Would your town accept a Wal-Mart on the condition that it be torn down 25 years later? In April of 2003, we reported that Wal-Mart’s 5 year battle to get into the city of Decorah, Iowa had led to the state’s Supreme Court, where Wal-Mart was rejected by the justices. This is the bizarre case in which Wal-Mart was allowed by the City to build in a floodplain, but some courageous local citizens challenged the city legally, and after years of delay, won their case. The problem is, Wal-Mart went ahead and filled in the site, and built their “illegal” store. Not satisfied with losing at the Appeals Court level, and the Supreme Court level, Wal-Mart asked the highest state court for a rehearing, and this week the Iowa Supreme Court said No a second time, ending Wal-Mart’s legal options. The Supreme Court in April sent the case back to the District Court to determine what kind of remedy should result. Plaintiffs Loyal and Marilyn Rue and Frank Holland charged that the Decorah City Council violated Iowa law in approving Wal-Mart’s request to dump fill in the Upper Iowa River flood plain to pave the way for a 184,000-square-foot supercenter in Decorah. I went to Decorah at the request of local citizens in 1998 to oppose the project. The Supreme Court ruled that the Decorah City Council did not have the right to delegate to the state’s Department of Natural Resources the authority to make a change in the city’s Comprehensive Plan limiting filling of a floodplain. So now the case is thrown back to the locals to figure out — with Wal-Mart’s illegal store sitting in the floodplain of the Upper Iowa River.
The saddest part of this whole 5 year affair is the footnote to the story. The citizens who appealed the case, and proved that the Wal-Mart store should never have been built, are now offering a compromise to Wal-Mart that would allow them to use their store for 25 years, after which the store would be torn down and the site returned to its pre-development state. The joke of this, of course, is that Wal-Mart is unlikely to be around 25 years from now anyway, and will not be overly-concerned about what happens to the store. Right now, Wal-Mart has nearly 400 dead stores on the marketplace, many of them stores in excess of 100,000 s.f. Some of these stores have been abandoned in less than ten years. In the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, for example, Wal-Mart is leaving a 123,000 s.f. store for larger digs in the same community. The store they are leaving was built in 1995. So 25 years is more than a lifetime for a supercenter, and Wal-Mart would end up being able to illegally operate this store for more than its normal lifespan. The reality is, the company should never have been allowed to build. The citizens will win the legal battle, but lose the war. For earlier stories on this battle, search Newsflash by “Decorah”.