Monday, August 28, 2006

Mr. Corker Goes To Court

Bob Corker's character problems continue to mount with each passing day. However, they just got a lot worse as Corker himself will have to testify in court on October 19th, 2006 to answer questions regarding to his okaying the construction of a Wal Mart on an environmental wetland in Chattanooga as Mayor.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports:

Bob Corker’s attorneys may be able to seal some of the records in an environmental group’s lawsuit that claims one of his companies wrongly trampled a conservation easement given to the city along South Chickamauga Creek’s wetlands to facilitate the sale of a Brainerd Village site for a Wal-Mart supercenter. But the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate cannot escape the attention the case is drawing in Memphis, home of his Democratic opponent for the Senate, Harold Ford Jr. The lawsuit now seems destined to become a staple of their heated Senate campaign, and justly so.

Mr. Corker was Chattanooga’s mayor at the time one of his companies sold the land to Wal-Mart in 2003 for $4.66 million. The sale was executed weeks after a city official gave permission for Wal-Mart’s development contractor to cross a 7.8 acre wetlands tract between Brainerd Village and the creek to reach the proposed Wal-Mart site.

The wooded wetland preserve had been designated in 1996 by a former owner, East Ridge Development Co., as a conservation area to be "retained forever in its scenic, recreational and open space condition." The conservation easement had been accepted by the City Council as a recreation area and was popular with Chattanoogans, who used it for recreation, bird-watching, and for access to an adjoining conservation tract that provides a greenway from the Brainerd levee to Camp Jordan in East Ridge.

Mr. Corker’s public works administrator, Bill McDonald, acting without City Council approval, gave Wal-Mart’s developers approval to build a construction road across the conservation site in June 2003.

The next month Mr. Corker’s Osborne Building Corp. closed the sale of the Wal-Mart site. The construction road access ultimately became Greenway View Drive into the Wal-Mart, which had rejected use of an uncontested approach from Brainerd Village that would have saved the conservation site.

The Tennessee Environmental Council and the Coalition for Responsible Progress tried to stop the Corker company’s use of the conservation site by filing a lawsuit in mid-2003 in Chancery Court here, but Judge Howell Peoples dismissed the suit. By the time his decision was overturned by the Court of Appeals in February 2004, and that court’s decision upheld by the state Supreme Court in October 2004, the Wal-Mart had been built, and with it, Greenway Drive.

The environmental groups now rightfully seek remedies to the cut-and-fill dumping that has blocked their access to what’s left of the site, and other damages.

Mr. Corker’s campaign spin artists are claiming now that the lawsuit is politically motivated and that nothing wrong happened. But in fact, the progression of the lawsuit through the courts suggests that the suit for damages and remedial action arrived in court through due process and not for political gain. Mr. Corker, moreover, should at last have to say how and why a city employee allowed an easement, without approval of the City Council, that greatly benefited him financially, while practically ruining a treasured conservation site.

That’s a legitimate issue for the lawsuit to explore and for Mr. Corker’s political opponents to monitor for political points on Mr. Corker’s business vs. environment record. Certainly Mr. Corker would be doing the same if the situation were reversed and Mr. Ford was on the spot.

Mr. Corker’s attempts to seal the court records during this campaign season will only add to speculation that some records would be embarrassing to him and damage his campaign for the Senate. The trial, and his subpoena to testify on Oct. 18, are fair game for Mr. Ford’s supporters. The city of Chattanooga, after all, lost a conservation that many enjoyed, while Mr. Corker profited handsomely.