As regulars on GMD already know, I am the spokesperson for Northwest Citizens for Responsible Growth, a Franklin County grassroots group that opposed permitting for the state’s largest Walmart on a tract of prime ag soils in St. Albans. For ten years we did all that could be legally done to resist the siting; twenty, if you count the first, successful, effort to oppose location of the store there.
Developer JL Davis finally broke ground shortly before the election. The topsoil has been removed and massive earthworks are underway to permanently take the land out of productive use. The die has been cast and there is no turning back.
It seems like an opportune moment to remind Walmart that the world will be watching how it comports itself at the location of the longest organized resistance to a store siting. Here follows the open letter that will be circulated to the press later today:
Now that JLD Properties has held its Walmart ground-breaking, we would like to use this opportunity to say that we are confident that Walmart will take every measure necessary to ensure that the St. Albans store will be the most ethically operated Walmart in history; that its workers will have nothing but positive employment experiences, and will be free to organize; that the store will not engage in predatory marketing schemes; that the historic St. Albans downtown will remain a vital community marketplace; that the emerging importance of our working landscape will not be damaged; and that none of the negative impacts that have occurred in other communities when Walmart came to town will happen here.
We are certain of this because Walmart will know that we are watching; and that we will continue watching and sharing our experiences, nationwide, through an extensive grassroots network of concerned citizen groups, with other communities who are being targeted by the retail giant.
St. Albans has become a national stage on which Walmart should want to perform conspicuously above reproach. We have the opportunity to share these experiences more broadly than has ever been done before.
Furthermore, the developer, JL Davis, will know that we are watching to see that every assertion he made in the permit process holds up. These include promises regarding quality job creation, traffic, viability of local retail and other important measures of community well-being; as well as the absence of “secondary growth” pressures beyond what existed at the time that Walmart received its permit. In our opinion, Mr. Davis’ assertions in the permit process become Walmart’s obligations to Franklin County as a whole, once the giant retailer occupies his store.
We recognize that enforcement mechanisms within the permit system are woefully inadequate; so we will not rely on official action to address broken promises. Should we be disappointed in our expectations, and should any of the assertions made by Mr. Davis and Walmart over the course of the permit process prove, in reality, to have been untrue, we are prepared to hold Walmart accountable through organized market action.