Court rejects Concerned Citizens' latest request on Fairfield Metro Center
Bridgeport Superior Court Judge Richard E. Arnold denied the Concerned Citizens' request to terminate the automatic stay of execution on his July decision that the hiring of Weddle to replace Conservation Commissioner Thomas Steinke as compliance officer was illegal because it violated the provisions of the town's charter.
George Bisacca, the attorney for the plaintiffs, known as the Concerned Citizens, said, "We believe there is a solid basis for appeal of the judge's decision and will be proceeding with an appeal," on the decision to continue the stay of execution.
"Attorneys for the town felt very convinced that this latest action was not going to be successful," said Fairfield First Selectman Kenneth Flatto in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. "This reduces the confusion."
Flatto said that he and Town Attorney Dick Saxl believe the "law is on the town's side," and that they have a "strong appeal," to the original decision. He said the town's attorneys have found many faults with the first ruling.
As for the latest decision, Saxl said he does not know of any case successfully appealed at the State Appellate Court or Supreme Court, involving a request to terminate a stay of execution that was denied since 1960.
"From my point of view, this is their last gasp," Flatto said. "The issue is done and over with."
Saxl would not go as far as to say the town's appeal will be successful, choosing not to comment about an open litigation, but did state, "If we didn't think we had very strong grounds, we wouldn't have gone forward with the appeal to begin with."
"The Concerned Citizens want the town protected from environmental harm and that means the court's ruling this spring should not be delayed for the duration of Mr. Weddle's appeal," said Alexis Harrison, one of the seven residents who filed the lawsuit. "That is why we asked the judge to terminate the automatic stay. There is no reason why the conservation director is not back on this project, especially now that Blackrock Realty is off and that was the reason given three years ago for the removal. The first selectman should restore the normal workings of the Conservation Department as it has existed for over 30 years to do what it does on every other wetlands permit in town."
Along with Harrison, the six other Concerned Citizens are: Edward Bateson, Jeanne Konecny, Pamela Ritter, Les Schaffer, Joycelyn Shaw and Jane Talamini. Former Conservation Commission Chairman Philip Meiman, who died in May, was also part of the original lawsuit.
Flatto said he no longer plans to pull his punches, calling the lawsuits "ridiculous," and "a total waste of time."
"I used to call on them to realize that, but now I'm saying it even more emphatically." Flatto said. "I don't even care anymore about what they are doing or what they are saying. Because it is so out of step with this community and so out of touch with the residents of this community that want to see this train station finished and want to see this site revitalized and cleaned up, which is a great thing for the community."
The Fairfield Metro Center is a multi-faceted development that is being funded by the town, as well as the state and a private developer, Blackrock Realty LLC. It includes construction of a third rail station for the town, as well as parking and a commercial development, off of lower Blackrock Turnpike.
Flatto said the public portions of the project should be completed by next Fall. He also said the state Department of Transportation plans to begin running trains through the station as soon as the parking lot is complete, which should be by late Fall 2011.
He said by next summer the open space park portion of the project will be completed, providing the public with, "accessible trails, wetlands, open space, walkways along Ash Creek. It may not be open and usuable until next Fall, when the project is finished."
Weddle is a Fairfield University professor who, along with Stamford-based engineering firm Redniss and Mead, replaced Steinke as compliance officer after the town feared litigation from the private developers, who claimed Steinke was hampering progress of the project.
It is likely all work will be completed in the public portions of the project by the time the appeal by the town is completed, but Flatto said it will have an effect on the way the Conservation Commission handles situations in the future regarding who they hire to oversee a project. The private work will likely take a few more years, but the environmental concerns will likely be cleared up by then, according to Flatto.
Arnold's decision was made on July 14 and was followed by a string of motions by both sides. The Concerned Citizens filed a motion on July 16 to terminate the automatic stay of execution of the ruling. On that same day, Weddle appealed. Then, the Conservation Commission made a motion to intervene (which Arnold granted) on Aug. 5.
The motion to terminate the stay of execution was denied by Arnold on Tuesday. The Concerned Citizens group argued that Weddle had to be removed immediately because of environmental concerns not being addressed at the construction site.
But Arnold's ruling states otherwise. "The court further finds that the public interest is being protected, as it relates to potential environmental concerns that have been voiced by the plaintiffs," Arnold wrote in his 10-page ruling. "The site for the project ... is currently overseen by several town and state agencies and other environment professionals who review the ongoing development of the subject site."
"There has been no evidence of environmental harm, to date," Arnold wrote.
Flatto said that he agrees the site is currently being monitored properly by Weddle and the consultants the Conservation Commission has hired. Flatto said he was "pleased" that the judge concluded that as well.
However, the Concerned Citizens and others involved with the case believe that full information on the enivornmental conditions at the site are not being released.
Kathryn Braun, a member of the Representative Town Meeting and a supporter of the Concerned Citizens' effort, said that because Steinke and the Conservation Department are not involved in the process, the information has not been made available. Braun said the files are stored in the zoning department and not in the conservation office, making it difficult for the public to access them.
Flatto said he is aware of Braun's complaint, but said the Freedom of Information Act complaint on the location of the files was denied, settling the matter. Flatto said the judge was able to hear testimony and rule appropriately.
Braun said there is not "one person privy to any information," because of the way reports are being handled. But Flatto disagreed with that claim, stating that there is a layer of oversight at the construction zone, by Redniss and Mead, Weddle and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The town has made efforts to speed up the appeal on the first ruling, based on an expectation that the initial ruling will be overturned, and had hoped to move directly to Supreme Court, surpassing the Appellate Court portion, Flatto said. But the Concerned Citizens filed a motion to prevent that.
Flatto said it appears that the group "just wants to fight for fighting's sake." Meanwhile, he said, the extended appeal is "wasting thousands of taxpayer dollars."
Arnold, in his ruling, said that the appeal process should be completed prior to the end of the project. "Due to the size of this project, it is anticipated that it will take several years to complete," he wrote. "It is in the best interest of the citizens of Fairfield that a meaningful appellate review of this court's decision proceed without the court's terminating the automatic stay of execution."
Flatto said he is looking forward to the conclusion of all litigation. He said that when the town sees the end result, "They are going to say, `Why was this small group wasting everyone's time and energy for so long?'"