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Walmart Getting Oriental Water? Up To Town Board
Opponents Say It'd Be Insult To In-Town Businesses
September 28, 2013

I
n Oriental, It’s All About The Water, reads the slogan on the Town Hall website. That could also describe the latest Walmart Express matter before the Town Board. At issue: whether the Walmart store planned for just outside Oriental’s town limits can tap on to the Town’s water system.

walmart land fulcher
The land, now owned by Chris Fulcher, on Hwy 55/Broad Street Extension where Walmart is planning to open a Walmart Expresss, about 250 feet outside of Oriental. Though the store would be outside of Oriental, Walmart has inquired about tapping on to Oriental’s water system. In background, the older of Oriental’s two water towers, right near the town line.

At the Town Board’s agenda meeting on Thursday September 26, some members of the Board and the interim Town Manager signaled a willingness to provide town water service to the Walmart Express store. That vote could come as soon as the Board’s Tuesday night meeting.

A handful of Walmart opponents attending the agenda meeting said they wanted the Board to not provide the water. Denying Walmart the water, they say, would be at least a symbolic gesture of solidarity for the in-town businesses likely to be hurt by the much larger retailer moving in just up the street. They say the Town Board has not shown much concern for the in-town businesses.

Out Of Town Walmart And In Town Water

The 12,000 square foot Walmart Express that is planned would sit on Highway 55 land now owned by Chris Fulcher, just over 250 feet from the town line – and from Oriental’s property taxing authority and from Oriental’s zoning (which wouldn’t allow a building of that size).

Oriental’s Town Board, from left, Michelle Bessette, Warren Johnson, Mayor Bill Sage, Barbara Venturi and Larry Summers at the September 26 Agenda meeting. Commissioner Sherrill Styron was absent. It is the Board that decides is Walmart gets to tap on to Oriental’s water system, which would be cheaper than tapping onto the county system.

If a new store were within the town limits, there would be little question that it would get water from the town water system.

But if a business outside of town seeks to get on the Town water system, the Town Board has to weigh in, according to the Town’s Water Service ordinance. (Contrary to an interpretation reported earlier, the ordinance does not require that Walmart be annexed in to town, nor pay property taxes, in order to get the water.)

Oriental Water A Bargain For Walmart

Walmart has two alternatives to the Town of Oriental’s water. The retail giant could have a well dug and rely on well water. Or it could extend a pipeline down Highway 55 toward the intersection with Straight Road where the county water system’s water flows. Interim Town Manager Wyatt Cutler said Thursday that such a pipeline could cost Walmart $20.000-$25,000 to install.

From the plans for Walmart Store 7207, the Walmart Express outside Oriental.

In contrast to the cost of being on County water, tapping in to Oriental’s water system would be much more of a bargain for Walmart.

The Town would charge $3,800 for the tap-on fee, Town officials say. Cutler estimates the store would consume water at a rate equivalent to three households. The monthly bill for that water, charged at the business rate, would be an estimated $60-70 per month, says Cutler. That works out to $720-840 a year that Walmart would pay the Town’s water system.

Resistance

During the Public Comment section of the Agenda meeting, three of five residents who spoke urged the Board to not take on Walmart as a water system customer because of the harm the much bigger store will present to businesses within the Town limits. They said the Town Board should be more concerned about those businesses than it has indicated so far.


Bama Lutes Deal, owner of the restaurant, Village Food Emporium, told the Mayor and Board that they don’t legally have to provide water to Walmart. It was more a courtesy, she said. “It seems that you’d be extending a courtesy to something that is a threat to your community. That,” said Deal, “seems counterproductive to me.”

If a business outside the town limits seeks water service from the Town, Deal said, the Board should first take in to consideration whether that store “would have a negative impact” on the in-town businesses. She suggested the Board had not looked closely at Walmart’s impact and was “missing the point of who it represented.”

Bama Lutes Deal, an Oriental resident and restaurant owner, appealed to the Board to not grant water service to Walmart because of the impact the store outside of town would have smaller stores and businesses in town.

(A week earlier at a special Board meeting, at least 10 of 12 speakers said they opposed the store coming to Oriental’s outskirts. Opponents of the store presented the Board with a petition signed by more than 300 people who said they did not welcome the store. The resolution passed by the Board that day did not reflect that view. After that meeting, Commissioner, Larry Summers defended his position of not opposing Walmart because he said that while 60% of those in town that he spoke with opposed the store coming, he estimated that 80% of those outside the Town limits welcomed it.)


At the September 26 Agenda meeting, Bama Lutes Deal tried to prod the Board to consider the people and businesses in town. She said the Board’s “obligation should be to the constituents located within the town limits.”

The Walmart Express facade that would face Hwy 55 just outside Oriental. The store would be 12,000 square feet. The plans were sent to Pamlico County’s Building Inspector in mid-September.

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Town of Oriental: In The Water Business

Mayor Bill Sage and Interim Town Manager Wyatt Cutler said they’d spoken with Walmart and while Sage said Walmart’s original intention was to “operate on county water,” Cutler added that Walmart has also “asked me about getting water from the Town.”

The land, now belonging to Chris Fulcher, on Hwy 55/Broad Street Extension, where Walmart says it plans to build a 12,000 square foot Walmart Express. It is outside the town limits where no zoning applies and where no Oriental taxes can be collected. Town officials say Walmart has enquired about tapping in to the Town’s water system, a cheaper alternative for the retail giant than going on to the county’s water system.

Cutler said that he viewed debate over Walmart coming and the water service as two separate matters that were not to be linked.

“From a water selling standpoint, it makes sense,” Cutler said, for the town to sell its water to Walmart. “We are in the water business. We make money when we sell water.”

In her brief comments, Commissioner Michelle Bessette echoed that view. With the town water plant, Bessette said, the Town is “running a business.” Her concern: “How can we increase our income from the water plant?”

walmart bessette
Commissioner Michelle Bessette at the September 26 meeting.

Mayor Sage noted that if Walmart were to “get water elsewhere,” the Town would not get the $3,800 tap fee and the monthly water charge of $60-$70 a month.

From the audience, Dee Sage asked if selling the water to those outside of town would keep the cost of water down for the rest of the customers.

A resident of Oriental, Sage has been employed as Pamlico County’s Economic Development director since this summer. When Walmart’s Oriental plans first came to light, and residents raised concerns about the impact on local businesses in town, Dee Sage suggested that townspeople could chip in to buy an awning to improve the appearance of the existing Town-n-Country grocery.

walmart jim barton
Water Committee Chairman Jim Barton at the Town Board’s September 26 Agenda meeting. In background at left, Dee Sage, Economic Development Director for Pamlico County and in background at right, Interim Town Manager Wyatt Cutler.

Jim Barton, chair of the Town’s water committee said he wanted the town to get the extra revenue that Walmart would bring as a water customer.

Tainted Water Money?

Resident Lili Stern questioned the value of Walmart paying $3,800 to tap on and $720-$840 a year in water bills to the Town of Oriental’s water system.

“It’s tainted money as far as I’m concerned. It’s not worth it,” she told the Board. “Let them go get it from the county.”

Instead of readily providing Walmart with town water, which would be cheaper than Walmart could get from the county, Stern suggested the Board withhold the water service as “leverage” with what she noted was “the fifth largest corporation in the world.”

“They don’t need favors from our little town of Oriental,” said Stern.

Faced with several Town officials saying the Town should be concerned only for its water business, Bama Lutes Deal beseeched the Board to withhold the water out of empathy for the mom and pop businesses in town that would be hurt by Walmart. “Just as you are concerned about the bottom line,” Deal said. “That’s what we’re concerned with.”

“I don’t think people understand how difficult it is,” she added.

Dollar General, General Principle?

Commissioner Larry Summers challenged the Walmart opponents on Thursday, asking if they would want the town to not supply water to businesses other than Walmart that might one day want to open outside of town.

Summers’ initially opposed the Walmart plans because he was concerned Walmart delivery trucks would use an easement that ran next to Summers’ mother- and father-in-law’s home at Windward and Gilgo Drives. Walmart has since said it wouldn’t send its trucks down that residential street or the path to the lot. That turnaround was announced at the Board’s September 19 meeting, where Summers joked that that meant he’d still get homemade cookies from his mother-in-law.

At this week’s agenda meeting, Summers was laying the case for supplying water to Walmart. “We gave water to Dollar General,” Summers argued, referring to the 9,000 square foot retailer which opened half a decade ago on Hwy 55 almost across the road from where the Walmart Express store in planned.

Since the Town allowed Dollar General on the town’s water system, Summers said that if Walmart were not given access to Oriental’s water, the giant retailer “could sue us and they could win.”

Mayor Bill Sage and Commissioners Barbara Venturi and Larry Summers at the September 26 Agenda meeting.

Commissioner Warren Johnson said he was “struggling with the decision we have to make Tuesday.” He also raised the possibility of Walmart filing a lawsuit. Johnson noted that the town already was defending itself in another lawsuit (over the Board’s land-swap in which it gave up 13,000 square feet of waterfront right of way to Chris Fulcher, who is also the land seller to Walmart in this deal,)

Commissioner Barbara Venturi suggested a mistake may have been made when the Town let Dollar General tap on. She says she’s seen no evidence in the minutes that the Town Board at that time voted on the matter, something required by the town’s Water Ordinance. Since that Dollar General tap-on did not follow protocol and may have been a mistake, Venturi downplayed the prospect of a Walmart lawsuit.

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Symbolism

Despite the entreaties from those who urged the Town not to rush in to okaying town water service for Walmart, interim Town Manager Wyatt Cutler repeatedly said that he saw no connection between Walmart coming and the opposition to it and the Town’s ability to say yes or no to providing water.

“Whether we give them water or not, they are still coming.” Cutler said. “It’s a symbolic gesture that does nothing, in my opinion.”

That prompted Oriental resident Barbara Stockton to respond, “You just caved to the Walmart business plan.” Earlier in the meeting, Stockton submitted more pages of the petition whose signers said they did not welcome walmart to Oriental’s outskirts. At the end of the meeting, she said that she would be starting a new petition drive, specifically on the water issue. (A day later, the petitions were in stores in Oriental.)

September 26 Agenda meeting where for half a hour public comment session, some opponents of the Walmart near Oriental pressed the Town Board to not grant water service. At this session, Board members responded to the comments, and signalled an inclination to let Walmart tap on. The matter is on the Agenda for the October 1 meeting.

Commissioner Venturi said that because Walmart could still get its water from the County, she didn’t think the Town denying its water, “would make a substantial difference.” “Do you think the symbolic gesture would be significant?” Venturi asked.

Bama Lutes Deal said that a symbolic gesture would be a way for the Board to show “real loyalty” to the homegrown businesses in town who, she says, are “so far feeling like there’s no one standing by us.”

“Our interests are not being protected,” said Deal

“Through your decision about the water,” Deal told the Board, “you have this last opportunity to exert any influence whatsover.” If the Walmart store is coming to the land outside of town, Deal said the time for the Town to negotiate with Walmart – regarding traffic patterns, light pollution at night for example — would be before voting to let the giant retailer tap on to the Town’s water system.

In one of the last comments of the half-hour-long dialogue between residents and Board members, Lili Stern told the Board that she’d grown up in Oriental and had moved back in the past year. Her hometown has a lot of pride she said, and she made a pitch to the pride of the Board as it neared the last month before the November elections. The water, Stern told the Board, “is the one thing you can control” with Walmart planning a store just outside of Town. “Just think,” she said, “about the legacy you want for this town.”

The Oriental Town Board meets for its regularly scheduled October meeting on Tuesday, October 1 at 7p at Town Hall. The item “Water Service: Walmart” is 11th on the agenda. There is a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting. At the regular meetings, Board members have not responded to comments from the public as they did at the Agenda meeting.

A copy of the petition may be seen at stopwalmart.org.

Posted Saturday September 28, 2013 by Melinda Penkava


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