.

Flatto: I Knew Nothing of Metro Center Cost Overruns

Former First Selectman Says He's as Surprised as Everyone Else

Former First Selectman Ken Flatto said Tuesday that he "knew nothing" of cost overruns on the Fairfield Metro Center project, which are estimated to cost taxpayers from $2.4 million to $6.4 million, and was "shocked" when First Selectman Michael Tetreau gave him the latest numbers last weekend.

"Obviously I did not know about this cost overrun back in April. If I did, I would have talked about it. I knew the budget was much tighter," Flatto said in a phone interview. "I was shocked, totally shocked. There is no way I wouldn't have told people if I knew that it was happening. I was as surprised as anyone."

Flatto said the Metro Center project was $800,000 under budget the last time he reviewed the budget in mid-April with Mark Barnhart, director of the town's Office of Community and Economic Development, and Guerrera Construction, the general contractor. He said the savings had dropped from $2 million due to contractors discovering more contaminated soil on the site than had been anticipated.

Flatto added that up to $2 million of the projected $2.4 million to $6.4 million deficit is attributed to the possibility the town will have to cart excess contaminated soil off-site, rather than capping it with a membrane, clean soil and asphalt, and that the town shouldn't bear that cost. He said there is "no way" that he would let the town pay for carting excess soil off-site and indicated that Blackrock Realty, LLC, the private developer on the Metro Center project, should bear that burden.

"The plan all along was everything we found on site would be capped. Mike [Tetreau] put in an estimate of what would happen if we couldn't do that. Half of the [deficit] is if they had to take the fill and bring it to a landfill. In my opinion, no way I would do that. It's not required in what we had to do," Flatto said, referring to an April 2010 agreement among the town, state Department of Transportation and Blackrock Realty that got the project started again after it stalled due to Blackrock's financial problems.

Flatto said the town especially shouldn't pay to cart excess contaminated soil off-site because the only benefit to doing that would be to give Blackrock Realty more parking spaces for its private development. He said the town and state saved Blackrock Realty millions of dollars by coming to a new agreement in April 2010 after TD Banknorth, the developer's lender, had instituted foreclosure proceedings against Blackrock.

"If Blackrock has issues, that's fine. We have a pretty firm legal basis for doing it that way," Flatto said of leaving all the contaminated soil on site.

The state Department of Environmental Protection had allowed the town and Blackrock to leave contaminated soil on site if it was capped with a membrane, clean soil and asphalt. PCB-contaminated soil, though, had to be removed. The potential $2 million cost of carting excess contaminated soil off-site isn't PCB-contaminated soil, according to Tetreau's report to the RTM Monday night.

Flatto also disputed that the town gave up the right to reimbursement for its $6 million investment through revenue from parking space permits at the upcoming train station. Flatto said, however, that the April 2010 agreement made it more difficult for the town to get that reimbursement because the state wanted to be paid back more money from parking permit revenue than the original contract called for.

The state in April 2010 kicked in an extra $19.4 million to finish public portions of the project, and Blackrock Realty kicked in $5.2 million. Flatto said the April 2010 agreement allowed the state to take annual debt service payments on its $19.4 million contribution from parking revenue, but the town still had a "50/50 chance" of getting $300,000 a year, depending on how many permits are sold.

Flatto said he was "disturbed people felt like they were being kept out of the loop" regarding the Metro Center's budget deficit. "That information was not known...before I was finished," he said.

Flatto said he would be happy to attend a Board of Finance meeting on Wednesday to talk about the Metro Center project. That meeting is preliminarily scheduled for 5 p.m. in Sullivan-Independence Hall.

Flatto urged town officials who are upset about the Metro Center deficit to "cool down" and realize that the project must be finished. If town boards refuse to cover the deficit, the state could sue the town, and the town also wouldn't realize economic and tax revenue benefits from the commercial development Blackrock Realty plans to build and additional parking spaces for train commuters, Flatto said.

A funding request to cover the deficit in the Metro Center project would require approvals from the town's Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and RTM.

The Metro Center involves construction of the town's third train station, about 1,400 parking spaces for rail commuters and nearly 1 million square feet of commercial development on 35.5 acres at 21 Black Rock Turnpike. Blackrock Realty owns most of the property.

The deficit of $2.4 million to $6.4 million is in construction on public portions of the project.

Under the 2010 agreement, the town is liable for cost overruns on the project.

Maureen June 29, 2011 at 03:42 PM
Is anyone else potentially concerned with where this contaminated soil will go when it's carted away? Just going to fill another empty landfill that, down the road, will likely be developed and need to be moved again? I'm not very knowledgeable on how to handle such environmental issues, but isn't there a way to properly deal with contaminated soil instead of just contaminating another site?
Hugh Dolan June 29, 2011 at 04:26 PM
And, therin lies the essence of the problem : " I knew nothing " That, precisely, was his job. That is job number 1 of the chief executive-- the guy who promised the people he would look after their town, and their money, and their schools and their train stations. Otherwise, we'd all get together in a big gymnasium every Monday and we'd all go over the bills, go over the issues, go over the employees, the schools, the contracts-- the meeting would never end .And, -- there would be nobody to go and work for a living, because we'd all have to be doing what Mr. Flatto promised he would do. And his Board of Finance ? They all knew nothing, too ? This is the April report-- we're into July !! Where are the May and June numbers? Didn't they learn from the Madoff blunder that they need timely, accurate, auditable reports ?
Chuck E. Arla June 29, 2011 at 04:33 PM
Get him UNDER OATH. The threat of a perjury charge ought to jog his memory.
Josh Albin June 29, 2011 at 05:12 PM
Hugh lets put this in perspective. Your right he is responsible for this type of issue. But lets not let the RTM and BOF off the hook for "just finding out about this." The re-negotiated contract is not a sealed document, and they all acted like that it was hidden from them the town wouldn't be getting parking revenue back. They could have easily taken time to "read" the contract. Clearly the checks in our system turned a blind eye as well and need to be held accountable. And a quick point, the BOF was never Ken's board. I think the Republican majority on that board would resent you saying they were "Ken's Board of Finance." Just saying....
Josh Albin June 29, 2011 at 05:20 PM
John you failed to address my point. I am not going to dispute the quality of your original contract, because the fact is it had to be re-negotiated when TD Bank foreclosed on Black Rock Realty. I'd love an explanation from you if you believe your contract didn't need to be re-negotiated due to the foreclosure proceedings, but all indications is that it had to be, because there was no money left. The state had the money, and thus the power in the situation, and the concession the Town had to make to get the money was giving up parking revenue. I am not criticizing or praising your original contract (I'm sure it was well structured and thought out (I'm not being sarcastic for the record)), but to create an argument based on your original contract is just silly cause the financing issues with Black Rock created a situation where a new deal had to be negotiated where the town had lost the strong hand it had at the beginning of this process. Am I that off on this assessment, and do you think that your contract could have still been in place despite the Black Rock Realty issues? If so I'd appreciate your explanation.
Stanley Simpleton June 29, 2011 at 05:35 PM
Mr. Albin, Clearly you haven't been to many of the RTM meetings otherwise you would know that the Republican led RTM and the BOF are not to blame for Ken Flatto's mistakes. If it were not for the Republican members of the RTM demanding transparency on the issue, the train station "update reports" would never have happened (despite the fact that Ken Flatto's reports were apparently full of missinformation and falsehoods.) On a seperate note - it is evident in your comments that you are clearly trying to win favor within the ranks of the Democrat party by defending Ken Flatto's actions. Please stop embarrassing yourself by acting like a blind sheep and pawn to your party.
john metsopoulos June 29, 2011 at 05:52 PM
Josh, had Ken not grand standed and delayed the start of the project by at first cancelling the project and then when threatened with a law suit renegoiated my original contract in which he took out the protections to the town (losing over a year in constructiontime) , the project would have been completed before TD foreclosed on the propert and there would have been no need for the third renegoiation. Sorry Josh this is soley Ken's fault, and then to claim he had no knowledge only adds insult to injury.
Josh Albin June 29, 2011 at 06:21 PM
John I appreciate your insight on the issue. I understand your position on it. I'm not going to say your 100% right because as a former 1st Selectman I know you understand how normal it is for large construction projects to fall behind schedule and who knows if everything would have been finished before the forclosure issues. But you make valid point and I'm not going to dispute that your interpretation of how this could have turned out could be true; it very well could have been how it worked out. I hope you understood what I was saying, as I never said "Ken isn't to blame." To be frank, I wouldn't say that if about you if you switched places with him right now, until everything that could possibly be known about the issue was known (I can't stand people rushing to conclusions). I also hope you don't think I was implying he had no knowledge of this (I'm not sure if that was directed at me or Ken). Once again I wouldn't make such a claim without being able to factually back it up, and I think at this point there still is a lot to learn of exactly what took place. Thank you for your explanation to your past involvement and dealings on the project.
Josh Albin June 29, 2011 at 06:33 PM
Stanley please re-read what I wrote cause you missed my point. Many on the RTM and BOF (both sides of the aisle) were upset Ken in the agreeement gave up parking revenue and were acting like this was hidden information from them. Just because Ken didn't tell them doesn't mean they couldn't be proactive and find out the details of the agreement on their own. This isn't a criticism of Republican or Democrat RTM and BOF members, its a criticism of anyone of those elected officials who are acting like this is shocking news that was sealed away in a secret CIA vault. They could have found this out (parking revenue sharing) if they wanted to. Please don't put words in my mouth. That was all I said. On the second comment I made, I was just pointing out to Hugh that Republican BOF members and Ken might each disagree/resent the comment that they were "Ken's board of finance." How you interpreted that to be a Democrat Party plug is just missing the point. And finally you accuse me of trying to defend Ken. Please read one of the last senteces in my first post, I believe I said "I'm not going to go out and defend Ken at this moment." If you think thats a defense then I guess I'm not going to be winning too much favor with the Democrats...
Chuck E. Arla June 29, 2011 at 06:54 PM
Mr. Albin, It was the paid, alleged professional (and CPA, no less) who kept telling us the project, "is on time and under budget." Yes, the RTM deserves blame, too...but seriously they are unpaid volunteers. Flatto and Saxl were in charge and should be strung up for this. BTW: " "I'm not going to go out and defend Ken at this moment." Is not exactly a stirring condemnation is it? Sounds more like buying time hoping--praying?--- that some exculpatory information comes out to cover his @$$.
john metsopoulos June 29, 2011 at 06:55 PM
Josh, thank you for the comments. all comments by the way were directed at Ken.
Josh Albin June 29, 2011 at 07:18 PM
Mr. Arla, My only point about the RTM is that some members in response to the fact that parking revenue was given to the state in the re-negotiated contract is that they acted like they're was some huge secret hidden government conspiracy; when in reality if they wanted to read the contract it was available to them. Of course they are volunteers, but they volunteered to do this job, and acting like there was no way for them to know this is just a lie; because they could have gotten the contract. Thats all I'm saying (and it should be noted this is only directed at those members who have been acting like this was some huge hidden conspiracy.) To your second point, I'm sure you'd agree with me that we don't know everything yet about this issue. Its irresponsible to make harsh accusations and statements about people if we don't know everything about the situation. Thats my point. I'm not blaming or condemning cause I think we don't know everything yet. Is that fair to say? And we should all be praying that as Mr. Tetreau reported these "could" be overbudgeted items. It sounds like there is the potential for a disaster, and that should be cause for great concern; but I haven't heard a report yet from our interim 1st Selectman stating their will be a problem, all i've read from his comments is their "could" be. I think we should ALL be praying for that the "could be" phrase doesn't come to pass.
Faith June 29, 2011 at 08:12 PM
The RTM requested a study committee be appointed of the RTM members to report back to the RTM at large. We were denied. Could each individual member (50) request a copy of each and every thing that the first selectman signs, including this state contract to be sure that the reports we are receiving are accurate and honest. BE REAL! We have committee meetings a week before each RTM meeting so that we can be apprised of what is coming before us as we have full time jobs and cannot hire our own lawyers to interpret whether we are being honestly advised of each matter. Our well paid town attorney admitted at the RTM meeting that he positively explained the ramifications of this new state contract to Ken Flatto. Why did he stop there? Is his allegiance only to the first selectman or should he have recognized that the BOF and RTM should be equally advised. Additionally when Ken appointed Mark Barnhart to be in charge of the contractors at the Metro Center in addition to his responsibilities as director of Economic Development, should he have been answering only to Ken Flatto? First selectmans come and go. Our hired town staff should recognize that their primary responsibility is to the town not the first selectman. Should he have told Ken I'm not qualified to take on this immense job as project manager?
Faith June 29, 2011 at 08:12 PM
Information that was given to the first selectman should not be kept secret for even one week. Should a town employee feel that his job depends on loyalty to the first selectman rather than the town. Mark Barnhart should have felt comfortable in his job to tell Ken that this was not in his job description. To try to lay any of the blame at the elected boards is ridiculous. This project from the beginning was kept on a need to know basis. Wittek when he met with the RTM several months ago emphasized that he was NOT in bankruptcy or foreclosure. It seemed that it was his choice not to be paying the banks for some undisclosed reason. He has many successful ventures that are going on simultaneously. The one thing that I am sure of is that BRR will come out in the end paying as little as possible and as profitable as potentially possible even if it means that the taxpayers will pay his share.
Josh Albin June 29, 2011 at 08:42 PM
Faith, I wasn't necessarily blaming the boards. I never said that. All I said is its ridiculous for some board members to express shock and awe in response to hearing about the parking revenue issue. My comments solely pertained to people who made those type of comments on that issue. Nothing more.
TaxPayer June 29, 2011 at 11:35 PM
Josh, If you knew anything about how construction work is done you would know that if more contaminated soil was found and had to be removed this is considered by the contractor to be "an extra" and would have to be approved and signed off before any work has been done. The 1st Selectmans office would be the one to do this. Just think it took Mike Tetreau what 2 weeks to figure this out. Please stop running for office on the Fairfield PAtch!
Stanley Simpleton June 30, 2011 at 12:23 PM
Mr. Albin, You claimed not to defend Ken Flatto, yet you then defend Ken Flatto on this and try to deflect responsibility to the volunteer members of our elected boards. Ken Flatto's responsiblities as First Selectman included to look out for the better interests of the town that elected him, which would involve full disclosure and open communication. When giving his train station updates, Mr. Flatto failed to do this. The RTM and BOF are volunteers, many of which work full time jobs and do not have the time to actually dig through every piece of paper associated with this project, especially when Flatto was supposedly providing a "full update" on the project at the monthly meetings. Your failure to grasp the concept that Ken Flatto was a full time employee entrusted with the leadership of the town who failed to fully disclose important information when given multiple opportunities, is the cause for my argument that you are simply pandering and trying to win you party's political support through blindly posting in Flatto's defense.
Peter Pater June 30, 2011 at 02:07 PM
Now that Walsh most likely plans on running for Selectman with his pal Bellitto, he has a new-found interest in this project and putting on a dog and pony show in front of the BoF is something he believes will bolster his candidacy. He was moderator during the contract revisions that screwed the town and didn't have his nose in it one bit and kept a special RTM committee from being formed. So his antics and theatrics on Monday night and the "Jesus Christ" muttering are mere show for the electorate that he plans to continue to screw with outlandish spending sprees.
TaxPayer June 30, 2011 at 06:48 PM
Peter Pater....you really should get yourself enlightened before spewing, contract revisions have nothing to do with on site extras.... You just want to play tear down partisan politics and thats a shame.....
Edgar J July 01, 2011 at 01:44 PM
Peter Pater Pa Lease. Let's not blame Walsh, who has given countless hundreds of unpaid hours doing his best to better this town. Let's focus on the massive mismanagement of this project and those that made poor decisions without regard for the risk of exposure to the tax payers.
Joeseph Biff July 02, 2011 at 11:32 AM
So you knew nothing about cost overruns Ken? Yeah,sure...........I got a bridge to sell ya.All town projects,including school renovations should be put on hold untill we can figure out how much money we the taxpayers are going to have to cough up for this train station debacle.The spending in this town is out of control.
Fairfield Taxpayer July 02, 2011 at 12:45 PM
So we the citizens of Fairfield are left paying up to $12 million dollars for a train center that generates revenues for a private developer, the state and can be utilized by citizens of other municipalities. Hmmm….. I say the Town of Fairfield walk’s away and then see what happens. I bet Black Rock Realty or the state will figure something out!
TaxPayer July 02, 2011 at 07:23 PM
Since I already have 3 lawyers on retainer, if my taxes go up because of this overrun I will personally sue Ken Flatto for the difference! He is paying for his negligence not me!
Amy Ulness July 02, 2011 at 09:59 PM
There's only one certainty in all of this: if the town boards approve funding requests for the overages they're discussing, in a few months, they'll be back needing more. This has spiraled out of control and is beyond the cost and scope of what this town can handle. I drove by today, the station has a long, long way to go. Cut our losses and move on then this town needs to realize that the spending is out of control and stop the madness!
Amy Ulness July 03, 2011 at 05:40 PM
TaxPayer... Class Action suit?
kathryn braun July 09, 2011 at 12:24 AM
We tried to set up an RTM study committee which was narrowly voted down-this could have informed the RTM before this bad deal was signed in April 2010. Of course the original 2003 contract was not too good either but when the private developer was unable to do the work and faced foreclosure why did the Town decide to finish the job thereby infinitely raising the value of the privately owned 25 acres? The land will be cleaned up, access road and adjacent train station built almost all on the public dime. Is this what is meant by "working with your partners"?
Eleanor Bruce October 09, 2011 at 02:53 PM
We have to sale the 3 police boats that we are not using. We the taxepayers are suffering from this economic. I do not have a job. I am selling my things to pay taxes, I am behind my bills, our taxes increases every year. what is going on with all of us. we have to do something.
Eleanor Bruce October 10, 2011 at 12:06 PM
This is from the website of Fairfield Police Department *The Fairfield Police department continued to grow and in 1976 it moved to its current headquarters at 100 Reef Road. The department now employs 108 sworn officers, 100 authorized special officers, 15 telecommunicators, 4 Animal Control Officers and 7 Marina Guards. The department has 40 patrol cars, 4 motorcycles, 2 boats and 1 police helicopter*. Our town is small. DO WE NEED ALL THESE EMPLOYEES, PATROL CARS, BOATS AND THE HELICOPTER?????????????
Joeseph Biff October 10, 2011 at 06:00 PM
Eleanor, Yes we do! Fairfield is no longer a small town.Crime is on the rise all over,even in Fairfield,or haven't you noticed?.More police on duty makes us and our property safer.Just read the paper everyday and see the types of crimes occuring and how many of these criminals are being apprehended by the fine work of our police.Serious emergencies (Irene) can occur at anytime. A strong police force with all the needed vehicles and equipment will make you safer.Including a helicopter.
Eleanor Bruce October 11, 2011 at 03:53 AM
Jeeves, maybe you are one of them. This town is not Greenwich where real rich people live . Some of us pretend to be reach and do not want to complaint about all the extra money we have to pay. The economic is not good for most of us and we have to limit our expenses. We do not need a helicopter, we dont need 3 boats, we dont need hundreds of employees. We need help and nobody seems to care. we do not have "Irene" every month . Ha Ha Ha very funny!

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