St. Albans Wal-Mart proposal faces environmental setback

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(Host) Developers of a proposed Wal-Mart store in St. Albans Town are facing a setback. A District Environmental Commission says the company failed to provide enough information on how the project will affect surrounding areas.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The District 6 Environmental Commission says the economic study prepared by the Wal-Mart developers is flawed and inadequate.

(Jon Groveman) “One of the main issues we’ve raised is the impacts on the surrounding communities, on the city of St. Albans.”

(Dillon) Jon Groveman is a lawyer for the Vermont Natural Resources Council, a statewide environmental group. He says the ruling shows that the concerns raised by environmentalists are valid.

(Groveman) “A lot of people in the St. Albans area have relied on that study to feel comfortable about this very large project. And this is the first time after evidence and hearings [that] a decision-maker has said this study is not reliable.”

(Dillon) Wal-Mart wants to build a 160,000 square foot store near an interstate exit on the outskirts of St. Albans.

The commission’s order does not mean the project is dead. It simply says the commission doesn’t have enough information to judge whether the project will have an adverse economic impact on the city or surrounding areas.

Environmentalists have argued that it would be much better to have the store in downtown St. Albans, where they say it would not trigger sprawl. Paul Bruhn is executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont. He says a Wal-Mart in downtown Rutland has worked out well for both the developer and the city.

(Bruhn) “Because it shows that downtown can serve the entire community. It can serve the immediate community with basic goods. It can be a place that attracts tourists and higher end retail, as well as entertainment, the arts, etc. So those are the best downtowns.”

(Dillon) But Jeff Davis, the developer promoting the St. Albans Wal-Mart, says downtown is not an option.

(Davis) “We don’t consider that to be a serious proposal. We and Wal-Mart looked at that when Paul Bruhn first proposed it at couple of years ago. I’m familiar with the site that he proposed. I’m familiar with its access and traffic. We don’t believe it was a serious proposal. The streets around that area could not support the type of traffic that Wal-Mart generates.”

(Dillon) Davis says his consultants are analyzing the commission’s order. He says the panel raised thoughtful questions that the company now has to answer.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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