Dredging project muddies debate
over Wal-Mart site
By Jeff Dankert
Winona Daily News
With a 225,000-square-foot Menards store up and running
and news of a possible Wal-Mart Supercenter opening up
next door, the city's stated plans for Riverbend Industrial
Park have materialized quickly.
Squeezed for development space and applying a standard
that commercial growth is needed to sustain an economy,
Winona aggressively pursued a dredge-and-fill project
to create commercial land.
From 1999 to 2001, 1.6 million cubic feet of sand and
silt were dredged from Lake Winona and dumped on land
owned by the Winona Port Authority and on 13 of 27 acres
owned by Badger Foundry. The Badger land, which is now
owned by Menards, is a part of the 106 acres in Riverbend
now covered by sand and sediment dredged from the lake.
The filled land was designed for something the size of
Menards with room to spare. And along came Wal-Mart, which
has its eye on 20 acres of the land once owned by Badger
and now owned by Menards. News of the giant retailer's
plans has upset some Winona business owners and residents.
"Wal-Mart is a global vacuum cleaner that sucks
profits out of local communities and transfers that wealth
into its centralized self," Winona County Commissioner
Dwayne Voegeli, a member of a group organized in opposition
to the proposed store, said in a recent e-mail.
The Arkansas-based company operates about 3,200 Wal-Mart
and Sam's Club stores in the United States and another
1,200 stores worldwide, including outlets in Germany,
Great Britain, Brazil, Argentina and Korea. In the 12-month
period that ended April 30, it reported revenue of about
$248 billion and earnings of $8.1 billion.
When it comes to debating the merits of Wal-Mart coming
to Winona, city officials have remained detached from
the fracas. The Port Authority forged a development agreement
with Menards, requiring the Eau Claire, Wis.-based home-improvement
chain to develop its Riverbend land into retail stores.
With the ink dried and set on that agreement, the city
feels obligated to work with Menards and Wal-Mart, said
Judy Bodway, Winona director of economic development and
Port Authority assistant executive secretary.
"As long as they meet all of our codes and requirements
we'll just continue to work with them," she said.
"In the development agreement, (Menards) must have
other retailers. We don't specify who those have to be,
but we require that they have other retailers."
Menards bought 42 acres of land in Riverbend -15 acres
from the Port Authority and 27 acres from Badger Foundry.
Menards built its store on the 15 acres and convinced
Wal-Mart to sign a purchase agreement for 20 acres of
the former Badger property.
The remaining seven acres in a strip along Frontenac
Drive is to be sold by Menards to smaller retailers.
The road to a possible Wal-Mart began in the fall of
1998. Winona voters approved, 58 percent to 42 percent,
a local option half-percent sales tax and $20 car sales
fee to fund a massive public works project to dredge sediment
from East Lake Winona and fill lowlands in Riverbend.
Tax and fee collection began in April 1999 and ended
Dec. 31, 2002, accruing $4.6 million.
Work began in 1999. Contractors cleared 70 acres of forest
from Riverbend. J.F. Brennan Co. of La Crosse, Wis., began
dredging the lake and depositing sediment in Riverbend.
In late 1999, the city amended its dredge permit so Iowa
developer Wendell Corey could pay to pump 400,000 cubic
yards of sediment from the lake to fill the Badger Property.
The Winona Port Authority authorized spending $337,560
to further build up a 10-acre pond in Riverbend to store
the extra fill material.
Corey wanted to buy Badger's 27 acres and build a $25
million shopping mall. But by late 2000 he backed out
and in stepped Menards.
While the filling of land for Menards was supported by
taxpayers through the half-percent sales tax, Menards
paid to fill the 27-acre Badger property.
Before Menards could develop the Badger property, Badger
had to settle environmental problems with the Minnesota
Pollution Control Agency. From 1982 to 1997, Badger disposed
of casting material on 13 acres of wetlands. It paid the
state a $175,000 fine and agreed to clean up the site.
To help cap the illegal dump with pavement so that water
does not leach toxins into groundwater, the Minnesota
Department of Trade and Economic Development approved
a $993,375 grant to the city, in what's commonly called
a brown field grant.
The city has until Dec. 31 to cap the Badger site with
pavement, Bodway said, and the grant will be received
to offset the expense once the city spends the money.
State environmental guidelines for containing and de-watering
dredge sediment were imposed on the city. So when a dredge
storage pond in Riverbend broke open twice in the fall
of 2001 and spilled mud, it was the city that was fined
$40,000 by the state, not Brennan or Menards.
Menards opened its store in April. To the east, 50 acres
of Port Authority land also was filled with taxpayer-supported
dredge material and awaits future industrial development,
which could begin next year, Bodway said.
To the south of Menards, the Port Authority also owns
eight acres of filled land that could be developed.
If Wal-Mart is built, its main entrance likely would
be off of Frontenac Drive, Bodway said. Options for more
roads into Riverbend have been blueprinted, including
a public street connecting Frontenac and Bruski Drive,
At the corner of Mankato Avenue and Frontenac Drive,
Walgreens is close to buying a parcel owned by Winona
County Recorder Bob Bambenek and erecting one of its drugstores,
"We anticipate they'll be in," Bodway said
of Walgreens. "I would say in the not too distant
Between the Bambenek property and Winona National Bank
at 840 Mankato Ave., 5.5 acres of residential property
is owned by Gorman-Thompson Foods Inc.
Ernie Gorman and Tom Thompson, co-owners of Winona's
Country Market and Midtown Foods grocery stores, bought
the properties beginning in 1996. Gorman and Thompson
used Menards dredge spoil to fill the land. They have
never made public their intentions for the property.
"We have no public comment about anything,"
Thompson said Friday.