by TED WOLOSHYN, Toronto Sun
It’s not just Walmart’s prices that are dropping in Burlington these days, the store’s popularity is tumbling even faster thanks to a planned 24-metre-high wind turbine at its Fairview Street location.
Much to the shock of local residents, the giant retailer recently placed an announcement in The Burlington Spectator that they were applying to the Ministry of Environment for approval of the turbine, and the locals want to know why they have not been consulted.
Frankly I don’t blame them, and Walmart should have thought this through because nobody wants to feel like big business is running their neighbourhood, especially when it’s a U.S.-based company.
Walmart says it’s one part of their three long-term sustainability goals, along with zero waste and the sale of products that sustain the environment and people. It’s all about the 100% supply of renewable energies.
Like all wise corporations, they’re determined to be seen as eco-friendly; but the people of Ward 2 in Burlington aren’t buying it.
They are concerned about possible health issues, risks to birds and what effect the turbine could have on property values. Some feel it’s not really about energy, it’s about brand visibility.
“If Walmart asked the city for the same size sign it wouldn’t be allowed,” said John Lawson, the property manager of Emshih Developments, who own property adjacent to the store. Although he says the company has no immediate plans for a high rise, he admits there are concerns about the marketability of future projects.
He’s spot on. Who wants an apartment overlooking six-metre-long blades?
Lawson is also concerned about how effective the turbine would be considering the location is a low wind area and is zoned for high density high rises. And if two large buildings are erected there will be even less wind to propel the blades.
Andrew Pelletier, Walmart’s v-p of corporate affairs and sustainability told me the location was specifically selected.
“The Burlington store is our environmental demonstration store which houses a range of state-of-the-art environmental techniques,” he said.
The store is also touted as being 60% more energy efficient than a typical Walmart store.
And what of the advertising potential in a towering 24-metre turbine that would be visible from many kilometres away?
“That was part of the original proposal,” Pelletier said.
However he added they are not tied to that decision and will review it internally.
Pelletier is quite disappointed with the reaction Walmart has received.
“It’s a bit frustrating when good intentions can sometimes be seen as something else locally,” he said.
But there’s frustration on both sides of this issue.
Ironically what could have been a major election issue has galvanized all candidates in the ward who admit their fight will probably be lost should the province approve Walmart’s plans, because the government’s decision would supersede any objection the city has.
However the province recently recanted earlier plans for a power station in neighbouring Oakville after a great deal of protest, so they may be a little more cautious in their decision-making process.
Should they side with Walmart and grant approval, it could cost them votes in next year’s election.
And if Walmart doesn’t consult with local residents it will definitely cost them shoppers.