Flatto's report: More half-truths and omissions
Why is it that our first selectman, Ken Flatto, finds it necessary to continually defend his actions in regard to the train station project? It must be that the state in which the project now finds itself is badly in need of explanation. But, Flatto's recent report to the public in the local newspapers is a woefully weak defense, riddled with half-truths and omissions, as we will demonstrate. We will also respond to the letter of Mr. Alan G, Smith -- Flatto's long-time friend and ally -- which sought to assist Flatto in his defense.
Before detailing the misleading statements in Flatto's report, it may be helpful to review a short history of this project.
Other than projected tax revenues, there were two town interests that were claimed as motivations for this project.
One was to achieve compliance with the American Disabilities Act, which required appropriate access for the disabled since neither the Fairfield Center nor Southport stations were in compliance. Other towns along the Metro-North corridor had become compliant by building relatively inexpensive tunnels under the tracks, which made access from one side of the tracks to the other not only easy for the disabled but afforded protection to all commuters from the inclement weather indigenous to the Northeast. While this third train station project, which Flatto claims to have initiated, will comply with ADA requirements, the Fairfield Center and Southport stations will continue to be "left out in the cold" both literally and figuratively. Commuters using the center station, which will always be the most heavily used, will still be forced to climb the stairs in the rain, snow and ice after a hard day's work.
The second town interest was to increase parking for town commuters. However, by law, the town cannot discriminate against non-residents in awarding parking spots in the projected station. It remains to be seen, therefore, how many town residents will actually be accommodated when and if the parking is completed.
To achieve these two interests, Flatto decided to get the town embroiled with BlackRock Realty (BRR) and its principal, Kurt Wittek, the owner of the landlocked parcel that was formerly occupied by the Bullard foundry. Wittek was pitching a grandiose development of offices, hotels, stores, etc., adjacent to a third train station for Fairfield. This development was to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and bring much tax revenue to the town.
Prior to entering into the now infamous Tri-Partite Agreement, serious questions were raised about Wittek's business background as well as his financial backing. Had those concerns been addressed we could have learned that Wittek did not have the backing to complete a project as large as one requiring hundreds of millions of dollars. As we later learned he couldn't even stay current with his payments on a $19 million mortgage which is now being foreclosed. Nevertheless, Flatto insisted on forging ahead and a Tri-Partite Agreement was entered into between BRR, The town and the state.
The state agreed to build the station and because BRR had no access to the highways, the state agreed to build a huge bridge over the tracks to provide vehicular access to service BRR's landlocked parcel. It was reported that the original contract price for this work was to be $38 million but shortly thereafter it was reported that there would be an increase of $10 million. It remains to be seen if the $48 million cost to taxpayers has increased since then.
We strongly recommend that the people of Fairfield take a ride to view this Rube Goldberg monstrosity that is being paid for with your tax dollars. We believe you will be shocked at what you see.
Now to Flatto's report to the public. In his report, Flatto has made it clear that he is the initiator and author of the train station project. As such, he, more than anyone else, should know the contents of the Tri-Partite Agreement controlling the project that he claims to have negotiated. We must assume, therefore, that the following half-truths and omissions in Flatto's report were anything but accidental.
BRR was to remove the Bullard foundry building from the land to be conveyed to the town for its parking lot. Flatto states that BRR "spent $15 million since implementing the first phase, including Bullard's factory removal" but Flatto neglects to tell us that there was no cost to BRR for this removal since the Agreement provided the town would pay BRR up to $650,000 for doing this work. Most likely, BRR has been paid the full amount. If not, Flatto will be sure to tell us if it was less. In any case we'd like to know just how much was paid.
The town was to buy the parking land from BRR for $3,750,000. The closing was not to take place until BRR had completely demolished and removed the building from the land to be purchased. However, for some reason known only to Flatto and BRR, the closing did take place before that work was completed. In addition to the cost of purchase, the town was to be responsible for the first $1 million to do the necessary remediation on the land and BRR was to share 50-50 on excess costs. Thus, assuming that all of these costs are firm, the land will have cost the town a minimum of $5,400,000 yet its appraised value today is only $3,030,500. Some negotiating coup.
Flatto says "I negotiated guaranteeing all $6 million [the cost of the parking lot] is reimbursed to town from state parking revenues." The Agreement provides no such guarantee, Flatto.. It states that the DOT is obliged to pay the town only the first $300,000 of parking revenue and if there is any excess over $300,000, the "DOT may, in its sole discretion, pay the town some or all of such additional revenue." Now that the state DOT will have to pick up the considerable cost of doing work BRR failed to do, it is unlikely the exercise of that discretion will be in the town's favor. So, Flatto, there is absolutely no guarantee the town will be reimbursed $6 million as you claimed.
Flatto said, "The developer [BRR] was only building the roadway with state grant loans never received." Again, this is not what the agreement says. It provides that the developer "shall construct the road to meet town standards..." Nowhere in the agreement is that obligation contingent on receiving the state grant loans. So, Flatto, BRR's failure to build the road was never caused by its failure to obtain state loans.
As to the $500,000 letter of credit from BRR to build the train depot which Flatto failed to obtain, Smith obviously has not read the agreement when he states there was no penalty for BRR's failure to supply the letter. Under the agreement, BRR was obliged to provide the letter of credit within nine months plus 90 days from the signing of the contract or the town and state could terminate the agreement. Since BRR failed to comply, the town could have threatened to cancel the Agreement in order to obtain the letter. If BRR responded to save the agreement, the town would now have $500,000 available for the train depot. If BRR was then unable to provide the letter, it would have been a clear sign that BRR was not financially stable enough to continue the project and the town could have immediately re-evaluated the situation instead of waiting years later to wake up.
Smith also states that, "It was not a toxic waste site." And "the soil is now only tainted by some old petroleum residues." For your information, Smith, your friend Flatto himself, recognized the extent of the toxic waste on the site. At the last RTM meeting he stated that there were hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of such waste on the site and it would cost many millions to remediate the site.
Because of Flatto's catering to BRR's demands (including the removal of the town's own Conservation Department for enforcing town regulations BRR had violated) and excusing BRR's non-performance, the project is now in a state of disarray in relation to the obligations set forth in the Agreement. Who will do what, what it will cost and where will the money come from are questions to which the public is entitled to clear and truthful answers. After all, it's our money that's being used. The whole thing has been a fiasco from the beginning and it doesn't look like it's going to change.
If Flatto is the author of this project, an appropriate title for his authorship might well be "Flatto's Fiasco." As to the decision of the Ethics Commission Smith refers to, we can only reiterate our position that the decision utterly failed to address the key substantive issues presented by the complaint. Unfortunately, there has been no avenue open to the complainants to force a review of this failure by the commission.
So please, Flatto and Smith, please stop misleading the people of Fairfield. Just tell us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
DeeDee Brandt is a former member of the Fairfield Board of Finance and Fairfield RTM; Alexis Harrison is a member of Fairfield RTM.