By: Joan Davis, AN17.com
PONCHATOULA — Site work is well under way and drainage relocation is almost complete for the proposed 150,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter being constructed on Veteran's Avenue, due south of the former Cave Tangi.
Crews with Hudson Construction of Atlanta, Ga., the general contractor on the project, are also working on the footprint of the pad for the building, which has an estimated $20 million valuation.
Mayor Bob Zabbia was out to see how work is commencing at the site Thursday morning. He estimated work is 10 to 14 days behind schedule because of rainy weather conditions since the end of March.
The project has been more than a year in the planning, and Zabbia said the new projected completion date for construction is the first week in February with an opening in April 2014.
Zabbia is happy about how the project is moving along.
"They're very thorough and safety-conscious people," he said.
Clearing of the approximately 21-acre site is complete, and Zabbia said relocation of the drainage lateral is nearing completion as well. The existing drainage went diagonally across the property and is being relocated along the property lines.
Construction crews have begun foundation preparation for the slab with the footings comings in the next couple weeks, Zabbia said.
"I visit at least once a week, and I see steady progress every day," he said.
Zabbia is particularly pleased with the conscientiousness of the construction crews in how they're handling work. They wash down every truck before it hits the highway. Also, with 80 to 100 tractor trailers entering and leaving the site during the day,
Zabbia said the company has a water truck on site to spray the soil to help keep dust down. They're being good neighbors.
"It helps keep the dust from drifting to adjoining properties," he said.
The Wal-Mart store project has stirred a lot of controversy among residents, but Zabbia said an overwhelming majority are glad to see Wal-Mart coming to Ponchatoula.
"The older citizens say they can't wait for it," he said. "They like the $4 prescriptions. So many people here are saying why shouldn't we have a Wal-Mart because of the convenience. People say they hate going to Hammond. I think we're going to draw from quite an area.
Zabbia thinks those residents in adjoining neighborhoods will be pleased with the outcome once the store is finished. The city has worked really hard with Walmart and the design team to construct berms and landscaping to shield their properties and make sure their views are as aesthetically pleasing as possible.
"Some of the berms are in place," he said.
Berms will be 3 to 6 feet tall, landscaped on both sides, and topped by wooden privacy fencing, he said. A 113-foot buffer has been left on the east border of the property.
Zabbia said the ultimate widening of Veterans Boulevard is "in the plans" and is a priority project with DOTD, but other improvements are being funded by Walmart. Among improvements are a traffic signal at the main entrance, directly across from Campbell Lane.
Other improvements include an additional turn lane headed east and a reworked intersection at LA 22 and Hwy. 51, Zabbia said. The west turning lane will be improved as well.
Walmart projects sales of $40- $75 million annually, bringing in between $800,000 and $1.5 million in sales taxes for the city, Zabbia said.
"And it's not just the aspect of sales taxes," the mayor said. "Ad valorum taxes for every district within the city of Ponchatoula, everything is affected, everything gets additional revenue."