MERCED — Wal-Mart distribution center opponents claim they have found flaws in the environmental review and will file a lawsuit demanding more be done to minimize the center's impact.
"We should be commended for picking up the torch that has been dropped," Merced Sierra Club chairman Rod Webster said this week.
The group filed papers at Merced County Superior Court indicating a lawsuit was in the works. Sacramento attorney Keith Wagner, who represents the opponents, is finishing his arguments. A copy of the appeal was unavailable.
The lawsuit probably will call on the city to make Wal-Mart do more to reduce air and water pollution.
The Merced City Council voted to approve the project last month after three years of studies and six hours of public debate.
During the meetings, supporters outnumbered opponents by a roughly 2-1 margin.
The acrimony surrounding the project, which subsided in the past month, will swell once more.
Merced County Jobs Coalition president Doug Fluetsch said it's the city's job, not project opponents, to decide whether a project has been properly reviewed. "There are a handful of people in Merced who want to ruin it for everybody else," he said. "It makes me sick."
Opponents, Fluetsch said, were penalizing every jobless person in Merced, delaying the 1,200 jobs expected to be created by the 1.2-million-square-foot distribution center.
Merced City Attorney Greg Diaz said the environmental impact report is solid. "This (impending lawsuit) is not unexpected," he said. "We anticipate a vigorous battle on both sides."
The city's legal bills will be paid by Wal-Mart, a requirement of the project's approval. The city hasn't hired a firm, but has been in talks with Rutan & Tucker.
No lawsuit brought under the California Environmental Quality Act can stop a project, but it can cause a delay.
Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth chairman Tom Grave said the case could be wrapped up in two months if Wal-Mart is willing to negotiate.
If not, it could drag on in the court system for a year or more.
The case could go before Presiding Judge John Kirihara, Judge Carol Ash or a visiting judge.
Grave said more needs to be done to reduce pollution from the diesel trucks that would travel through the complex between Childs and Gerard avenues.
Opponents will argue air quality effects weren't properly addressed by EDAW, the firm that analyzed the project. Grave said EDAW improperly relied on standards set by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.