Wal-Mart says dioxin concern by Auburn group is delay tactic

APACE wants to reopen environmental review at Placer County level
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Wal-Mart attorneys are blasting an Auburn activist group?s attempts to reopen Placer County?s environmental process on the North Auburn project as error-filled and obstructionist. Citing a state Department of Toxic Substance Control request for Wal-Mart to conduct soil-sampling for dioxins at the store site, the Alliance for the Protection of the Auburn Community Environment (APACE) has called on the county to reopen the environmental impact process. But Wal-Mart attorneys Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton of San Francisco, has responded that the store project does not require any further environmental review. Judy Davidoff, a land-use attorney with the firm, said that APACE?s contentions on dioxin and furan levels have previously been considered and the state toxic substance control department has issued a ?no further action? letter. ?After the no further action letter was issued, APACE began lobbying to revisit the soil-contamination issue and mandate additional testing and cleanup at the project site,? Davidoff said. ?The department has consistently refused to do so.? APACE member Victoria Connolly, said Wednesday that Wal-Mart is taking a lackadaisical approach to the group?s effort to revisit environmental issues at the site. ?We are attempting to get the Board of Supervisors to be concerned about the health and safety of residents in the area and reopen the EIR to allow public comment on the section that deals with hazards and toxins,? Connolly said. ?What is true is that the state is requesting further action and requesting Wal-Mart to enter into a voluntary cleanup-up agreement.? Davidoff said that, at APACE?s request, the department did agree to ask Wal-Mart to voluntarily conduct soil testing at the project site. But Davidoff said that APACE, in its request to the county, misconstrues the importance of the request and the status of the five-year-old no further action letter. ?We have confirmed that it has not withdrawn its no further action letter.? Davidoff said. The toxics department and the California Department of Public Health did not determine that additional testing was necessary, she added. ?They simply asked Wal-Mart to voluntarily conduct additional testing in response to APACE?s requests,? Davidoff said, in a letter to the Placer County Counsel?s Office obtained by the Journal. Department of Toxic Substances Control spokeswoman Charlotte Fadipe has said that while the agency is not aware of Wal-Mart?s construction schedule for the location, a voluntary dioxin study would generally not adversely affect plans to build. Wal-Mart plans are for a 155,000 square-foot building just north of the Luther Road-Highway 49 crossroads. It has not started construction. Davidoff said in a letter to the Placer County Counsel?s Office that no further environmental approvals are required from the county. ?APACE?s letter is simply another attempt to further delay the project,? Davidoff said. Connolly said APACE members met with Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Jennifer Montgomery earlier this week. ?We left the meeting feeling that we had further work to do in terms of dealing with the public and the county in trying to convince them to reopen the EIR for comments,? Connolly said. APACE has opposed the Wal-Mart project since early in the planning approval process. Supervisors approved environmental clearances in September 2010 and APACE has since launched a court fight to block the project. County staff issued a design permit for the project late last year. The 18.6-acre parcel served as the site of a lumber mill from the 1940s into the early 1980s. Dioxins are a class of chemical contaminants that can originate from sources that include teepee-burners similar to the one that used to be located at the mill site. Amelia McLear, Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said that the state determined in 2007 that the site is safe for development of any kind. Wal-Mart purchased the property only after the parcel underwent extensive environmental review and approval by the state, as well as the issuance of the ?no further action? letter, she said.