It looks like Wal-Mart’s superstore plans in Kilbuck, Pennsylvania are slip-sliding away. All that’s on the site now is a great pile of debris. On September 20, 2006, Sprawl-Busters reported that two rockslides had shut down further work on a Wal-Mart supercenter on 75 acres of land in Kilbuck township. The rockslides were apparently caused by too much explosives, which brought down 500,000 cubic yards of earth, closing Route 65 for nearly two weeks and shutting down all three main line east-west tracks of the Norfolk Southern Railway for several days. About three weeks later, another 14 acre parcel began to slide as well. But it gets worse. The Pittsburg Tribune-Review now reports that the developer’s stockpiling of slide debris “is creating a potential for a much larger slide to occur,” according to state investigators. The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says that the Wal-Mart was being built on “unstable soils, unstable bedrock and steep slopes.” “That, to me, means the design was literally inviting landslides from the beginning of construction until well into the future. I’m surprised the land didn’t slide into the Ohio River when the big construction vehicles first set tread and tire on it. I can’t imagine how this plan was supposed to work, unless it was through some miracle of sheer ignorance,” a state geologist wrote. “The site may be stable right now, but from a geological perspective I can’t see it lasting,” he said. According to inspectors, the Wal-Mart site is still shifting and could get worse. The latest concern is that the pile of dirt and debris from the first landslide could be “creating a potential for a much larger slide to occur.” The owner of the land, Kilbuck Properties, has apparently told the state that another landslide could reach Route 65 again. State officials have not yet ruled that the supercenter project should to be shut down. The local citizen’s group, Communities First, that has been fighting this Wal-Mart proposal, tells Sprawl-Busters, “we have been pressuring the state agencies to make a move to shut the project down. We have an attorney who is compiling for us the options that are available to the state…..from a fine to a seizure of the property. We do know that Wal-Mart corporate has purchased a nearly defunct mall in Moon Township. This may be the way Wal-Mart backs out of this — by building a store over there. It is only three or four miles from the Kilbuck site. But Wal-Mart does own more than half of the Kilbuck site, so they cannot totally blame the developers for their problems. There is a non-profit land preservation organization here that may be interested in taking the site over if Wal-Mart can permanently stabilize it. We are still fighting and have held a fundraising campaign because we know that we have to keep the pressure on the state. We also are pushing for a grand jury investigation. State Senator Jim Ferlo has asked both the Attorney General of Pennsylvania and the DA in Allegheny County to conduct a criminal probe. This latest news in the paper may push them into moving on the probe.”
Wal-Mart and the developer triggered a huge landslide, costing an enormous amount of money to clear away, including local and state resources, plus a major traffic inconvenience to an estimated 22,000 drivers a day along Route 65. The state should simply order Wal-Mart to abandon the site and leave it as open space, or sell it to a preservation group. The real questions are: Why was this site approved by local and state officials in the first place? Was it “sheer ignorance,” or an intentional cover-up that caused these landslides? Only a very flawed evaluation process could have allowed an enormous project to be sited on unstable terrain. This is not just an embarrassment to Wal-Mart — but to the city and state officials who allowed construction to proceed. An independent investigation would help ensure that this kind of poor judgement does not happen again. Fortunately, no lives were lost in the landslide, but they easily could have been.