Merced may soon see a Walmart distribution center

FRESNO, Calif.

Now the city is one step closer to breaking ground for the facility at Gerard Avenue and Tower Road.

Right now the property is just an empty field, but in the next couple of years it's set to become a one point two million square foot distribution center. City officials say it will create more than a thousand jobs... But opponents of the project remain skeptical.

The battle over Merced's Walmart distribution center began in 2005, when the company first proposed building the facility on this vacant lot. The city council finally approved the project in 2009, but opponents filed a lawsuit claiming problems with the environmental impact report. Two courts ruled in favor of the city before the state Supreme Court rejected the case this week.

John bramble, Merced City Manager said, "The legal battles have been very expensive, there's no doubt about it. It's taken more of city attorney's staff time than they would like to have, but the actual costs out of pocket have been covered by Walmart, which was part of our agreement with them."

Bramble says the effort will soon pay off with a center that's expected to create hundreds of jobs.

"It's 600 jobs almost immediately when they get started on construction and opening up. The long term is 1200 jobs. There will be fees to the city; it's about 3 million dollars, which will help our budget," he said.

Officials say local schools will get about 400-thousand dollars from those fees, but critics still feel the facility is bad for the community. Kyle Stockard was a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. He's concerned about the air pollution from an estimated 450 truck trips in and out of the center each day. He also questions the quantity and quality of the jobs.

Stockard, distribution center opponent said, "They're always using the excuse that Merced doesn't have well trained employees, they have low skilled workers. Well you have Merced College and UC Merced. Let's train people in something good to do that pays well and will build the community and be a plus for the community, and we just didn't think a distribution center was that."

Despite his disappointment, Stockard says he doesn't see any other way to fight the project. City officials plan to meet with Wamart representatives next week.

"Walmart has always said they wanted to be in construction in this area by 2013 - 2014, but we'll have a lot more information next week," he said.

The city manager tells me Walmart still has to get various permits. But once construction starts, the center should be built in nine months to a year.

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