Monday, January 20, 2014

Sikorsky Memorial Airport (KBDR), Bridgeport, Connecticut

BRIDGEPORT -- She was never told the city built a $400,000 driveway at Sikorsky Memorial Airport, so now a key councilwoman wants to put the brakes on Tuesday's scheduled vote to settle a lawsuit over the project.

"The airport decision in the past has created mistrust among our constituents," Councilwoman Michelle Lyons, D-134, wrote in an email Sunday to her council colleagues. "We need to be aware of all the facts and be responsible representatives for our districts and city."

Lyons is the senior chairwoman of the council's public safety and transportation committee, which two weeks ago received a behind-closed-doors briefing from the city's lawyers on a deal allowing the city to keep the driveway at Sikorsky.

The full 20-person council is scheduled to vote on the matter Tuesday. Lyons doesn't think they're ready.

A court judge last summer ruled the project -- installed in the spring by developer Manuel "Manny" Moutinho without the council's knowledge to his waterfront mansion -- should never have been permitted by Stratford.

Sikorsky is owned by Bridgeport but located in Stratford.

That lawsuit had been filed by Breakwater Key, a condominium complex adjacent to the driveway whose residents were furious it was built through wetlands.

Mayor Bill Finch's administration has argued the driveway -- which they call an "access road" -- replaces an older one used by Moutinho and three neighbors that will be eliminated for a $40 million, mostly federally funded runway safety project.

City officials have said if the runway work is not completed by 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration will shutter Sikorsky.

The settlement details have not been made public, but sources have said the roughly $60,000 deal with Breakwater includes a plan to install fencing and plantings to shield the condos from the driveway.

In her email, Lyons gave several reasons why the council's vote Tuesday should be tabled.

She cited a one-page, alternative summary of the expenses, anonymously compiled and circulated in recent weeks, that claims the driveway installation cost taxpayers $481,900 and the subsequent legal expenses and settlement total $117,000.

"There was discussion on a settlement but no paperwork was given to us on the detailed, specific costs," Lyons said.

Meanwhile Lyons said she has also not received a cost-benefit analysis of the city's continuing to own Sikorsky that she requested at the public safety committee meeting.

Lyons also wants more information about the overarching deal between Bridgeport and Stratford that allowed the runway safety work to move forward, including a provision transferring about 40 acres of airport property in the Long Beach vicinity to Stratford.

And, Lyons said in her email, the city has not set aside time for her council colleagues to visit the city attorneys office to review the proposed settlement.

"Public Safety Committee members could not take the document given to us ... home to review because it is under litigation," Lyons said. "I was told that the council would be notified that they could set up times to review this document ... before the next council meeting."

Council President Thomas McCarthy, D-133, said he will recommend sticking to Tuesday's plan. He wants council members to receiving a private briefing on the settlement, have a public discussion, then vote on whether to proceed or delay the deal.

"At the end of that if the council is not satisfied, of course we have the ability to table it and send it back to committee," McCarthy said.

He added the council meeting may be canceled due to an expected snowstorm, anyway.

Freshman Councilman Rick Torres, R-130, the lone Republican member, was elected in November in part after his constituents in highly taxed Black Rock were angered over the driveway deal.

He said Lyons' email gave him a "warm, fuzzy feeling."

"The key is to get everyone the information," Torres said. "No one is saying we're not going to ultimately vote for this. But don't embarrass us by not giving us the information we need to make the right vote."

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