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Walmart or not… something big this way comes

By Michael Howell

So far no one has confirmed the rumor of a Walmart being constructed south of Hamilton. But Walmart or not, a large retail facility is being planned by someone for installation at the intersection of Highway 93 and Blood Lane.
The project first came into public view when the Department of Environmental Quality held a public hearing last fall to consider issuing a wastewater discharge permit at the site. The applicant for the permit, local real estate broker Lee Foss, has so far refused to reveal the identity of the developer of the proposed retail store.
DEQ subsequently issued the permit and two local non-profit organizations, Bitterrooters for Planning and the Bitterroot River Protection Association, filed a lawsuit in January in District Court in Helena challenging the decision. The groups allege that DEQ violated the Montana Environmental Policy Act by failing to adequately evaluate the environmental impacts of the facility. They also claim that DEQ failed to consider the cumulative impacts of the facility along with other sewage permits it has recently approved in the Bitterroot Valley, leaving the river at risk to multiple new pollution sources.
“Furthermore, DEQ fails to require any information regarding the nature of the facility that is being permitted, except that it is potentially a gigantic big box store, the largest in Ravalli County. The public, left in the dark, could not provide meaningful comment on the proposed permit, a violation of the Montana Constitution Article II sections 8 and 9 that ensure the public right to information and participation,” it states in the complaint.
Officials at DEQ admit that the permit applicant, Lee Foss, is probably not the developer but they also claim that there is no requirement for any identification in the process other than the person making the application.
It turns out that DEQ is not the only state agency that operates in this fashion. In response to a request from the Bitterroot Star, the Montana Department of Transportation recently released documents showing that Foss has also submitted a request to MDT for highway access at the site.
A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment was prepared and submitted by a Colorado based company called Professional Service Industries, Inc. in December 2013. The report does not state for whom the analysis was prepared. The name of the client is deleted throughout the document.
The ESA states that “our services included effort outside the scope of the Practice to evaluate issues related to business environmental risk associated with the property. The purpose of these services was to provide information about certain conditions that can have a material environmental or environmentally-driven impact on the business associated with the current or planned use of the property.” It states that the assessment was based on” user-provided information” but leaves blank the identity of the user.
A Traffic Impact Study for the project done in March 2014 was also submitted to the agency. This study was conducted for Galloway & Company, Inc. of Greenwood Village, Colorado by a company based in Denver. It states in the study that “the retail center is anticipated to include development of an approximately 156,159 square foot discount superstore, and two separate outlots. For the purpose of this traffic study, it was assumed that the outlots may develop with a 4,500 square foot bank with drive through and 8,000 square feet of specialty retail uses. It is expected that the retail development would be completed within the next couple of years. Analysis was therefore completed for the 2015 project short term build out and long term 2025 planning horizon.”
The retail development is anticipated to generate approximately 7,626 new daily weekday trips. The study states that “since the project is a commercial development, pass-by trips are expected.” The pass-by rates are anticipated to produce 1,322 weekday daily trips. The company doing the traffic study concludes that “the proposed Hamilton Retail Center will be successfully incorporated into the existing roadway network.”
MDT responded to Foss’s submission in June 2014, expressing several concerns about the Traffic Impact Study. In the letter MDT suggests certain changes that would have to be made in the access points and that a traffic light might be necessary at the intersection of the Highway and Blood Lane and asks for a detailed site plan.
The site plan was submitted and in January 2015, MDT replied, stating, “We generally concur with the conceptual locations for the approaches and layout.” But the agency does reserve “more definitive comments” for the future review of a geometric set of details showing the design for the approaches and improvements.
That was the last communication between the parties, according to the records released.
The lawsuit challenging the issuance of the wastewater discharge permit is still in the discovery phase.hamilton retail center site plan

4 Responses to Walmart or not… something big this way comes
  1. Heather Hicks
    February 14, 2017 | 4:03 am

    Hopefully this didn’t go forward!
    Read the article:
    But people can stop it. All the businesses will dry up.

  2. Trevor Sanchez
    September 29, 2015 | 7:41 pm

    The upper Bitterroot needs these jobs. There are so few wage paying jobs in south Ravalli County that everyone who has family should support this. Our kids need to work somewhere, otherwise they have to leave to find jobs elsewhere. We cannot sustain ourselves as a retirement community.

  3. P Hascall
    September 28, 2015 | 10:16 pm

    There goes our downtown. I will refuse to shop at anything built there. Damnit. I moved here to get away from that kind of stuff. Hope the lawsuit is successful.

    • Don
      May 9, 2016 | 3:54 pm

      Sorry Hascall, but Hamilton already has a Kmart (and has for ages) and downtown has nothing but gift shops. So, I can’t see your point.

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