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DEP near decision on Wal-Mart plan in Kilbuck

| Thursday, March 20, 2008, 12:00 p.m.

The state Department of Environmental Protection should decide April 1 whether to accept a plan by Wal-Mart to stabilize a hillside on Route 65 in Kilbuck where a landslide ended the retailer's plans to build a store, a DEP spokeswoman said.

"What the DEP is focused on is whether the plan will result in the permanent stabilization of the site," said spokeswoman Helen Humphreys.

Wal-Mart is proposing to turn most of the 75-acre parcel into a "green area" featuring a meadow and to plant the kinds of trees that grew at the site before construction crews began clearing it for development in 2006, Humphreys said. The DEP can either approve or deny the entire plan, or approve the plan in phases, she said.

The area is still unstable after the Sept. 18, 2006, landslide that sent 300,000 cubic yards of rocks and dirt onto adjoining Route 65 and several Norfolk Southern freight train tracks, Humphreys said. One northbound lane of Route 65 has yet to be reopened. Humphreys said DEP engineers have determined portions of the hillside are moving three-eights of an inch each week.

Wal-Mart submitted revised stabilization plans March 10 to the DEP, and the plan was discussed at a town hall-style meeting Tuesday night at Avonworth High School.

A Wal-Mart spokesman could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

"There is some urgency here to make sure the plan resolves the stability of the site as soon as possible," Humphreys said.

Bob Keir, co-chairman of the civic group Communities First, said he's satisfied the latest plans would go a long way to resolving the issue. Many Kilbuck residents opposed the plan for a store from the outset, and Kilbuck officials at the time waived ordinances and development requirements that let it move forward.

Keir said part of the site is saturated with water that contributes to the land's instability.

"It's still a very fluid situation. We're pleased that they're trying hard to get this right. Everybody is on the same page, and we're hoping it works," Keir said.

Acting Kilbuck Manager Harry Dilmore said township officials have reviewed the plan and like what they see so far.

"We feel Wal-Mart is making an effort," Dilmore said.

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