One thing is certain: Wal-Mart is not an endangered species, and the giant retailer doesn’t seem to worry too much about species that are. Residents in Pennsville, New Jersey cannot believe that Wal-Mart Realty has such a tin ear for environmental issues. Wal-Mart’s proposal to build a 220,000 s.f. superstore abutting the 2,800 acre Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge has prompted major citizen upheaval in this small New Jersey community. The Refuge was created in 1971, nine years after Wal-Mart was founded, and roughly 17 years before Wal-Mart opened its first superstore. Part of Supawna Refuge has been designated by the Department of Environmental Protection’s Endangered and Non-Game Species Program as a bald eagle and raptor foraging area. A group called COPAS, the Citizens of Pennsville Against Sprawl, is fighting the project on environmental and traffic issues, among others. Residents say one Wal-Mart in Pennsville, is one more than enough. The existing discount store in the township is less than half a mile away, and likely will be shut down if the supercenter is ever built. Wal-Mart wants to build on the Sinnickson farm, 79 acres of land that includes a salt marsh, meadows, and open fields. The superstore footprint alone is 4.6 football fields in size, plus a 1,400 parking lot. The property lies along the headwaters of the Mill Creek, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which is one of the most sensitive bird habitats in New Jersey. Mill Creek feeds into the Delaware River, which hosts at least 7 endangered species. In a remarkable piece of rationalization, Wal-Mart is trying to suggest that creating 22 acres of impervious surface, and the major stormwater runoff concerns this will create, is actually good for the wildlife refuge. A Wal-Mart spokesman said the supercenter would protect the watershed by filtering out pesticides and fertilizer residue in the soil from draining into the watershed. This is the same retailer who has been fined by the Environmental Protection Agency for its shoddy construction practices, which led to the siltation of nearby streams in several states. COPAS and the Stop Wal-Mart NJ coalition are pressuring the township’s planning board to adopt an ordinance that would bar “big box” stores. “It’s become a huge issue here,” Mayor Tom Strong told the Inquirer.
Superstores with any logo, and sensitive water resources, just do not mix. Saying that Wal-Mart will protect a unique environmental area is like arguing that chickens will protect us from a bird flu pandemic. For earlier stories about Wal-Mart’s environmental transgressions, search Newsflash by “environmental.”