Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Deal possible on Bridgeport's $400,000 "driveway": Sikorsky Memorial Airport (KBDR), Connecticut

BRIDGEPORT -- Pressure is mounting on Mayor Bill Finch to salvage the $400,000 taxpayer-funded driveway his administration bought for millionaire developer Manuel "Manny" Moutinho.

The town of Stratford, which issued the permits for the work, wants to know if Bridgeport will fight a July 2 court ruling that the driveway for Moutinho and three neighboring property owners should have never been approved.

In letters this week the heads of Stratford's conservation and zoning offices warned Finch that unless the court's decision is appealed, Bridgeport must dig up sections of the driveway built through wetlands and restore the habitat.

Stratford gave Finch 15 days to respond.

"We're saying, `Don't forget about us'," said Stratford Town Attorney Timothy Bishop.

Meanwhile Bishop is also preparing for the possibility Moutinho and/or Bridgeport will reach a settlement with Breakwater Key, the condominium association that successfully fought the driveway in court.

"I heard they were going to be talking," Bishop said Wednesday. "It would be possible for the parties to come to an agreement that the court embraces that would allow the driveway to stay with some modifications."

Bishop said wants Stratford to be kept informed in case any deals impact the environment and the public.

Asked to comment, Finch spokesman Elaine Ficarra gave the same non-answer the administration has provided since Superior Court Judge Dale Radcliffe declared Moutinho's driveway illegal: "When the city has information that it determines to make public regarding its legal strategy or filings it will issue appropriate press statements."

Richard Saxl, who represents Breakwater Key, declined comment.

Moutinho last summer obtained permits to install a new, $200,000 driveway from Sniffen Lane, over Bridgeport-owned Sikorsky Memorial Airport property, to the gate of his waterfront mansion on Stratford's shoreline.

But at some point the Finch administration decided it needed to build the driveway to expedite $42 million in runway safety improvements at nearby Sikorsky Memorial Airport.

The mayor's office has said the $400,000 for the driveway was part of $3 million the Bridgeport City Council borrowed last September for the city's portion of the mostly federally funded Sikorsky work.

In March, the city took over Moutinho's permits and then in April circumvented competitive bidding procedures and hired the developer's Mark IV Construction company to install the driveway.

But the council has claimed it knew nothing of the driveway until June, when Hearst Connecticut Newspapers reported its completion.

The administration has continually defended its reasons for building the driveway and hiring Moutinho. But Finch suspended Sikorsky Manager John Ricci -- who, with Finch's legal office, helped arrange the deal -- without pay pending an internal probe into a possible conflict of interest.

Ricci, as Hearst reported, has had a long friendship and prior real estate dealings with Moutinho.

Bridgeport was not named in a Breakwater Key lawsuit against Moutinho, so only Moutinho can file an appeal.

Moutinho has three weeks to appeal Radcliffe's ruling. An appeal would buy Bridgeport time to file for new permits in Stratford to preserve the driveway.


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