Walmart drops $100,000 to fix Jamaica Bay marsh

Walmart drops $100,000 to fix Jamaica Bay marsh
File photo by Steve Solomonson

Walmart is buying the love of environmentalists — and drawing the ire of its opponents — thanks to a $100,000 donation it’s making to the city’s Marine Park Salt Marsh restoration project, which will be used to help spruce-up land near the site it is believed to be eyeing as a home for it’s first store in Brooklyn.

The Aug. 4 donation angered Walmart opponents who believe that the chain is buying its way into Brooklyn: the $100,000 check was cut just a few weeks after the company donated $4 million to a city program that will help more than 1,000 Brooklyn teens get summer jobs, and became a sponsor of Borough President Markowitz’s popular Crown Heights summer concert series.

Yet Jennifer May-Brust, Walmart’s vice president of realty, said the donation was in line with the company’s current charitable works.

“Walmart is serving more and more urban customers, and this is a natural extension of what we’ve been doing in rural and suburban communities for years,” she said.

The money will help the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers create 67 additional acres of marshland habitat around Jamaica Bay, which stretches from Marine Park to Queens.

The city’s Department of Environmental Protection welcomed the financial boost.

“Over the last century, we have seen the Jamaica Bay Salt Marsh Islands reduced from 16,000 acres to less than 1,000,” Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Cas Holloway said in a statement. “We are thrilled that Walmart has joined in this effort to reclaim one of New York City’s hidden gems.”

Walmart is believed to be eyeing the Gateway II shopping plaza, which abuts the wetlands, as a home for one of its big-box stores. A Walmart the size of three football fields could also fit at the proposed Four Sparrows Retail Center, expected to be built at the southern tip of Flatbush Avenue between Kings Plaza and the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge, which is also near the protected area.

Officially, Walmart won’t say where it’s looking, but the chain has spent the last few months trying to win over residents in East New York, the nearest neighborhood to the Gateway II site.

Last month, Walmart held a private meeting with neighborhood stakeholders about the possibility of bringing in a Walmart. The meeting was forced to move to a different location when a group of protestors showed up and picketed the meeting.

Councilman Charles Barron (D–Canarsie), a longtime opponent of Walmart who often criticizes the company’s employment practices, said the fact that Walmart has been donating heavily to the city proves that it’s trying to overcome an image problem.

“Walmart is a retail predator,” said Barron. “And we’re not going to be bribed by this corporation’s chump change.”

Yet Walmart says the donations have nothing to do with its image.

Spokesman Steven Restivo said Walmart has been donating goods and funds to the city for years — long before it thought about putting a store here.

“We’ve given more than $13 million to New York since 2008 because many of our customers and suppliers live and work here,” said Restivo. “Our critics are now just paying attention to this.”

Councilman Lew Fidler (D–Marine Park), who is against big-box stores coming into the borough, said the donation was appreciated — but it wouldn’t change his mind about Walmart.

“It’s nice that they’re showing a desire to help the community, but if they’re expecting something in return, they will be disappointed,” he said.