from cash registers at other merchants. I urge you to reject this location on Route 145.”