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Wal-Mart Controversy

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Sue Prent, Northwest Citizens for Responsible Growth Sue Prent, Northwest Citizens for Responsible Growth

St. Albans, Vermont - October 4, 2008

It had the feel of a major political rally. From the band to the red, white, and blue and convincing endorsements -- it was easy to see that for the more than 1200 people that turned out in St. Albans Saturday -- Wal-Mart was clearly the crowd's candidate of choice.

"It's time for the opinions of the few to stop obstructing the needs of the many. It's time for Wal-Mart in Franklin County," said Vermont Governor Jim Douglas, speaking to the crowd.

"I want a Wal-Mart in St. Albans now!" said Lynn Densmore, a Bakersfield resident. "We're tired of driving 40 minutes every time we got to buy something," added Highgate resident Carl Tamburo.

The Wal-Mart debate in St. Albans dates back to the early 1990's. A proposal for the big box store was approved then, but was ultimately denied on appeal. A new proposal surfaced several years ago, but six permits for the project have been tied up in court by appeals from four local groups.

"We oppose this store in this location. We are not opposed to a downtown store of a appropriate size and we've maintained this since the beginning," said Sue Prent of the Northwest Citizens for Responsible Growth, one of the groups opposing the project.

The 147,000 square foot store would be built just off of Route 7 -- near several of the businesses opposing the project. Opponents fear Wal-Mart will have a negative affect on the St. Albans economy and on the environment.

"They're concerned about legitimate things like storm water, which we've worked hard to mitigate. Their main argument is the impact on the city of St. Albans downtown," said Jeff Davis, the project's developer."

"There is a lot of talk about how it's going to bring jobs to St. Albans and the evidence doesn't support that at all," Prent said.

Supporters say those fears are unfounded. More than 12,000 signatures were presented to Governor Douglas on Saturday of those who support the project.

"I thought this was supposed to be a free economy. I can't believe they're actually stopping them from building this store," said Tamburo.

But if history is any indication, it will likely take several more years before construction becomes reality. Sue Prent says her group has no plans to drop its appeals. Those appeals may eventually be heard by the Vermont Supreme Court.

Keagan Harsha - WCAX News

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