Truth and facts are important
Published 1:01 am, Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Facts and documents are important to providing accurate, honest info regarding the third train station project. Since a small group is bent on maligning reputations and misinforming the public, it is important to set the record straight. In an effort to correct recent misstatements, I appreciate your patience in reading this information.
1. A column by DeeDee Brandt and Alexis Harrison wrongly asserted: "The DOT will only pay town $300,000." But Fairfield is contractually entitled to receive all $6 million back. Specifically, section 4.3(b) of the State-Town agreement states the truth, "ConnDOT's obligation is to pay $300,000 (from net parking revenues) ... for twenty (20) years until the sum the town receives reaches $6 million."
2. They claim "Flatto decided to get town embroiled with Blackrock Realty and Wittek ... forged ahead with the deal, etc, etc." But that's not true in any way. The deal was made when I was out of office. I was never involved in bringing Blackrock Realty to the table. In my first term in 1998, I convinced the state and site owner UPS to proceed with a train station site revitalization plan. But during two years I was out of office, Blackrock Realty bought the site in 2000. Then-First Selectman John Metsopolous and his town attorney, James Baldwin (current Republican Town Committee chairman) negotiated the entire deal and the contract with Blackrock Realty (BRR), spending $170,000 on lawyers fees writing tortuous agreements without approval or appropriation by town boards.
The sad irony is partisans like Brandt and Harrison know this history and Republicans on the RTM stated no objections back then. The 2001 Republican Administration deal would have obligated town taxpayers to spend $24 million without reimbursement, including requiring town to build a huge parking garage. The deal allowed BRR to build seven commercial buildings totaling 1.4 million square feet. Upon returning to office in 2002, giving public objection to what I believed a raw deal, I sought changes to Three Party Agreement. I limited town's cost down to $6 million and negotiated the guarantee town gets all this money returned. I demanded Blackrock Realty reduce the size of their commercial development plan down by 30 percent. With Sen. John McKinney's help, I persuaded ConnDOT to agree to permanently preserve Fairfield Center and Southport train stations with local parking policies instead of the state running lots and raising parking rates. All boards reviewed and approved revised agreements.
3. Brandt/Harrison's next fallacious claim: "Nowhere in the agreement is BRR's road and related work contingent on receiving state grant/loans." Absolutely untrue! Section 6.4(c) of the contract states: "The obligations of the developer Blackrock Realty to build improvements are pre-conditioned and binding only when the developer has received a State CDA Brownfield Grant." Section 5.2 further reads "the CDA grant shall be sufficient to cover the cost of the road and remediation costs ... and if the developer does not receive such grant he shall be reimbursed, etc."
4. Brandt/Harrison falsely assert that "the parking land purchase cost town $5.4 million." But the truth is town paid nothing. We secured a $4 million federal grant from Congress to purchase the 9-acre parking land from the 35-acre property. BRR was paid $3.75 million from this grant. The market appraisal valued this land at $10 million.
5. Brandt/Harrison suggest: "Since town failed to get BRR's $500,000 credit letter, we should have ended the agreement." This is nonsense. There are no penalties to any party "breaking the agreement." Terminating the agreement would simply take Blackrock Realty off the hook for things we still want from them (such as performing more site work and the required donation of roadway and bridge abutments).
6. Brandt/Harrison imply, "The site is a toxic dump." Actually the site is not classified as toxic, unlike Exide. Site casting sands are not harmful to public health. While the fill contains petroleum residues which could pollute Ash Creek if released in large quantities, DEP requires environmental capping of all fill used to ensure this cannot happen.
7. Brandt/Harrison baldly misrepresent: "Flatto catered to BRR by removing Conservation from enforcing violations." That is outright falsehood. The fact is the Conservation Commission, following my lead, reassigned the Conservation staff from project oversight due to project delays and other department workload duties and authorized renowned environmental firm, Redniss & Mead, project oversight. Redniss & Mead's reports have shown there are no site violations. The only small incident that occurred on site was when a storm water pipe cracked, which Blackrock Realty voluntarily brought to Conservation staff's attention. Staff's reaction was to order clean up work to stop, which was another reason BRR was so disturbed, along with their being denied permission to start construction activities. Redniss and Mead concluded "the small violation of a cracked pipe did not leak water onto the site and work can proceed." The pipe was repaired. Unfortunately recession soon hit causing the developer to lose financing needed to complete work.
A new train station will open within two years as the state proceeds. More than a thousand cars daily will no longer drive through town to Fairfield Center but use a closer station. Other drivers will opt for commuting. Fairfield's downtown waiting list will be nearly eliminated. Eventually a quality redevelopment at the former Bullard's site will contribute new tax dollars to town. A neighborhood open space park will be created along Ash Creek. From my perspective, the continued revitalization of the Commerce Drive and Grasmere areas and restoration of the largest brown field in town is worthwhile and historic. I am trying to do my part to lead and keep town managed as positively and productively as possible. I just wish wrongful criticism and accusations might stop, for the sake of town civility.
Kenneth A. Flatto is first selectman for the town of Fairfield.