Finance board plans audit of Metro RR project as Flatto defends role
It probably wasn't where he planned to spend his birthday, but former First Selectman Kenneth Flatto found himself on the hot seat, of sorts, at a special Board of Finance meeting Wednesday on the recently revealed cost overruns in constructing the town's third train station.
Interim First Selectman Michael Tetreau announced Monday that the Fairfield Metro Railroad Station is running from $2 million to $6 million over budget.
Finance board members on Wednesday assembled a list of information that they and other town boards need before voting on any new funding to complete the train station and to approve up to $20,000 for an audit of the project from its inception by Kostin, Ruffkess & Co., Fairfield's independent auditors.
Flatto, who left as first selectman in May to take a state job, defended his renegotiation of the tripartite agreement between the town, the state and Blackrock Realty, a private developer, that put the onus for cost overruns on the town, in exchange for the state's infusion of $19.4 million to jumpstart the project which had stalled because of Blackrock Realty's financial woes.
He said he couldn't keep other elected officials apprised of the substance of those negotiations, because then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell required "a cone of silence."
"The big picture was we were at a point where the project was going to be dead forever," Flatto said, adding that he had outlined the risks the town would face at every meeting on the project. "It was a no-brainer."
Selectman Sherri Steeneck, who filled in as acting first selectman for about a month after Flatto left, disputed Flatto's statement that he was not aware of the magnitude of the problem with excess contaminated soil, which has been the major factor in driving up the costs.
She said speaking with Economic Development Director Mark Barnhart, who effectively served as the town's project manager on the station's construction, it was clear that "you had a plan for where that dirt was going to go ... but it wasn't where it was supposed to go."
Flatto said he had considered depositing the excess soil along a buffer between the shoreline and Blackrock's share of the Fairfield Metro property, as well as a small amount directly on Blackrock's property. He said the "significant quantities" of contaminated soil that have since come to light were not known then.
He also said the firm STV, hired to inspect the property, monitor testing and track construction progress, was also doing the work of a project manager. "They have been on the site every day," he said, and hold weekly meetings with officials.
Board of Finance Chairman Thomas Flynn said in addition to weekly meetings, STV should also be filing written reports.
The audit of the Metro Center project, which should be done by the end of July, will include a list of vendors and what they were paid, as well as examine what controls were in place during construction and any weaknesses with those controls. The audit will also make and recommendations to improve the process.
Selectman James Walsh was particularly interested in the bills that have been paid so far. He said he has heard rumors, though unsubstantiated, that funds designated for the train station were used for other projects.
Flatto vigorously disputed that. "I respect Selectman Walsh, but for him to make such a silly and outrageous statement is mindblowing and not true," he said. "It's totally ridiculous and I wish people would stop trying to make things up."
Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller said there was a payment of just under $40,000 made to the city of Bridgeport for work done to its nearby Brewster Street bridge, but that was part of the Metro project.
And George Bisacca, a lawyer who represented the group called Concerned Citizens in their court battle over environmental oversight on the project, said he will write up a summary on his understandings of the contract, including who has the responsibility to remove the contaminated soil.