By Kelley Atherton
The Crescent Heritage Coalition has filed a legal challenge to Wal-Mart's proposed expansion of its Crescent City store.
Through its attorney, Paul Hagen of Eureka, the group filed suit against Del Norte County and the Board of Supervisors.
The coalition objects to the board's Aug. 12 approval of a proposal to expand the current Wal-Mart on Washington Boulevard to a Supercenter. Pointing to what it considers an "inadequate" Environmental Impact Report, the group wants further analysis on a variety of issues surrounding the expansion, and an injunction to halt any plans to move forward with the Supercenter.
"The EIR was defective in certain ways and the analysis was inadequate in certain ways," Hagen said.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and RBS Washington Blvd/Summer Lane, LLC, which owns the property directly behind the existing store, were named as interested parties in the legal action.
The expansion would double Wal-Mart's size into a 24-hour Supercenter with groceries and more merchandise. The board's 3-1 decision certified the EIR, building permit and conditional use permit for the project.
The coalition is requesting that the county fix the perceived deficiencies in the EIR and "consider a new and legally adequate EIR that complies with CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act)."
The group also has requested reimbursement for its legal fees.
County Counsel Dohn Henion said that the next step is a meeting between attorneys to see if the matter can be resolved.
"We think that the EIR was adequate," Henion said. "From what I've heard of the allegations ... they don't seem to be judicially sound."
Kevin Loscotoff, a spokesperson for Wal-Mart, said that the company has received the lawsuit and is only beginning to work on it. However, significant time was put into the EIR and the decision to approve the expansion was "carefully considered," he said.
"At this point, we're evaluating the lawsuit and we're confident in county staff and the decisions made by the (county) Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors," he said.
Plans for the Supercenter are currently on hold until the company "determines how to proceed," Loscotoff said.
Water runoff from the existing Wal-Mart building goes into a tributary of Elk Creek, and that runoff would increase with the expansion. The creek includes federally and state protected species, such as coho salmon, steelhead trout, cutthroat trout and chinook salmon, according to the report.
The EIR "failed to disclose, analyze or mitigate off-site impacts" to these species, the lawsuit states.
In addition, the EIR did not respond to the California Department of Fish and Game's concerns about water runoff and species protection, the lawsuit states. A comment letter from DFG to the county stated the need to ensure water runoff does not adversely impact protected species and called the proposed 50-foot setback from the creek inadequate.
The EIR stated the Supercenter would capture about one-third of food sales from other local grocery stores, and that one store might close as a result.
The suit claims that so-called "urban decay" analysis is "not supported by substantial evidence" and should include the possibility of more than one store closure.
The suit also claims there is no analysis of changes in traffic patterns and driving behavior that would occur after the Supercenter is built.
The EIR was also lacking in its discussion of greenhouse gases, according to the suit. Furthermore, it didn't analyze the Supercenter's emissions or impact on global warming.
Because the issue wasn't analyzed further, the county prevented "informed public participation and decision making" on Wal-Mart contribution to climate change," the suit states.