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Wal-Mart gets green light

It took two months, but the Kitsap County Hearing Examiner on Thursday officially gave the go-ahead for Port Orchard’s Wal-Mart to start construction on a 105,000-square-foot expansion.

Resident Mary Ann Huntington, whose property abuts Wal-Mart’s, is livid.

“This is kind of a joke — it really is,” she said.

Huntington, along with her husband and a list of fellow neighbors, strenuously object to Wal-Mart’s plans to add a grocery element on the side and back of its Bethel Road store. The Huntingtons even filed an appeal of the environmental impact study attached to the project, claiming the study had failed to take into account light, sound and socio-economic impacts associated with an expansion.

Huntington said the late-night activity at Wal-Mart’s loading dock — located less than 100 feet from her back yard — has given both her and her husband a permanent case of insomnia. She even invited hearing examiner Stephen Causseaux, Jr., over to experience the subject of her concerns first-hand, but Huntington said he clearly didn’t grasp how bad the situation could get — especially at night.

“(The officials) don’t live here,” she said. “They don’t know what goes on at night.”

In his findings, Causseaux wrote that he found the Huntington’s sound engineer much more credible than Wal-Mart’s engineer and agreed Wal-Mart does create a significant amount of noise — enough to impact its neighbors. However, he also decided the existing noise mitigations planned for the site were sufficient to solve the problem.

Causseaux called for the construction of noise barriers, including a six-foot earth berm uphill of the site, a wooden fence at the Huntingtons’ property line, a line of trees between the store and its residential neighbors and roof parapets to block to sound emanating from the store’s roof-mounted air handling units.

Huntington wasn’t impressed.

“This is ridiculous,” she said. “We look down on the roof of Wal-Mart. That parapet would have to be very, very tall to block us.”

Causseaux did require Wal-mart to shorten its light poles at the rear of the store to 25 feet from about 40 feet. That light restriction, said Huntington, was the only concession to residents in the whole document — and it didn’t address building-mounted lights, either, she added.

Causseaux’s ruling, which also stated there was no hard evidence that Wal-Mart’s new grocery store would have a serious negative effect on the economy of the area, didn’t go over too well with local union representatives, either.

Paul Festag, who represents Safeway workers, spoke angrily about Wal-Mart’s employee policies at the project hearing in August. Festag claims Wal-Mart’s low-wage, poor-benefit traditions, in addition to its habit of undercutting competing stores’ prices, will put dozens — if not hundreds — of grocery employees out of work with no hope of getting a similar-scale job.

Safeway, which sits adjacent to Wal-Mart, is expected to be the hardest hit by Wal-Mart’s foray into the grocery business.

Festag was not available for comment following the decision.

However, Huntington said an appeal will definitely be filed — either by her or Festag.

“It’s not over ’til it’s over,” she said. “We’ll keep working on it.”

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