The fix is in?

Land use specialist Mike Finkbeiner (the guy to call for all your questions regarding waterfront or dry land building) has a question for our town leaders concerning their double – secret – probation plan for soil remediation at the high school:

Surveyor’s only question was “where’s the plan?”  Will we need to go
to Hartford to learn there is /was no “phased remediation plan? “

If that’s the case, and AECOM never said there was such a plan in the
first place, didn’t the RTM have the right to know that before they
voted the funding in May?

Just asking.

Finkbeiner is complaining that the town is claiming that there is a “staged remediation plan” that’s in place for cleaning up the contaminated soil under the proposed Music Palace, but they won’t release it, and apparently Hartford doesn’t know anything about it. Why?

I can think of two possible reasons:

1. There is no such plan and our leaders therefore have no idea how much remediation will cost, notwithstanding their promise to the contrary made to the RTM; or

2. There is a plan, the town knows what the clean-up will cost and fears that if that cost is disclosed it will be the final stake through the heart of the Palace.

Neither one is a good way to run a railroad.

(But a third explanation might be: chief complainant in this matter is the perennial High School gadfly Bill Efros, who sues the town over everything and anything concerning the school, from stadium lighting to the color of graduation gowns. Efros lives way up on Old Church Road, 200′ higher than the school property and thus unlikely to be harmed by water (which runs down, not uphill).  That doesn’t mean the town shouldn’t respond to his questions or the questions of the consultant he’s hired, but it’s understandable.)

Publication: Greenwich Time; Date: Jun 10, 2012; Section: News; Page: A1
Questions remain on high school auditorium project, surveyor says
By Lisa Chamoff
Finkbeiner, who runs Land Water Solutions, a Greenwich firm that resolves land use issues, recently put in a Freedom of Information Act request to AECOM, the environmental consultant the town hired after contaminated soil
was discovered at the school last summer. At issue is how the building committee for the project, which is known as MISA and is expected to cost at least $37 million, is aiming to proceed with construction before polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are removed from the rest of the property.

In order to prevent contaminated groundwater from infiltrating the MISA site during construction of the orchestra pit, which will be built 12 feet below the water table, the committee has proposed installing a cofferdam, a watertight
structure to enclose the area that sits under water.

Finkbeiner said the high school property sits on an old peat bog, and he doesn’t believe it would be possible to
install a watertight structure. “If you’re driving it into a peat bog, where do you get the seal?” Finkbeiner said during a recent interview.

In his FOI request, Finkbeiner asked why the site plan filed with the federal Environmental Protection Agency,which will decide whether the MISA project can be “bifurcated,” or proceed before toxins are removed from the rest ofthe high school property, doesn’t include the cofferdam. He also requested a site plan that demonstrates the feasibility of constructing MISA prior to remediation.
Finkbeiner said he filed a complaint with the state Freedom of Information Commission after the town didn’t respond to his request.


Filed under MISA

16 responses to “The fix is in?

  1. Anonymous

    The link leads to a sign-in page, and I don’t have a gmail account.

  2. CatoRenasci

    This is interesting, especially that the EPA has further questions, some of which are apparently the same as Finkbeiner’s. Maybe for once Effros isn’t completely off base.

    I have heard unconfirmed reports, which I have also been told will be flatly denied, that the total remediation costs for both the MISA footprint and the rest of the fields etc. are anticipated to be in the $25 million range.

    I have been generally supportive of the MISA project, having been invovled with the symphony and having had kids in several different aspects of the music program. It’s certainly true the HS needed a decent auditorium — the existing one is impossible, with terrible acoustics, lack of capacity, and design so bad you can’t run the air conditioning during a performance. The instructional spaces for the music program were only adequate for 1/3 or so of the number of kids actually in the groups,

    That said, this whole project has been a clusterf*ck from day 1, starting with the failure to do basic environmental testing before even seeking construction (as opposed to exploratory) approval.

    It is a spectacular example of the ability of special interests to drive the agenda without regard to the larger picture of (1) total spending and (2) alternative priorities.

  3. Probably no smarter man in Connecticut than Finkbeiner. Damn good photographer too.

  4. Anonymous

    Why would this guy buy a home near a gigantic preexisting high school and then sue the town for everything pertaining to it. Did he not see it? I know, maybe one of our savvy Greenwich real estate agents drove him from the opposite direction!

    • He couldn’t see it then, and cannot now, because he’s 200′ above it. i don’t necessarily that, for once, he may still be onto something, at least as it affects people downstream (that would be Milbrook) but I don’t see how he has a dog in this fight except, of course, as a taxpayer. Somehow, I don’t think it’s his taxes he’s worrying about so much as his pathological hatred of all things high school. Strange.

  5. It gets better and worse….
    Higher than threshold findings of serious contaminents require land 500 feet from findings to have notes on their deeds.
    NO SURVEY has been filed for this or Cos Cob Power Money Pit.

  6. G W Chase

    When the RTM was asked to approve funding for this project in several months ago, it was a case of placing the cart before the horse. The report from the environmental company was not going to be finished until the Fall; at which point we MIGHT be able to put a dollar value on the remediation. No one in this town wants to stand up against the Bored of Education – except approximately 1/3 of the members of the RTM who saw through their smoke and mirrors.

  7. Balzac

    In town government, many participants seem to think asking questions is equivalent to making progress. It’s not. A fool can ask more questions than a wise man can answer. Mr. Finkbeiner is in the land/water business. Instead of spraying questions around, perhaps he should use his expertise to develop some answers.

    Just because Mr. Finkbeiner (or Mr. Effros) asks questions in the newspaper, that does not prove the project is wrongly managed.

  8. Anonymous


    It sounds to me like it’s pretty difficult to recommend a solution until you know what you’re dealing with. The town has not been transparent as to the extent of contamination,conditions,etc. so how can a solution be recommended?

    I’m sure if the town wants to open the kimono, many solutions can be presented. I’m guessing the “solutions” aren’t pretty which is why the town has not been transparent.

    There’s been long history of people asking questions of town, state and federal governments only to expose less than upstanding behavior. This one smells fishy to me and I’m thankful to people like Mr. Finkbiener for asking the tough questions. If there is nothing to hide, then at worst we have wasted some time…I’m guessing the documents will tell us more.


  9. AJ

    Greenwich’s quest to have the world’s finest performance arts center for high school students, who could probably care less, very much reminds me of Fundamentalist Christian’s irresistible urge to build religious theme parks no matter how certain they are to go broke — how narcissistic; what folly!

    One day, just like Greece, you will have to sell off all your assets (beaches and parks to developers) just to pay the interest on your debt.

  10. Greenwich Gal

    The fact of the matter is a town like Greenwich SHOULD have a great high school! What we do have is, in fact, out of date, not up to code and is really in many ways over capacity. A town this size usually accomodates TWO high schools. I also hope no one is questioning the need to clean up a toxic site. That is plain and clear. I understand the questioning of the handling of information – I too am concerned. I also question the MISA project when I think the schools – all the schools – need a great deal of help in just maintaining the basics. What a mess.

  11. Finkbeiner Answers

    Thank you, Mr. Fountain and thoughtful comment providers for sharing some serious thought and insight as to how we function as a Town and community. From the day I arrived here as a student in the 60’s and a young professional in the 70’s, I have considered it an obligation of knowledge to be ready to offer a solution or a better way of understanding things. My father instilled in me that “professional” means to use one’s specialized knowledge and training for the benefit of others.

    Unfortunately, the GT coverage made the headline and the article about me, the messenger, and not the substance of the process and the failure of the Town to provide municipal services and good government in accord with the mandates of Federal and State Law, much of which is now 40 years old.

    In most public discussion of policy, there is rarely the opportunity to explain that there is a better way to do things. But one must begin with the polite request for honesty and transparency in the process.

    As we see frequently, the politicians promise transparency and deliver obfuscation. The MISA process is best seen as an object lesson, learned the hard way.

    We are proposing to build the Town’s tallest building on its deepest peat bog, all sitting on a fault line between the bedrock that much of the Town to the north and west sits on, and a deep ocean kettle hole filled in with alluvial runoff and peat.

    If Joe Ross says a cofferdam will eventually reach bedrock, his engineers should demonstrate that fact with deep borings to refusal around the bifurcation footprint. When we see that information on a plan bearing the seal and signature of both a surveyor and engineer licensed by the State, then we can begin the discussion of whether that’s what we really need to build there, and how much we should spend in the process over and above the PCB remediation costs.

    In 1999 there were reported spills of PCB’s at the Cos Cob Power Plant. After significant reworking of that site from 2000 to 2003, the EPA Triad process found almost no PCB’s there. From 2000 to 2007 we have fields installed over much filling of wetlands at the High School, and in 2011 we discover millions of pounds of PCB contaminated soil at the High School.

    PCB’s are a class of man-made molecule with two benzene rings and a host of chlorine atoms around the rings in hundreds of possible combinations, each with a specific chemical fingerprint, traceable to the manufacturer.

    The project manager at AECOM for both the Cos Cob Power Plant and the Greenwich High School remediation is one-in-the-same engineer. Quite apart from which neighbors at both sites I might represent, as a parent and taxpayer, it seems a reasonable question to ask him how contaminants specific to electrical transformers got under high school fields.

    Water runs downhill, and PCB’s are heavier than water, so they run downslope in the bottom of the wet areas. So yes, every property between the 500 ft perimeter of the High School and Long Island Sound is involved.

  12. Balzac

    Mr. Finkbeiner made a gracious reply above.
    The Town has made every effort to be transparent, as indicated by the hundreds and hundreds of pages of documents available to the public here:
    The subject is a complex one. Remediation is required by law. Stopping the auditorium construction will not change the firm obligation to remediate the fields.
    Ever since Watergate, any inquiry of government alleges an evil conspiracy of secrecy. Let’s cool it with that claim, which is exaggerated, and deal with the issues calmly.