Walmart seeks to offset impact on Vidor wetlands

Wooded area behind the Vidor Walmart (Goolge Maps photo)

Retail giant Walmart is moving forward to build a new Walmart Supercenter in Vidor, already acquiring the necessary permits for their plans, but a recent inspection by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers indicated the construction will impact an additional 1.1 acres of wetlands on top of the 4.4 acres previously estimated.

According to the public notice from the Corps of Engineers issued Sept. 11, an agent of Walmart Real Estate Business Trust in Bentonville, Arkansas, submitted a revised wetland delineation and applied for the permit proposing permanently filling 5.5 acres of forested wetlands, an increase of 1.1 acres more than previously proposed, on Sept. 2 after it was discovered that the additional land would be impacted during the public notice period following a July 2013 public notice of the project. The notice indicated the wetlands would need to be filled in order to accommodate the relocation of the existing Walmart store in Vidor and replacing it with a Supercenter. 

While the notice indicates the facility would be relocated, it will remain at its current location at 1350 Main St. but will be a much larger facility. After demolishing the current 66,000-square-foot structure and parking area in use now, Walmart has plans to build a 180,000-square-foot Supercenter, selling additional items like fresh produce, meat and other grocery items.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency explains on its website, “Wetlands are part of the foundation of our nation’s water resources and are vital to the health of waterways and communities that are downstream. Wetlands feed downstream waters, trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, remove pollution, and provide fish and wildlife habitat. Wetlands are also economic drivers because of their key role in fishing, hunting, agriculture and recreation.”

The EPA reports that wetlands include swamps, marshes and bogs, varying widely because of differences in soils, topography, climate, hydrology, water chemistry, vegetation, and other factors. Many wetlands are found along waterways and in flood plains, while some have no apparent connections to surface water but have critical groundwater connections.

Although the development of the new Supercenter would allow the retailer to fill in acres of wetlands, the Corps notice indicates no threatened or endangered species or their habitats would be impacted by the proposed work. In addition, according to the Corps, in order to mitigate the environmental impact, Walmart proposed purchasing equivalent credits from the Pineywoods Mitigation Bank. According to the bank’s website, “Mitigation banks are large-scale, ecosystem-oriented wetland restoration projects designed to provide compensatory mitigation in advance of unavoidable adverse impacts to wetlands caused by projects such as pipelines, electric transmission lines, road construction, and well pads.”

So, Walmart would be filling in wetlands at the Main Street location and purchasing credits at Pineywoods in the amount established by the Corps as equivalent. The funds used to purchase the credits go to the mitigation bank to allow them to maintain the lands they aim to protect. The mitigation bank’s mission, according to the website, is to “provide enhancement, restoration, protection and maintenance of a 19,079-acre bottomland forested wetland ecosystem by developing a native, self-sustaining bottomland hardwood forest indigenous to the Neches River Basin.”

The Examiner could not confirm a timeline for  the development. Calls to Walmart for comment were answered with only a brief statement from Anne Hatfield, director of Communications, Walmart Public Affairs: “We are always looking for ways to serve our customers in and around Vidor, but have no news to share.” While environmental advocacy groups say Walmart is not doing enough to mitigate potential damages, the company’s website says, “Walmart’s Acres for America program has helped protect Salmon Creek Forest and nearly 680,000 acres of land across 25 states,” and, “Environmental sustainability has become an essential ingredient to doing business responsibly and successfully. As the world’s largest retailer, our actions have the potential to save our customers money and help ensure a better world for generations to come. At the same time, it sets the stage for a more financially stable and responsible Walmart.”