Hot seat: Flatto defends role on Fairfield Metro project
Updated 12:36 pm, Thursday, August 18, 2011
Former First Selectman Kenneth Flatto admitted that, in hindsight, a construction manager or independent estimate evaluator probably should have been hired to monitor construction of the Fairfield Metro Railroad Station, but Wednesday defended his actions regarding the town's third train station -- running about $6 million over budget -- to a Representative Town Meeting subcommittee.
The subcommittee was recently established by the legislative body to ensure that more than 60 questions posed by town officials are answered prior to the RTM vote on additional funding to complete the project.
The cost overruns are caused by several factors, Flatto said, including the unexpected discovery of more contaminated soil on the former foundry property off lower Black Rock Turnpike.
"It's so frustrating in the last three months to have the costs unfortunately go beyond what was expected," he said. "There were no cost overruns known when I was in office."
Flatto said he asked as many questions "as anyone else in this room. I was determined to stay in budget and we were still in budget even though we were a lot closer. But those costs were factored into the last report and we were about a half a million under budget" as of the April update on the project. Flatto left the first selectman's post in May when he was appointed director of special revenue for the state.
He also said there was a dispute with Blackrock Realty, the private developer that partnered with the town and state on Fairfield Metro, over about 5,000 yards of contaminated dirt that was under property that the developer plans to build on. "We sent a letter April 15," Flatto said, telling Blackrock that town officials do not believe that soil is its responsibility to remove. The cost for that soil, however, was factored into his last report, he said.
In response to a question from committee member Patti Dyer about why a construction manager wasn't hired, or even a town building committee appointed, to oversee construction, Flatto said there was a consensus among the project team that it wasn't necessary because of oversight in place from STV, the engineering firm, and environmental consultants Redniss and Mead. He said the state Department of Transportation also told town officials this type of project is not like a standard municipal construction project and it would normally use a general contractor, which is what the town did.
Guerrera Construction has "the legal responsibility to complete the project," Flatto told the subcommittee. "In retrospect, I wish we had a building committee."
Hal Schwartz, another RTM subcommittee member, said it should have been a red flag that shortly after the project started, the town learned the $75,000 estimated for dewatering would coming in at a price of about $1 million. "Why, at that point in time, didn't we take a step back?" he said.
"We relied on our architect and engineer," Flatto said. "The vendors who created the design had five years to look at this site. If you look, most of the work has come in pretty close to the budget."
Flatto also said he stands behind his decision to remove the town Conservation Department staff from its usual role of environmental oversight for the project after subcommittee member John Jones suggested that in retrospect that wasn't such a good idea and may have helped lead to the cost overruns.
The conservation staff "was creating situations where costs were escalating," Flatto said. "I don't see how it would save money." He said the private developer estimated additional requests from the conservation staff increased his costs by about $2 million.
Flatto also said the conservation staff wanted the industrial waste on the site cleaned to residential property levels, which would have meant removing all contaminated soil, rather than allowing some of it to be capped on site. "I think I made the right decision," he said.