Jul 28, 2014

Report: Gilmore, Top GOP Attorneys Involved in Toms River Walmart Approval

Permit was approved after two denials, environmentalists say

Report: Gilmore, Top GOP Attorneys Involved in Toms River Walmart Approval
A report on the Daily Beast website on Tuesday says that Walmart used highly influential Republican attorneys in its attempt to gain regulatory permission to build a second store in the township.

The proposed Walmart would be located on 21 acres of land on Route 37 West in an area where environmentalists have said is sensitive habitat and a home for the threatened northern pine snake. Walmart officials have countered that they would work with the state Department of Environmental Protection to protect the site while creating jobs in the community.

The company was denied permits to construct the store by the administrations of former Gov. Jon Corzine as well as Gov. Chris Christie, however the Daily Best reported that the store received a better shot at being built after several influential GOP-connected law firms had been retained by Walmart. Ultimately, the DEP approved a permit for the store to be constructed in 2012, though that decision is now being opposed in court.

The report says in that after Christie took office in 2010, Ocean County GOP chairman, attorney George Gilmore, was hired as general counsel by the lobbying firm 1868 Public Affairs, which has represented Walmart.

The firm was hired to "enhance image of the world’s largest retailer with NJ Legislature and key Administration decision-makers. Stop anti-big box and healthcare legislation targeted specifically at Walmart," its website says.

Further, the Daily Beast report says a top Christie-connected law firm, Wolff & Samson, was also hired by Walmart in 2010, though the company denies it has had any dealings with the Toms River site, specifically. The firm was quickly dropped by the company, the report said, though Walmart retained its lobbying arm in 2011.

“This thing was dead. Next thing you know, Wolff & Samson get involved and it gets approved,” Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club told the Daily Beast.

As for the current status of the project, litigation is continuing in the state's Appellate Court, largely focusing on the pine snake issue.

UPDATE - A Walmart spokeswoman contacted Patch and offered the following statement:

"The story in ‘The Daily Beast’ is inaccurate and misleading. The approval process for a new store in Toms River has been a very public process over the past nine years with many opportunities for citizen input. We believe the store has strong community support and will meet customer requests for access to more affordable grocery shopping options close to where they live and work.” said Amanda Henneberg, Walmart spokesperson

Don’t miss updates from Patch!