On November 13, 2006, Sprawl-Busters reported that citizens in Mill Creek, Washington had forced Wal-Mart to do an Environmental Impact Study(EIS) for a proposed superstore. The residents fought the retailer, and their local officials, to win their case before a hearing officer. A simple mailing mistake by Wal-Mart cost the retailer a chance to appeal the Hearing Examiner’s ruling about the EIS. The residents at the time wrote, “Citizens for a Better Mill Creek thank UFCW Local 21, our land-use attorney Claudia Newman, and Sprawl-Busters for our victorious site-fight against a proposed 24/7 Wal-Mart adjacent to wetlands and across the street from two schools. The Snohomish County Hearing Examiner ruled in September 2006 that Wal-Mart must prepare and submit an Environmental Impact Statement on stormwater drainage and traffic impacts. Wal-Mart petitioned for reconsideration of the Hearing Examiner’s decision, but failed to send a copy of the petition to all Parties of Record as required by law on the date of petition filing. Citizens for a Better Mill Creek mobilized Parties of Record to comment on why the EIS requirement should stand, and the Hearing Examiner re-affirmed the decision. It will take Wal-Mart as long as a year to prepare the EIS. We plan to stay vigilant and examine it closely. Take-home lesson: never give up, and never believe conventional wisdom that “it’s already a done deal.” This week, The Daily Herald newspaper announced that Wal-Mart has “scrapped plans” for the Mill Creek superstore — ending a battle that Sprawl-Busters first wrote about in August of 2005. So after nearly two and a half years of work, Wal-Mart can report to shareholders that they have abandoned yet another store. But the news for shareholders gets even worse: Wal-Mart is also putting on hold two more superstore plans in Arlington and Marysville, Washington. On January 26, 2006, Sprawl-Busters noted that in Arlington, an appeals hearing against the Wal-Mart was already underway, and in Marysville, citizens intended to appeal a hearing examiner’s decision. All three stores are in Snohomish County — and it could very well be that Wal-Mart will take three strikes on these projects. As for the Mill Creek collapse, Wal-Mart admitted that citizen opposition threw them a curve. “When we signed the ground lease with the property owner, we didn’t expect to do an environmental impact study,” a Wal-Mart spokesman told The Herald. We didn’t expect to have this long, protracted process, because we haven’t gone through that elsewhere in the county. All of those processes added time to that project.” This is the closest you’ll ever get to a Wal-Mart acknowledgement that citizen protest makes an impact. It turns out that Wal-Mart had not renewed its lease as of September — so the project was dead almost three months before the local media got wind of it. The Arlington and Marysville stores are being delayed as part Wal-Mart’s corporate decision to re-evaluate its national expansion plans — reportedly to improve its return on capital investment. Construction on the Arlington supercenter is scheduled to begin in 2009, and the Marysville supercenter also has been delayed until next year. In recent weeks, Wal-Mart has been saying that the retailer is doing a company-wide review of its new store plans, and this review was the main factor behind the delays in the Arlington and Marysville projects. “We want to make sure we’re opening there at the right time for the growth,” a company spokesman said. Both stores were approved by local officials, but these “delays” could mean the projects never will open.
“That is awesome,” a spokesman from Citizens for a Better Mill Creek told the newspaper, when informed that the Mill Creek project had sunk. “This group has worked so hard, it’s unreal.” The group said it had turned to the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), and spent as much as $70,000 on legal fees in fighting the proposed store — most of that from fundraising events. Wal-Mart’s spending was not disclosed, but the engineering and legal fees could easily be more than ten times what the citizens’ paid, not to mention the company’s lease costs. The Snohomish County planning board had given its approval to build in Mill Creek, the company was ordered by a hearing examiner a year ago to study the potential environmental and traffic effects created by the project. “It would have had a significant impact there, the traffic impact alone,” said Claudia Newman, the Seattle attorney hired by Citizens for a Better Mill Creek. The citizen’s group told the newpaper, “We were going to drag this out as long as possible.” Wal-Mart shoppers need not worry about the end of Mill Creek or the two nearby store delays. There are already three Wal-Mart stores in Snohomish County, so there is no real market need for more stores — except to give Wal-Mart more market share. Local citizens in Mill Creek turned a “done deal” into a deal undone.