After of plans, studies, and meetings, the controversy over the of a 98,000 square foot Walmart on Hospital Road in East Patchogue, is still very much alive.
Residents got the chance to voice concerns Thursday at Brookhaven Town Hall on the Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) submitted by Walmart, which is a traffic study regarding their perspective of the impact the store would have on the community. The study was initially accepted by the Town of Brookhaven Planning Board, and later rescinded, with the town requesting additional community input.
Among the chief concerns cited by residents were the impacts increased traffic would have in an already busy area, the effect on the quality of life a 24-hour store would have on nearby residents, the impact on emergency services located in close proximity to the proposed site, consequences to local businesses and possible environmental effects. Although some concerns were addressed in the DEIS, many argued the study had some serious flaws.
“The scope is both out of date and narrow,” said Freda Eisenberg, of the East Patchogue Walmart Free Coalition and the Local 1500 United Food and Commercial Workers Union. “It really needs to use current data and look at local conditions.”
Eisenberg, as well as several other speakers, mentioned the DEIS use of old information dating back to 1996, or in some cases, even 1983. Information, they say, that clearly does not take into account current conditions or newer construction in the area. They say also missing from the study was a look at the impact of increased traffic on response times from the North Patchogue Fire Department substation located across from the proposed site, as well as from Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center.
A traffic handout issued on behalf of Walmart said the new DEIS will include a proposal to widen the Hospital Road bridge. It also said that it may allow for other changes--but it did little to ease the fears of residents.
Walmart also issued a statement saying: "The proposed Walmart store has been
significantly reduced in size to under 100,000 square feet in order to address the concerns of the community and reduce traffic impacts. The most pressing issue for residents in Brookhaven is creating new jobs (including union construction jobs), and providing convenient access to low-cost goods and fresh produce."
Supporters of the project said they agreed, because in this economy, the jobs that the proposal will bring are desperately needed.
“Jobs are the most important thing,” said Kevin Casey, a business representative for the Electricians Local 25. “I have 645 members in Brookhaven alone, and of those, 125 are not working. This could give a couple hundred guys work for six to ten months.”
Other local business owners say that temporary jobs do not justify possibly wiping out the many existing mom-and-pop stores.
“As many jobs as Walmart provides, it also takes away from locals,” Kathleen Quinn, a local business owner, said.
However, despite issues protestors have, most say they aren’t against Walmart itself—just the proposed location.
“They’re going to build that store someplace,” Bernadette Smith said. “But build smart, not stupid—cause this is a stupid place for it.”
The period for public comment ends July 5. Comments can be sent to Michael J. Albano, Division of Environmental Protection, One Independence Hill, Farmingville, NY 11738 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. As per Albano, a new DEIS is to be completed, and once approved by the town board, a final vote on the proposal is to take place within 45 days.
Updated: June 27, 2011, 6:39 p.m.