Walmart wetlands lawsuit continues

A legal battle over the wetlands filled for the new Walmart continues as the national retailer prepares to open next month at the North Coast Retail Center.

Clatsop Residents Against Walmart, the group formed in 2010 to battle the national retailer’s move to Warrenton, continues its legal battle over the wetlands filled for the new location at the North Coast Retail Center.

The group sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2015 after the agency approved a permit to fill 0.37 acres at the retail center for the store. The case was dismissed in 2016, but the group challenged the ruling in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Karl Anuta, the group’s lawyer, argues that the Army Corps failed to adequately and independently review alternatives to filling in the wetlands, namely an already approved 17-acre site at Dolphin Avenue and U.S. Highway 101. The lack of an analysis violated requirements of the federal Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act, he said.

Mark Hague, a lawyer for the Corps, argued the level of independent analysis should be commensurate with the likely impact of the project.

“There’s not much impact from filling .37 acres in a shopping center,” he said.

Anuta argued that the wetland complex near the North Coast Retail Center has survived multiple depredations over the years but still falls under the water laws.

“The Corps can’t just say, ‘Oh; it’s small, so we can wash our hands,’” Anuta said.

Judge Michael Mosman asked whether the case is moot, with Walmart scheduled to open next month.

The Corps could order the fill at the Walmart site removed after the fact or require more mitigation, Anuta said, and an analysis of the cumulative impacts of filling wetlands could require future projects in the area to do more compensatory mitigation. He specifically pointed out 32.92 acres of wetlands just east of 19th Street slated to be filled.

“If it’s a little tiny wetland and we just keep ignoring little tiny wetlands, we’ll end up with a completely dysfunctional ecosystem because we’ve not taken into account the cumulative impact of destroying each little wetland,” Anuta said.

Reached by phone after the hearing, Anuta said a decision from the appeals court could take anywhere from two weeks to 18 months. Anuta is also challenging a wetland fill permit granted by the Department of State Lands for a Walmart on behalf of Citizens for Responsible Development in The Dalles. The group has been waiting roughly two years for an answer from the appeals court, he said.

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