Are Amazon Jobs Worth 1,400 Loads of Traffic? French Region Is Split

FOURNÈS, France — On a sultry September morning, Claudie Cortellini headed into the vineyards to survey the grapes that go into her family’s heady Côtes du Rhône wines. In recent years, she has fought to ensure a good harvest as the climate grows warmer. But these days, she is facing an even bigger foe: a giant Amazon sorting center slated for construction near her land.

The project, a concrete-and-steel behemoth that would span nine acres, promises to bring hundreds of jobs to the Gard, an agricultural region in the south of France. Tourists are drawn to the countryside to see a landmark of monumental beauty: the Pont du Gard, a 2,000-year-old Roman aqueduct that rises above the valley like a dusty jewel.

For Mrs. Cortellini and worried residents, however, the jobs are not worth the pollution and explosion in traffic the Amazon warehouse would bring.

Jobs are a top priority in the Gard, which was devastated in the 1980s when the region’s coal mines closed. Though it has remade itself into a wine and tourist destination, unemployment is near 17 percent, more than double the national 7.1 percent. Last year, two factories outside Fournès shut down, leaving over 200 people without work. In nearby Nîmes and Avignon, joblessness in some neighborhoods tops 25 percent.

Needy residents of Fournès often solicit the town hall for work and occasionally seek help paying essential bills, Mr. Boudinaud said.

Patrick Genay, a beekeeper with 300 hives in the area, is among those seeking to quash the Amazon project for good. The warehouse would destroy biodiversity that his bees need and risk polluting the Gard river with hydrocarbons, he said. Vehicle emissions from the motorway are already contributing to a decline in the bee population.

“We need plants and trees,” Mr. Genay said, standing amid a row of hives as clouds of bees buzzed around him. “We know the kind of world Jeff Bezos wants,” he added, referring to Amazon’s founder and chief executive. “But when you pave over everything, it’s an environmental disaster.”

Such arguments fail to resonate with people like Ali Meftah, who lives a half-hour away in a poor suburb of Nîmes, where unemployment is rampant. He and most of his young neighbors, many of them French Arabs, typically get access only to temporary, low-paid jobs. Those include picking grapes at harvest time in vineyards around the Gard.

“Yes, the environment is important — we’re worried about climate change, too,” Mr. Meftah said, gesturing around his low-income neighborhood of towering apartment blocks. “But our biggest concern is work. Amazon would mean more than 150 jobs. That’s 150 families who could put food on the table and create a stable life.”

Five minutes from Fournès, unemployment in the village of Remoulins is near 20 percent. Many stores on the main street are boarded up for lack of business after a nearby food packaging factory closed. Hassan Bergaiga, a grocery store owner, is eager for all the traffic from an Amazon warehouse, should it ever be built.

“It would be good for my business,” he said, standing against his storefront. “My little brother needs a job, too. If he could work in a place like that, he could move forward in his life.”

Mr. Fertil and other activists acknowledge the need for jobs — just not the type that Amazon would bring. “Instead of creating 150 jobs that will disappear with automation, why not create 50 small businesses with sustainable jobs?” he asked.

“The struggle against Amazon here is symbolic of a much bigger question: What kind of a society are we going to have?” Mr. Fertil continued, standing outside his cozy stone home.

“If it is one dominated by a monopoly that uses people, threatens the environment and only cares about consumerism,” he said, “that’s a world that we don’t want.”

Antonella Francini contributed reporting.

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