Wal-Mart under Polson pressure 

A market analysis released by Retail Research Group in February makes clear that a proposed Wal-Mart Super Center in Polson would whip its competitors, sucking up an estimated 33 percent of Super 1’s business, and 36 percent of Safeway’s.

The news was one more disheartening factoid for Greg Hertz, owner of Polson’s Super 1 and a founding member of Lake County First, a local nonprofit group that formed last fall to fight the Super Center.

Not only is Wal-Mart’s bid for a Super Center rolling along, but Hertz’ worst fears as to its impact on established businesses were affirmed.

And then the clouds parted, and an unrelated report on the store’s potential impact on Polson’s non-supermarket infrastructure offered a ray of hope to Hertz and LCF. More than a ray, actually. The report appears to describe a scenario that precludes construction of the Super Center, unless significant money is spent upgrading Polson’s pipelines.

The hitch, for Wal-Mart, is the city’s troubled water system, problems with which kept the city under a development moratorium for years. The Super Center, according to the report prepared by Bozeman-based HKM Engineering, would put too much strain on that system, raising the possibility of negative water pressure in Polson’s Mission View neighborhood, and thus potential contamination of Polson’s water supply.

The report says those pressure problems cannot be fixed until the city’s water system is updated. On Monday, Polson City Council voted unanimously to accept the report, meaning Wal-Mart must now address the pressure problem in order to super-size in Polson.

HKM engineer Kevin Johnson says it’s hard to know exactly how Wal-Mart will deal with the problem, but says a baseline estimate for the cheapest possible fix is $100,000 in pumping equipment. That doesn’t include a building to house the equipment, or land to put it on.

Eric Berger, Wal-Mart’s community affairs manager for the Northwest, did not return calls for comment.

“It’s encouraging,” Hertz says of the latest study’s findings. “I think it’s a pretty big hurdle for Wal-Mart.”

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