Wednesday, February 10, 2010

From 2002 and 2003: Kleen Energy

Every week or so I look in the archives of various newspapers for an article about Middletown that might illustrate something about daily life in former times, or provide a contemporary account of an event with historical significance. While researching the archives for this Sunday's "This Date in History" Middletown Eye feature, I came across about a dozen articles that seemed of interest in light of the accident at Kleen Energy. I have chosen three to reproduce, all were written by Josh Kovner, who is this week providing excellent coverage of the accident.

The first article is the earliest reporting I can find about the Kleen Energy proposal. The second covers the Common Council approval of the tax abatement given to Kleen Energy in early 2003, and the third article is about the early days of the ultimately successful reelection campaign of Mayor Domenique Thornton later that same year.
1. This article was published in the Hartford Courant, on January 15th, 2002. It was written by Josh Kovner.

Concern Eases Over Threat to Maromas

Environmentalists were nervous when trash hauler Phil Armetta last year proposed a $200 million energy plant for the Maromas section -- a treasured tract of mostly undeveloped forest and quarries that slopes to the Connecticut River.

They were enraged when five-term Democratic State Rep. Joseph Serra in June obtained a waiver of a more in-depth environmental study of a separate Maromas project -- the construction of a sewer line under River Road. The line would extend to the Pratt & Whitney manufacturing plant, but could also open up a wider portion of Maromas to development.

Much of the concern revolved around the two key figures. People wondered about Armetta's background. The founder of Dainty Rubbish Service Inc., one of central Connecticut's largest trash haulers, had been assessed penalties totaling nearly $355,000 by the state in 1995 for violations at his Newfield Street landfill. And when Serra last summer was able to tack the waiver on to the bottom of an unrelated House bill, some environmentalists thought an unsavory alliance was taking shape between Armetta and Serra, particularly because the sewer line would benefit Armetta's energy plant.

Records of Serra's successful 2000 state House campaign show he received $2,150 in contributions -- or 6 percent of the $33,748 total raised -- from construction professionals and companies who were, or would be, associated with Armetta's power-plant project.

For example, Armetta, his point man on the energy project, William Corvo, his future partner, O&G Industries Inc., and his future architect and engineer on the proposed project all contributed, as did the consulting engineering firm on the sewer project.

"For a $250 contribution, I'd go for a waiver that I wouldn't have sought otherwise? C'mon," said Serra, who dismissed any notion that he was influenced by the contributions. He noted that the waiver had the support of Middletown Mayor Domenique Thornton and local business leaders, and that House leaders could have blocked the measure, had they seen fit.

Serra said the line is important to Pratt & Whitney, which can scrap its aging water treatment plant if it can tie into the sewer. Without the waiver, said Serra, the project could have been delayed for months.

Armetta and Corvo, a former Republican councilman in Middletown and part of Armetta's Kleen Energy, which was formed in the summer, said their contributions were simply meant to show support for an effective politician. They said they wanted nothing, and received nothing, in return.

Corvo, a power-plant consultant, is a longtime friend and political supporter of Serra's, and several of the other Armetta associates who made donations are perennial contributors who supported other candidates as well.

Some of the edginess over Armetta and Serra's involvement remains, but the environmentalists' primary fear -- that a green light had been given for unrestrained development of Maromas -- has eased considerably. The state on Dec. 21 granted preliminary approval to the $8.8 million, state-funded sewer line, in large part because the city has placed limits on the size of the area to be served by it. The area includes space for recreation, possibly a golf course.

State officials overseeing the sewer construction proposal said they're confident that the project meets environmental standards. They cited two reasons: Before the Serra-led waiver, some of the environmental concerns about the sewer line's impact had been addressed by the state, and the city still had to clear all the regulatory hurdles before getting preliminary approval for the sewer line.

All state-funded projects are required by law to undergo an environmental review, unless the process is waived or shortened by the legislature. Such waivers are becoming increasingly common, and lawmakers and environmentalists agree that the process should be streamlined.

Armetta's proposal for a gas-fired electric plant, set for a public hearing Wednesday night before the Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission, comes at a time when state regulators -- who ultimately must approve the proposal -- are encouraging the construction of the more efficient gas-fired plants to gradually replace dirtier, oil-burning plants.

One of those plants, a member of the state's so-called sooty six list of older facilities, is off River Road on the banks of the Connecticut River, not far from the proposed site of Armetta's plant.

Environmentalist David Titus, who was initially troubled by the two development proposals, said he now believes both are sound.

Titus, a Wesleyan University professor and president of the Mattabeseck Audubon Society, said he was particularly heartened by Armetta's decision to build the plant on the most degraded portion of Armetta's 185-acre slice of Maromas. It's the former site of a feldspar mining operation that left the land deeply gouged and littered with piles of shredded rock.

For his part, Armetta says he is dogged by certain perceptions.

"Because I'm in the garbage business, people think that whatever I'm doing is going to be dirty or dangerous. But the opposite is true," said Armetta. When he was penalized $103,000 and directed to spend another $252,000 on an environmental project to settle the 1995 violations, the size of the assessment branded him as one of the state's largest polluters of that year -- a tag he adamantly rejects. Records show no significant violations before or since the 1995 case.

Armetta also acknowledges "lucking out" at the prospect of tying into the proposed sewer line, but said he had nothing to do with Serra's pursuit of a waiver and was unaware when he bought the Maromas property in 1999 that a sewer line would be built.

2. This article was published on April 9, 2003, it was written by Josh Kovner.
Armetta Defends Tax Deal; The Agreement is Designed to Allow Armetta's Partnership to Line up Investors, Secure Financing and Ultimately Sell Electricity More Cheaply

Phil Armetta, who wants to build a $220 million power plant in the Maromas section, defended a tax deal approved Tuesday by the common council, saying the gradually increasing payments help him now and the city later.

"We're the only dance hall that's open," Armetta, owner of Dainty Rubbish Inc., said of the scorched, post-Enron landscape that has eliminated most of the rest of the power-plant proposals in New England. "And we need this agreement to be able to dance."

He meant that the 25-year deal, which will start with Kleen Energy LLC paying the city $922,000 annually in the first several years and culminate with yearly payments around $2.5 million, is designed to allow the Armetta-led partnership to line up investors, secure financing and sell electricity more cheaply.

That, he said, would help Kleen Energy hold up its end of the deal. Construction on the power plant, planned for the site of an old feldspar mine high on a hill above the Connecticut River, would begin next year and take a year to complete.

William Corvo, a former city councilman and a partner in Kleen Energy, told the council members Tuesday night that they should not confuse the agreement with a tax abatement. He said the city would be getting all of the taxes it was owed -- only spread out over a 25- year period. The state legislature approved these "tax stabilization" agreements in 2001 to encourage the building of new, clean-running power plants. Under the new rules, cities and power plants are able to set mutually beneficial tax and assessment rates.

The Democrat-controlled common council passed the agreement by a 10-2 vote, with Republicans Earle Roberts and Francis Patnaude dissenting. Roberts thought it outrageous that no representative of Robinson & Cole, the Hartford law firm to which the city paid $15,000 to negotiate the deal, showed up Tuesday night to explain it.

That job fell exclusively to Corvo and Kleen Energy's lawyer, Marjorie Wilder of Pullman & Comely.

"This was almost surreal, with Bill Corvo vouching for the work of the city's lawyer," said David Bowers, a former candidate for state representative in Middletown's 33rd District. "Where has the city been? Who's on my side as a resident? Should it have fallen to the development team, the team getting the deal, to present all the facts?"

Democrat Gerald Daley acknowledged that it was a mistake for some council members to have engaged Corvo and Wilder in a dialogue after the public portion of the meeting had ended, but he said that should not take any of the gloss off the tax agreement. He noted that under the deal, payments to the city would keep rising even as the equipment at the power plant lost value, instead of the other way around.

In the absence of anyone from Robinson & Cole, Democrat Ronald Klattenberg asked Mayor Domenique Thornton if the law firm stood behind the agreement.

"Yes, they believe it's fair," said Thornton, adding that she didn't ask a lawyer from the firm to come Tuesday night because she didn't want to add to the legal bill.

3. The article below was published in the Hartford Courant on July 15, 2003, it was written by Josh Kovner.
Mayor Gets a Head Start; Domenique Thornton, in Her Fourth Bid for Mayor Has Raised More Money Than Her Republican Opponent Sebastian Giuliano

Mayor Domenique Thornton has jumped out to a huge fund-raising lead over her opponent, collecting nearly $12,000 in campaign donations through July 3, compared to $400 raised by Republican Sebastian Giuliano.

Giuliano has not begun to solicit funds, opting instead to wait until after his party's nominating convention next Monday. The first of his six planned fund-raisers is tentatively set for July 28.

"Seb wanted to wait until the Republican slate was in place; he wants to work and win as a team, not as an individual," Giuliano's campaign manager, James Marhevka, said Monday.

Thornton, the three-term Democrat, logged her first fund-raiser on May 4 and her second on June 23.

"It's never pleasant asking for money, but I got a sense from the people in the room that they're excited about what's happening in Middletown, and it inspires me to want to continue the work I'm doing," Thornton said in an interview earlier this month.

Thornton raised $11,790 from April 4 to July 3, according to her latest campaign finance report, filed with the city clerk. About 44 percent of the donations came from people and political committees based outside Middletown.

Her top contributor was Robinson & Cole, a Hartford-based law firm representing the city in negotiations with Kleen Energy LLC, a partnership headed by developer Phil Armetta that is gearing up to build a $200 million power plant in the Maromas section.

Robinson & Cole's statewide political action committee donated the maximum of $1,000 and Robinson & Cole LLP -- the firm itself -- contributed $250.

Armetta and Associates LLC, based in Middletown, donated $250, and the two Wallingford-based principals of an engineering firm that is doing work on Kleen Energy's project contributed a total of $190, and the company contributed an additional $250.

Thornton received $160 in contributions from two associates of the Hamden-based architectural firm of DeCarlo & Doll, which won the contract to design the new $79.9 million Middletown High School. The company's president, Raymond M. Roberts of Wallingford, contributed $85 and architect Dennis J. Rioux of Cheshire contributed $75.

Three members of the Milardo family, perennial supporters of Thornton, contributed a total of $575. Michael Milardo, supervisor of the city's 911 center, donated $400; his brother, Michael, supervisor of the alarm division, donated $90; and Josephine Milardo donated $85.

Thornton's largest individual donation of $1,000 came from Robert S. Marino of Middletown, president of Marino Brothers of New England Inc., a highway and street contractor. The company also made a contribution of $250.


Anonymous said...

This is another Serra media search and destroy mission.
These same people referenced for many years have donated to many other campaigns in and outside of Middletown. Many of these contractors give funds to legislators from both political parties that are members of the state’s transportation committee which Serra is a long time and respected member of. Billy Ciotto the jovial and equally respected former Chairman of this committee accepted probably much larger contributions from the same contractors but this reporter doesn’t attempt to impugn his integrity. It was always a generally accepted practice and smart business for contractors to contribute to political candidates that advocate for the construction industry and fair regulations. There is nothing menacing about this unless you write for the Courant.

Anonymous said...

Crack 'n seal, baby!