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Publish Date: 5/12/2005

Construction snafu halts U.S. 287 Wal-Mart

LONGMONT — Construction on the Wal-Mart Supercenter on the city’s northern edge has been halted after the company fired its lead contractor, Colorado Springs-based Colorado Structures Inc.

CSI informed the city of the construction halt April 21. Minor site preparation work has continued, but major earth-moving at the 73-acre site at the northeast corner of U.S. Highway 287 and Colo. Highway 66 has stopped.

“We have been notified by CSI that Wal-Mart has shut down the job because of problems with construction methods,” said city planner Don Burchett.

Company officials initially wanted the store open by Christmas, and say they still hope to open in late 2005 or early 2006.

“It’s nothing that will impact the overall schedule,” said Keith Morris, a Wal-Mart regional community affairs official. “We’re looking at bringing in a new general contractor. The original one, they have been demobilized.”

Morris declined to specify exactly what the problem was, but said, “it wasn’t any violation from the city, anything external. We identified it.”

Sources said the problems stemmed from how CSI was handling stormwater runoff from the site.

Nationally, Wal-Mart has paid millions of dollars in fines for failing to improperly control runoff from its under-construction stores and their massive parking lots.

In 2004, Wal-Mart paid the largest-ever stormwater violation fine to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, $3.1 million, for failing to control runoff from under-construction stores.

The fines were based in part on violations found by the EPA at at least eight Colorado Wal-Mart construction sites in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including Aurora, Loveland and Commerce City.

“Storm water runoff is one of the most significant sources of water pollution in the nation, comparable to contamination from industrial and sewage sources,” the EPA said in announcing the settlement a year ago today. “This settlement sets a very high bar for regulation of this pervasive problem.”

Federal law requires that large projects be managed in such a way that neighboring rivers, lakes and streams are not contaminated with silt, construction debris and fuel or oil.

Wal-Mart paid the fines without admitting wrongdoing but agreed to create a contractor awareness program. It also agreed to let the EPA monitor the company employee responsible for complying with national and state stormwater regulations.

Burchett was informed of the freeze April 21 via a terse e-mail message from a CSI manager. He said he has received no further information about the problems.

The Supercenter is the largest construction project in Longmont, and local businesses have been counting on the hundreds of project contractors to boost their bottom lines.

At the nearby Fazoli’s restaurant, manager Rob Baker said he noticed an influx of workers that suddenly dried up. The store’s marquee sign says “Welcome Wal-Mart construction workers.”

“I had noticed (a drop-off) in the last week. I didn’t know what was going on,” Baker said. “I noticed a lot more of them coming in, but I haven’t really noticed them in the last week.”

Calls to CSI officials went unreturned Wednesday afternoon, as did calls to several project subcontractors. There was no one at the site.

Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at thughes@times-call.com.

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