Friday, February 9, 2007

Murphsyboro Wal-Mart Update

Steve Gough writes
a quick update on our continuing fight, which just gets weirder with age.

Very good news for us! And a little bit of karmic justice, too.

Before I go into details, I'll say that a few of us are more hopeful than ever that we have beaten this Supercenter development. We will likely delay it for at least several months more, perhaps more than a year. Wal-Mart has admitted that it was building too many Supercenters in rural areas, and perhaps we'll knock this one off its list.

And Ken Johnson and Gene Basanta deserve a lot of credit for their work over the past few months. I had very little to do with this.

We need donations, so please send money if you are able.

As most of you know, about a dozen homeowners near the Wal-Mart site have taken Murphysboro to court over the rezoning of the entire annexed area as "highway business." Their case is very strong for a lot of reasons. And this is pretty much our last resort to stop this awful development.

But in late December we got word that the star witness for our side, a professional planner from Springfield, had been diagnosed with cancer and had to immediately undergo therapy that would render him unable to testify in last week's trail. Terrible for him and bad luck for us.

There simply wasn't time to get another expert. Lawyers on our side--Pat McMeen and John Meyers from Springfield--asked for a 6-week delay. But Ed Heller, M'boro's lawyer (and Wal-Mart for all we know) decided to play hardball and asked the Judge Kimmel to deny it. And he did.

Our case really hinged on the planning aspects--traffic, costs to taxpayers for utilities and other sprawl-relating problems--the things I've talked about from the beginning--and so would be weak without this expert.

Our lawyers decided to consider a voluntary withdrawal of the case. This would allow it to be refiled later, but the hitch was that the other side could demand we pay their legal fees, which they say were about $35,000. The good news is that Judge Kimmel denied them that.

And the even better news is that the law allows us to re-file the suit for up to one year. So instead of a reasonable 6-week delay because of our planner's life-threatening illness, Murphysboro and Wal-Mart are now looking at a minimum of several months delay, and months more for an appeal after that.

The Southern got this right, but the Murphysboro American got it dead wrong with a headline that said things were over. In a poorly-informed editorial on Feb 1 The American says that "a handful of people" have delayed this project. I urge you to write the American, which has a good record of publishing letters from both sides, and remind it that the Jackson County Board and thousands of petition signers oppose this Wal-Mart, not just the "handful" that the Murphysboro City Council would have you believe.

On the Murdale Water District front, indeed the FAA got involved (could this thing get any more complicated?) and denied the elevated tower that Wal-Mart and the District wanted to build there because it would be an aviation hazard. All along this thing was fishy--indeed a careful reading of the materials we got through FOIA shows that Wal-Mart's "gift" to the District was nothing more than a cost-reduction move for it.

We recently sent another FOIA request to Murdale and I'll talk about that in another email. I'll say only that if that Supercenter goes in, Murdale ratepayers will likely subsidize it unless we stay on top of things.

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