A developer from Atlanta says that the 123,000 s.f. Wal-Mart has “insufficient room” to remain competitive in the Valdosta, Georgia trade area, so they want to build a new store that’s 219,000 s.f. This will “allow Wal-Mart to attract more customers.” It will also allow it to destroy 1 acre of wetlands and a local streambed. The developer says Valdosta population will grow by 9% between 1997 and 2002, but area residents say Wal-Mart is all wet. They have challenged the developer’s request to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the Clean Water Act. As part of the application process, the developer had to explore alternative sites, including the reuse of an empty Kmart site. “Although this site satisfies many of the previously listed selection criteria,” the developer admitted, “Kmart’s policy of not selling property to their competitors excludes this site for consideration.” The developer went to a local “stream mitigation bank” to see how much it would cost to “pay” for the damage it would do to the Hightower Creek area wetland, but when the “bank” quoted $1.5 million, the developer balked and said the price tag was “not practicable and reasonable.” Instead, they got the Valdosta City Council to approve in January the idea of stream mitigation projects at 3 other sites in the city. Residents complain that there is no need for the Wetlands Wal-Mart in the first place, since the 50,000 population community already has a Wal-Mart, a Wal-Mart supercenter, and a Sam’s Club. “One of the other stores will be closed down and sit idle,” warns the Valdosta/Lowndes County Alliance for Conserving Environmental Resources (ACER). “We will see the destruction of a natural stream and forested wetland occur almost simultaneous to the emergence of yet another idle concrete wasteland.” The taxpayers say the city already has enough “ghost malls” and doesn’t need to create more.
The USACE must review the “benefits and detriments” of this needless project. They will look at “probable impacts” of the project, and its “cumulative impact on public interest.” There appears to be very little interest in Valdosta in satisfying Wal-Mart’s needs at the expense of a local stream and riparian wetland. The whole project will impact 20 acres, and have negative impacts on the economy and aesthetics of Valdosta. The project gets a failing grade when it comes to meeting “the needs and welfare of the community”, since the area is already more than adequately supplied with Wal-Marts. All to create a “useless wasteland of concrete”. Opponents have set up a website (see above), and urge sprawl-busters anywhere in the U.S. to email the Army Corps urging a denial of application # 200002640 in Valdosta. Emails against the project should be sent to: [email protected] For sample letter against the project, go to the ACER website. Valdosta City Councilors would be better advised to sit down with Wal-Mart and Kmart and work out a deal for use of the “old Kmart” site, rather than wasting undeveloped wetlands for a redundant big box project. In Peachtree City, Georgia, landowners are no longer permitted to sign leases that allow the tenant to block reuses of their land, so that the community is not held hostage to a restrictive covenant.