Social, Environmental, and Historical Impacts

The following was written by a concerned citizen that has been researching how the Wegmans proposal has unfolded.  

Wegmans has long been commended and admired for their upscale stores, social consciousness, and

environmentally friendly image. Wegmans touts this image in public by discontinuing the use of

plastic bags for environmentally friendly paper, claims of enriching surrounding neighborhoods, and

the use of sustainable solar energy produced by solar panels on the roofs of stores. However this green

and socially conscious image is in jeopardy due to the environmentally sensitive and historically

significant site they selected to build their yet to be constructed distribution center in Hanover County

Virginia. It is due to their selection of this particularly sensitive site that we are calling for the boycott

of Wegmans supermarkets until they abandon this property for their proposed distribution center and

locate a more appropriate place to build.

Wegmans chosen building site contains large swaths of forested wetlands, significant historic

resources, and grave sites depicted on maps which are long suspected to be the resting places of

emancipated former slaves dating back to the Civil War era. The proposed plan will construct a

building large enough to make Wikipedia's list of worlds largest buildings. This enormous building

will be located on top of acres upon acres of protected wetlands, and pave over historic sites

recommended by archaeologists for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. But if that

wasn't enough, Wegmans has hired attorneys to pressure the Hanover County government to remove

laws protecting graves on the site, instead asking for permission for graves be dug up and relocated.

 

Wegmans ignored the significant impacts associated with this site, instead focusing on access to

interstates, large local workforce, government monetary incentives, and low selling price of the land in

their site selection. In an email addressed to a Hanover County employee obtained through FOIA,

Chris Jenkins the realtor marketing the property relayed a remark by site engineer Tim Davey

concerning the development saying “in every other economic development deal of this nature that he's

worked on, the client has moved on from the site every time, because it is more of a game of

eliminating risk/variables than making sites work” However the financially beneficial aspects of the

site proved too enticing for Wegmans. Instead of moving on to a less sensitive site they formulated a

plan to attempt to make this site work, environmental and social impacts be damned.

 

Wegmans formulated a three pronged attack, enlisting the help of high dollar attorneys, consultants,

and calling in assistance from governmental agencies at the state and local level. The Virginia

Economic Development Partnership, and Hanover County Economic Development department both

touted jobs to be created, and economic benefit for the region while using political contacts to pressure

regulatory agencies to permit the permanent destruction of protected wetlands, historical resources, and

graves.

 

The VEDP and HCED attempted to influence regulatory bodies at both the federal and state levels such

as the Army Corp of Engineers and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. For much of 2019

the Wegmans development was kept secret from public scrutiny by way of Wegmans requirement that

governments sign a non disclosure agreement keeping this controversial project safe from public

oversight. The development was known by code name “Project Wild Tiger”. An email sent from

Linwood Thomas of HCED to Lindsay Hurt of VEDP mentions Wild Tiger may need the political

clout of the VEDP to “help us with the DEQ”(Department of Environmental Quality).

 

Linwood Wrote:

"The unfortunate news we found out after a call with Timmons Group today was that the old wetlands

delineation done on the property did not show the significant amount of new found wetlands. This

“could' deem the site “undevelopable” unfortunately. We may need the State to help us with the DEQ

at some Point..."

If the acreage of wetlands destroyed by a project becomes too great, a permit to build will be denied

due to excessive environmental impacts. Realizing the problem that wetlands pose to the development.

Wegmans dream team of devastation set out to execute a plan using political and legal pressure to

minimize wetland acreage impacts “on paper” in an attempt to obtain a permit to build. They did this

by adoption of an obscure designation classifying effected wetlands as “mosaic” and use of a never

before used strategy mathematically lessening the “on paper” secondary impacts to wetlands. The

designation of a wetland “mosaic” is the assertion that areas of wetlands are only partially wet and

therefore should only be counted as a percentage of the total area impacted. A government employee

who wished to be unnamed who works with wetlands and environmental issues in Virginia stated that

he had never seen the use of the “mosaic” designation ever applied to wetlands in this region.

 

This obscure loophole was further exploited by applying the advice of a consultant to wait for dryer

weather before mapping the wetlands. After months of waiting the weather finally presented an

opportunity and a crew set out to evaluate the wetlands in the middle of a drought attempting to make

the case that huge portions of wetlands should only be counted as partially wet.

 

It is the precedent set by allowing these novel approaches that is the most dangerous aspect of all. If

the COE and DEQ allow these loopholes to be utilized it opens the door for the “on paper”

minimization of wetlands through the region and permitting the destruction of many hundreds of acres

of wetland that would otherwise have been protected. It truly isn't only about one distribution center.

The decision by Wegmans to force a path forward in the name of saving a buck could pave the way for

unimaginable destruction on future projects. It is these dangerous precedents that caused Bryan Jones

of the VA DEQ to write in an email concerning the proposed minimization of second impacts saying

“....none of us had accepted a secondary impact proposal/response like this in the past.” and went on to

say “There was also concern with setting a precedent across the state and if this was a type of response

that other regions could accept as well.” These questionable approaches to minimizing impacts have

lessened the “on paper” impacts of the Wegmans project by 60%. This swing in the allowable impacts

caused by “loopholes” if allowed to proceed would make the Wegmans distribution center one of the

largest industrial site wetlands impacts by gross acreage permitted in decades in Virginia.

 

We are calling for the boycott of Wegmans because of their decision to put financial concerns ahead of

the peaceful rest of the deceased and environmental and historic resources. This proposed distribution

center has created a situation that not only will destroy aquatic wetland habitat on a single site but also

creates the blueprint for developers to wreak destruction on wetlands all over the state of Virginia and

beyond. No project should be so “important” that environmental protections be waived or exceptions

created. Please reach out to Wegmans, VA DEQ, the Army COE, and Hanover County government to

let them know that the protection of graves, wetlands, and historic resources from destruction is more

important than a good deal on a piece of land. Let Wegmans know they should make the responsible

decision to put financial concerns aside and relocate their proposed project to a less sensitive site. It is

not too late, the permits have not yet been issued and ground has yet to be broken. There is still a

chance the voice of reason will prevail and vital natural resources and historic places are protected as

the law requires, and that the final resting place of the deceased will continue to remain final.

 

Join the boycott and let Wegmans supermarkets know that they can and should do better. Clean rivers

and streams, historic sites, and the peaceful rest of the deceased are more important than lining the

pockets of the Wegman family

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