City officials in Marine City, Michigan were stunned when the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality rejected Wal-Mart’s application to build a superstore on Marine City Highway. Usually, state officials play a passive role in such projects, but in June, the DEQ ruled that the 144,000 s.f. proposed superstore could not be built because it would destroy 15 acres of wetlands. Wal-Mart had offered to build roughly twice as many acres of “replicated” wetlands nearby — but such man-made wetlands are never quite as good as the ones Mother Nature makes. The state sent a letter to the town saying that its decision was based on concern that the project would destroy nesting, feeding and breeding habitat for seven species of birds, one kind of toad and two types of frogs, according to the Port Huron Times-Herald. Local officials made it clear they are not concerned about frogs and toads. “The government is interested in jobs, and so is the commission,” they said. “It’s an economic lifesaver for Marine City.” Although city officials have no study to back up that claim, they encouraged Wal-Mart to appeal the state decision. “If people would patronize our own stores we wouldn’t need a Wal-Mart,” one local resident told the newspaper. Wal-Mart has now filed an appeal of the state ruling. Wal-Mart officials and the DEQ’s Land and Water Management Division have until Sept. 25 to work out an agreement. DEQ suggested re-evaluating other locations. If the two sides can’t reach an agreement by Sept. 25, an administrative law judge will review the appeal, hear from both sides and then make a recommendation to DEQ Director Steven Chester, who makes the final decision. If the ruling goes against Wal-Mart, the retailer could make a new application and find a location that doesn’t delete 15 acres of wetlands. “With the community and all the stuff the city has done, sending their (resolution in support of the project), calling and trying to get things in a positive light; hopefully, all those things will weigh in and get us a positive recommendation,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said.
The Michigan DEQ should stand its ground and reject the poorly chosen Wal-Mart site. It is not the state’s problem that Wal-Mart and the city did such poor research that the state had to intervene to protect the environment. But that’s what the DEQ is for. The city is repeating Wal-Mart’s claim that a supercenter would “create” 350 “new” jobs, when it will do nothing of the sort. What jobs there are will be recycled from existing merchants, and will be “old” jobs in “new” aprons. Small wonder that the engine of economic growth in Marine City has stalled. If local officials continue to turn to national retail corporations as the lynchpin for their economic future, Marine City will be adrift for many years to come. The Michigan DEQ has done Marine City a big favor, and its small business people should be writing to the DEQ urging them to stick by their decision.