Monday, November 21, 2011

Now We Know

Well, now, what has transpired in the Kroger expansion saga in the last few days? Here's the update:

Half of the fence is up. Kroger representatives told the fence company to install ONLY that portion of the fence, and nothing further, to satisfy an apparent side agreement between Kroger and Bryan Patrick(? - the mayor? - who else was in on this?) in order to receive their Certificate of Occupancy. And that is exactly what the fence company did in a day and a half. When the fence reached the negotiated spot, the fence company quit...pulled off the job...before noon last Friday. The new partial eight foot fence stops mid-way in my neighbor's backyard. My next door neighbors have three little girls who will continue to be exposed to carcinogenic benzene fumes and at risk for leukemia, as will the rest of the neighbors south of them. Nice work Kroger. Nice work Bryan Patrick, director of the Conway Planning Department. Nice work Mayor Townsell and the majority of city council members.

So, the gas station opened Friday afternoon. The fence installers did not return after lunch, nor are they here this morning, although I will give them the benefit of the doubt because it is raining. But my guess is they won't be back any time soon even though it would take probably all of a day to a day and a half to complete the mandatory fence as required by the Planned Unit Development (PUD) conditions.

We have been very troubled by the urgency to open the gas station. My neighbor even sent an email to Bryan Patrick, director of the Conway Planning Department, asking why the rush to open the gas station without completion of the terms of the PUD. She has not received a response. But she found out on her own. Of course, it's all about money.

She found the following at these two sites: Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) and U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT)

Sunday After Thanksgiving is Heaviest Travel Day of the Year

The most traveled day of the holiday period - and of the entire year - is the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when 13.7 million long-distance trips are made (Figure 2). The day after Christmas is the second most traveled day during the holidays, with 12 million trips. New Year's Eve is less traveled than either Christmas or Thanksgiving, with 8.3 million people traveling. There appears to be no increased pattern of travel associated with the celebration of Hanukkah.

While Christmas and Thanksgiving record about the same amount of travel, Thanksgiving's high volume of travel is concentrated in fewer days, which places a heavier burden on the transportation system. During the five days surrounding Thanksgiving, an average of 10.8 million trips are taken per day, nearly double the average number of daily trips for the whole year; the daily average for the five days around Christmas is 9.5 million trips, but more Christmas travelers leave earlier and stay longer than Thanksgiving travelers so that trips are spread out over a longer period of time.

Okay, so we get that corporate greed trumps safety, health and compliance with laws. Kroger Co. is a corporation and greed will prevail.

But what about the city officials and nine elected representatives? Where are they? I've sent no less than six emails protesting the issuance of a COO without the completion of the mandatory protective barrier. I have received three responses, none of them from the mayor (who has never responded to any of my emails, EVER) or the representatives of my specific area (they are called "wards" here).

I will name the people who have at least responded because I want you to know who is attempting to work on behalf of their constituency and who is not. That will be important come election time.

Shelia Whitmore was the first to respond to tell me that she "told Bryan I personally was not in favor of the fuel station opening without the fence in place."

Shelley Mehl did not respond to us directly, but sent a copy of an email she sent to Bryan Patrick stating "I am not in favor of this until the fence is up. The fence was a condition of operation."

Lastly, David Grimes also did not respond to us directly, but sent a copy of his email to Bryan Patrick which states first, "I agree with Shelley. They need to build the fence first," and continues his email by asking the very question we've been asking, "How hard can it be for them to do that?" How hard indeed Mr. Grimes. A simple answer: someone in the city told them they didn't have to.

So, where are the other six elected officials? Their silence is deafening...and perhaps telling.

What conversations are taking place behind the scenes? What are these people saying to each other? How can they possibly justify jeopardizing the health and safety of citizens when all it would have taken to complete that damn fence and protect the constituency was just one more work day, or day and a half maximum, to complete the entire fence. The fencing company could have finished the fence on Saturday and Kroger could have opened on Sunday...a mere day and half delay but still before the big profitable Thanksgiving weekend. What is motivating these people? It can't be money, can it? How much revenue could the city gain in a day and a half worth of gasoline sales.....sales that are not ADDITIONAL sales, but sales drawn from surrounding gas stations whose business saw a drop because of the opening of the Kroger gas station.

As I said in my letter to the city council, there is a blatant enforcement double standard. I've known people to receive citations for using too many garage sale signs (I think we're allowed two) or leaving their garage sale signs up too long. Code enforcement routinely issues citations if you allow your grass to grow too long or leave your garbage bin on the curb too long. We've personally known code enforcement to deny a homeowner a final COO for one single 1/16th of an inch building code violation. Yet, Kroger received a COO without completing the single most safety related mandated PUD condition. How is that equal enforcement?

In early October, one of our neighbors sent us an email to let us know they had called OSHA and Arkansas EPA. The workers at the Kroger construction site had been cutting concrete blocks for days. The dust from the cutting saw, which is being used without water or any sort of dust collection system, was uncontrolled and completely permeated the air in the neighborhood, particularly for those of us who live adjacent to the construction. The dust was intolerable and likely hazardous. The air was so bad that our neighbors were unable to work in their own backyard without respiratory protection, and even then found it too overwhelming and finally retreated into their house for relief. And this was just one of many times our environment became so intolerable because of the construction. My question to Bryan Patrick that day was, "Who is responsible for monitoring Kroger’s continued disregard for and noncompliance with safety standards? How and when can we get this constant dirt and dust under some reasonable control in order to mitigate any unnecessary exposure of the surrounding residents (not to mention the workers at the construction site) from the continued physical hazards."

One of my neighbors sent an email to Tab Townsell, our illustrious mayor, inviting him to their home for dinner so that he could experience first-hand how we are impacted. The mayor didn't even have the courtesy to respond, not even to decline the invitation and apologize for any inconvenience the massive construction project has caused. Deafening silence.

But the mayor happily and quickly responded to a call from an affluent executive of Southwestern Energy, who had been denied a final COO for his newly constructed home because of obvious safety and building code violations. Wanting to be a representative of the people (well, maybe just certain people), the mayor stepped in on the executive's behalf (probably after some back-slapping and vigorous handshaking) and ordered the code enforcement department to issue the COO in spite of the violations. But, but, but...what about the homeowner with the 1/16th of an inch violation? Hmmmmm.

I have been updating my status on Facebook and posting links to this blog so family and friends can follow along. A couple of people joked (or maybe even half serious) that Kroger should provide adjacent residents with everything from a gift card to free gas and groceries for five years.

Then I started thinking. What if it is money? Or gifts? Could it be some elected officials are receiving sizable contributions to campaign coffers? Is Kroger doling out gift certificates for dinners at local restaurants for council members, city officials and a hundred of their closet friends? Or maybe tickets, lodging and dining for sporting events and such. Though, I'm only speculating, one has to wonder and question the motives of the city officials when they refuse to protect the health and safety of the citizens in deference to corporate demands. Just sayin'

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