WAWARSING – As the application process for Walmart's proposed retail store at the Napanoch Mall on Route 209 continues, yet another voice has joined the growing number of calls for the Wawarsing Planning Board to issue a positive declaration, which would require the company to conduct a more thorough environmental review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA.
On Monday, February 23, David B. Donaldson, Chair of the Ulster County Legislature, sent a letter addressed to the Wawarsing Planning Board (which was copied to the town council) urging the members of the board to issue a positive declaration for the project due to the many impacts a new Walmart Super Center would have both on the town and county levels. He cites examples set by the Walmart in Kingston as proof that concerns about the retailer's impact are valid, and are worth an in-depth look into the environmental and socio-economic consequences the store may have. The letter is reprinted in its entirety here.
On the subject of whether Walmart should build a store in Napanoch or not, "it's not that I disagree or agree one way or the other," said Davidson in a phone interview on Tuesday. "I think the people of the area should decide what they want. I just feel that it should be a positive declaration because it will make significant changes in the area. It definitely will change the way people shop, obviously. It's going to affect the jobs that are already there." Davidson also said that the fact that Walmart does not allow unionization of its workers, it pays less in wages. The letter he sent outlines yet more concerns that he wishes the planning board to keep in mind.
"The policing of the new mall would have a direct impact on the staffing and costs of The Ulster County Sheriff Department," Davidson writes in his letter. "For example, when Walmart and other retail shops opened in the Town of Ulster the police calls increased dramatically. Approximately 80 to 90 percent of the police activity is concentrated in that area due to shoplifting and other criminal activity.
"Since the county, like all municipal governments, is hard pressed financially, it is of great importance for the county to understand the possible financial impact of this new project on our Sheriff's department."
On the rise in crime he writes about in his letter, Davidson said such a rise would not necessarily happen in Napanoch after the proposed store were to open, but that the planning board should pay attention to the precedent set at the Town of Ulster Walmart nonetheless.
"I think you need to follow the process, and I believe that [positive declaration] should be part of the process," he said. "I don't think they should be shortcutting that process."
Davidson's concerns were echoed by the vice-chairman of neighboring Sullivan County's Legislature, Ron Hiatt, who appeared at the third session of the planning board's public hearing on the application last Tuesday, where he said, "I'm not anti-business, or anti-Walmart, but I don't like the way they treated their employees in Sullivan County."
As to whether the planning board will actually issue the positive declaration remains to be seen. The Ulster County Planning board met on Wednesday to review Walmart's application in Napanoch, but the details of the meeting were not available as of press time. Based on the county's recommendations, the Wawarsing Planning Board will decide whether or not they will require Walmart to conduct a full environmental impact review under SEQRA, which would provide a more in-depth study of the proposed project's potential effect on the area.
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