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Merced activist group plans to appeal Wal-Mart distribution center ruling Friday

SUN-STAR PHOTO BY LISA JAMES
Tom Grave voices his opposition to the proposed Wal-Mart distribution center at a City Council meeting called to address the contentious issue on Wednesday evening.
September 23rd, 2009. rave. He is a member of the Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth,
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY LISA JAMES Tom Grave voices his opposition to the proposed Wal-Mart distribution center at a City Council meeting called to address the contentious issue on Wednesday evening. September 23rd, 2009. rave. He is a member of the Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth, Merced Sun-Star

Members of the Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth said they plan to file an appeal today in the Wal-Mart distribution center case.

In March, Judge William Burby ruled for the city of Merced after the alliance filed a petition in 2010. The case was brought against the city by the alliance after the City Council approved the center in September 2009.

The alliance had until June 6 to file an appeal, but some of its members disclosed its intention Thursday.

The judge previously stated the city didn't violate the California Environmental Quality Act in its paperwork for the proposed Wal-Mart distribution center. Nor is the city required to recirculate the draft environmental impact report among the public.

The CEQA is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.

During a Sun-Star editorial board meeting Thursday, Tom Grave, a member of the alliance, said the judge didn't respond to CEQA issues related to air quality, traffic, hydrology and groundwater issues and urban decay.

Air quality remains one of the main problems with the proposed 1.1-million-square-foot distribution center, according to alliance member Lisa Kayser-Grant. Even though the 230-acre site at Gerard Avenue and Tower Road is zoned for industrial purposes, the City Council made a mistake in allowing homes and schools to be built around it, she said.

"We don't want to ignore the community's health," she said.

Grave agreed that the proximity to the schools is alarming. He said the city would lose more than it will gain because of the amount of air pollution from trucks the distribution center would use.

Moreover, he said property values in a nearby housing division would fall.

"Would you ever buy a house with 900 trucks going by every day?" Grave asked. "This may well happen, and we hope that by going through this we're not just delaying the project but having a better project as a result."

Bill Stockard, another alliance member and a former superintendent of Merced County schools, said his main concern was the location of the site. Dangerous driving as a result of Merced's winter tule fog, coupled with UC Merced commuters sharing the road with big rigs bound for the distribution center, is a recipe for disaster, he said.

If built, the center would employ about 1,200 people and operate 24 hours a day. It would include a 17,000-square-foot truck maintenance building with two underground oil storage tanks and a fueling station with two 20,000-gallon diesel fuel storage tanks.

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsun-star.com.Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsun-star.com.

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