Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Eight Days of Truth - Day Six

Today, we go to any of the dozens of Wal-Mart Supercenters currently under construction in the United States. PARD has appealed Wal-Mart’s SEPA and site plan approvals partially based on the “massive stormwater runoff” they claim Wal-Mart’s parking lot will cause, leading to “pollution of sensitive wetlands.”

The truth is that Wal-Mart has learned from prior mistakes and its stormwater retention plan exceeds Pullman city requirements and incorporates the draft stormwater plan for Eastern Washington.

According the to the International Erosion Control Association’s Erosion Control magazine, July/August 2005 issue, Wal-Mart is setting the industry standard now for stormwater compliance:
Last year when the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, agreed to pay the United States, Tennessee, and Utah $3.1 million—the largest civil penalty ever for violating EPA stormwater regulations—eyebrows shot up and heads turned throughout the country’s construction industry. That’s just the kind of reaction EPA officials wanted, reports Shirley Morrow, CPESC, manager of stormwater compliance for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The EPA wanted this one consent decree to achieve three objectives, she notes: assert compliance on one of the nation’s largest developers, affect as many contractors as possible, and use this decree as a model for other developers and contractors out of compliance with the regulations. “EPA has done that,” says Morrow, an IECA member and former director. “So, if you are a developer or contractor who may be under the EPA’s microscope or you want to be proactive to stay out of trouble, take a good look at the Wal-Mart program. You may want to adapt it to your use before the courts tell you that you will be adapting it soon.”

Wal-Mart is raising the bar on construction site compliance practices around the country, Morrow explains. “The impact of Wal-Mart’s actions will trickle down to influence all stormwater regulatory agencies and contractors in the US over the next five years,” she says.

No Room for Mistakes
As part of the consent decree, Wal-Mart has developed a comprehensive and preventative approach to complying with stormwater regulations. “It is a very aggressive, stringent program with zero tolerance for violations, and it’s strictly enforced,” Morrow says. Wal-Mart began implementing this stormwater management program on July 1, 2004.

The program’s features include the following:

• Qualified individuals
Wal-Mart construction managers and general contractors must receive EPA certified training, provided by Wal-Mart, which includes an annual seminar about stormwater controls. In addition to the consent decree requirements, Wal-Mart requires the design managers, construction and design directors, and legal staff to go through the Storm Water Professional training.

Construction-site employees must complete a certification program to ensure they know how to prevent excessive stormwater discharges. This program requires a 75% passing grade on a closed-book exam to earn a Storm Water Professional certificate, which is valid for one year. From July through December 2004, 1,460 general contractors, project managers, and project superintendents —95% of those taking the exam—were certified as Storm Water Professionals.

• Oversight of construction contactors
Among the requirements for general contractors: Provide each contractor responsible for ground-disturbing activities with the latest information on stormwater compliance that is appropriate for conditions at a given site; designate a project manager and two project superintendents for each construction site; conduct a pre-construction stormwater meeting with the design civil engineering consultant in attendance and all ground-disturbing contractors; and hold weekly meetings with all ground-disturbing contractors to discuss stormwater issues.

• Regular and frequent inspections
Project superintendents must conduct daily inspections, provide weekly summary reports, perform bi-weekly inspection with the project manager, and complete a monthly inspection with Wal-Mart’s construction manager.

All BMP repairs or modifications must be completed within 48 hours.

• Financial incentives
Wal-Mart’s contract with a general contractor includes a special provision allowing the retailer to assess liquidated damages against the general contractor for certain actions that place the company out of compliance.

These liquidated damages range from $1,000 for failure to accurately report on conditions of BMPs onsite or failure to submit a daily inspection report, for example, to $5,000 for falsely certifying that the required stormwater pre-construction meeting was held or a misleading letter of certification.

These liquidated damages are assessed per day per violation and are donated to the Children’s Miracle Network, a charity. From February 2004 through January 2005, a total of $114,000 was collected.

Enforcing the Rules
“We instruct the contractors’ employees and the public to call us when they see instances of noncompliance so that we can take whatever action is necessary to restore the site to compliance immediately,” says Morrow. “Also, we instruct contractors to report any noncompliance after rain events to state and local agencies.”

Since the stormwater program began last year, Wal-Mart’s zero-tolerance policy for noncompliance has been enforced a number of times, she reports. Wal-Mart construction managers have shut down work at construction sites, at the contractor’s expense, until noncompliance violations have been corrected. “This has happened many times, usually because vehicles have tracked sediment offsite,” Morrow says.

Superintendents have also been replaced before beginning a project because of a poor attitude when attending Wal-Mart’s stormwater training classes. Superintendents and general contractors have also been replaced on job sites, she reports.

Industry Impact
Already, Wal-Mart’s stormwater compliance program is beginning to affect erosion and sediment control practices around the country. In addition to the 1,460 project managers who were certified as Storm Water Professionals last year, those who continue working on Wal-Mart projects will return annually for more training and certification. Also, Morrow estimates that another 100 to 200 employees of contractors will be certified each year.

Last year, Wal-Mart trained about 300 civil engineering consultants and Wal-Mart design managers in site inspections. Their influence throughout the industry and numbers are likely to increase in the future, as well.

Wal-Mart’s stormwater compliance program also has implications for IECA. “When companies ask me how they can provide erosion control education for their employees in their own offices, I refer them to IECA,” Morrow says. “As a result, the organization conducted in-house training for two of Wal-Mart’s consultants or contractors last year.” This elaborate system washes the undercarriage of trucks leaving Wal-Mart construction sites to reduce the amount of sediment tracked offsite.

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