Proposed Settlement with Cullion Concrete

Mayor Michael Napolitano will be holding a press conference today at 11:45 am at Cranston City Hall to announce a proposed settlement to end the Cullion concrete plant controversy that has been going on in Cranston for over a year. Cranston Citizens for Responsible Zoning and Development (CCRZD) is asking its members to attend the press conference and bring their “Stop the Concrete Plant” signs. They stated in an email that they are not for or against the proposed settlement, since they were not included in the discussions.

We will provide an update after the press conference with more information about the proposed settlement.

UPDATE: The projo article provided the following details:

In October, The Providence Journal reported that the Pawtuxet River Authority & Watershed Council, a state-chartered agency that serves as steward of the river, has targeted the land as the centerpiece for a sprawling waterside park.

The concept has won broad support from the mayor, City Council and the city’s delegation to the General Assembly.

With that in mind, Napolitano said yesterday that he would press the state and federal governments for funding to cover at least a portion of the $1.9-million settlement.

Failing that, the mayor said he will seek approval from the Democratic-dominated City Council for a city bond to be paid off by the taxpayers.

Council President Aram G. Garabedian, a Democrat and staunch opponent of the plant, has voiced deep reservations in recent months about paying Cullion anything for the land.

But he declined to comment last night, saying he wanted to review the details of the agreement first.

Sounds like there will be due diligence on this from the city council. Congratulations to the residents of Eden Park who fought to protect their neighborhood. Your work and perseverence paid off.

UPDATE #2: CCRZD has provided this statement from spokesman Howie Barte:

CCRZD Expresses Initial Unease To Mayor Napolitano’s Proposed “Settlement” With Cullion Over Cranston Concrete Plant

Cranston Mayor Michael Napolitano today informed the Cranston Citizens for Responsible Zoning & Development (CCRZD) regarding the disputed concrete plant in Cranston, “I settled the deal�.

CCRZD’s initial reaction is that $1.9 million offer by the Mayor to buy out Cullion is probably too high. It must be noted that this Mayor has cost the taxpayers a tremendous amount of taxpayer dollars because he refused to investigate and pull the permit from the beginning when it would have most likely been much cheaper to do so. It’s a known fact that a municipality under Rhode Island Law is only liable up to a $100,000 cap.

CCRZD continues to watch closely as developments occur. A continued area of concern not yet addressed is that assurance have yet to be issued guaranteeing that this land will be maintained in accordance the 1992 Comprehensive Plan which was has been in affect, but ignored, for fifteen years. And, of course, CCRZD has yet to see the detailed of the purported deal. So far, it seems more questions have been raised than answers provided.

UPDATE #3: Activist and resident Suzanne Arena sent a letter to the Cranston City Council expressing concern about the size of the settlement for Cullion. A part of her letter reads as follows:

I am appealing to you because $1.9 million is on the high side. We have determined the cost of land to be $240,000 with an assessed value of approximately $310,000 and an estimated fair market value of $700,000 in the extreme. Adding a conservative $100,000 for legal fee concessions leaves $1.1 million. What does number this entail? We fully expected that Cullion would take back the equipment so that this would not become part of the settlement.

Further, I expect that there would be an Environmental Site Assessment as part of the agreement and in the eventuality that hazardous waste is discovered, I would expect that the cost of removal would be borne by the owner, Cullion / Karleetor. In order to establish due diligence, another appraisal by City Council should be obtained.

If the fair market value of the property is determined to be substantially higher than the assessed value of the property, there should be a determination with respect to the City’s Right of Recourse against the seller for back taxes based on the current $300,000 assessment.

Ms. Arena received a response from Council member Jeff Barone, which is as follows:

Suzanne,

First, I must say, we finally agree on something. The only difference is that the “deal” is about $1.8m too high. The city should just give Cullion $100,000.00 that was expended prior to our stop order. What ever monies they have expended after that point should not be the responsibility of the city.

You and you association feel that you should have been part of the negotiation of this “deal”. The City Council was not even part of it, what makes you think you should be?

By the way, your Mayor told the press before the Council of this deal, why do you think he’ll tell you first.

This is maybe the worst “deal” he has ever come up with. More than the Valley settlement or the Providence Water settlement. I’ll bet you didn’t know about those.

Where does he think he is going to get the money to pay for this. I know where, you the taxpayer. Don’t forget, we have a $2.5m settlement with Valley, a $1.5m settlement with Providence, a possible $4m Carullo action and now this. That will all come out of the Rainy day fund. He said he will get state aid, they are not going to give Cranston $1.9 million for 20.2 acres of flood land. He will tell you that but let’s get real.

When he goes to knock on doors to get re-elected, his new “promise ” will be that he will continue to support the people. Wait for next year’s tax increase.

All the other costs you mentioned earlier will be absorbed by the city. I hope you and your association let him know how you feel.

Thanks,

Councilman Barone

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18 thoughts on “Proposed Settlement with Cullion Concrete

  1. I wonder how Council President Aram Garabedian (“not a nickel” for Cullion) is feeling right now. I guess if the money is not coming from the local tax base, that’s a good thing, except we all pay state and federal taxes and is this an appropriate use of that money? Plus it just seems like an awful lot.

    There is no easy answer to a situation like this. Like a lot of people, I am relieved that we will not deal with the environmental hazards and truck traffic that the concrete plant would create, and I am relieved that the city is willing and able to protect residential neighborhoods from industrial encroachment. I just hope this settlement is truly wise and just. It will be interesting to hear more of the breakdown for why Cullion is owed $1.9 million.

  2. I’d love to know how much the city has paid in legal fees to date, what the estimated budget to litigate the matter was and what the city’s legal counsel thought the probability of prevailing would have been if not settled.

  3. It will definitely be interesting to learn more of the details about the agreement that the City and Cullion reached. The ProJo article also said that Cullion will be looking to move their concrete plant to another city or town, hopefully it’ll be a more suitable location. It seems that part of the agreement will be Cullion paying to dismantle the plant and I would hope that is enforced and guidelines and visits are put in place to be sure it is done properly.

  4. Forgive the self-congratulation, but I seem to recall posting the following on November 17, following the Howie Barte announcement:

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if, within the next few weeks (possibly just after the new year, if not before), Napolitano somehow lines up outside (that is, non-tax) funding for the whole $1.5 million and pays off Cullion.”

    O.K., so the final amount will be more like $1.9m. Otherwise, I was spot-on — and asking then, as I am now, for cooler heads to prevail.

    I mean, who cares what it costs in the end? The plant is dead. Cullion is out. Napolitano has cleaned up another stain left behind by Laffey — and probably just walked away with the 08 election.

    That said, Nap had better include language in the settlement that Cullion (Mancini) will drop all legal threats and actions against residents. If that’s not included then, yes, I will have a major disagreement with the settlement.

    Kiersten:

    Aram is probably regretting taking such a hard stance, but may feel that he can support this settlement if it’s reasonable. My prediction is that if he’s the deciding vote on the Council, he’ll back the settlement and face the music later. If the vote goes 8-0, 7-1, 6-2, or 5-3 in favor prior to his vote, Aram may vote against the amount in a symbolic gesture — much as he did with the police contract (he was the only ‘nay’ vote). He could also simply abstain. We’ll see.

    The real key, though, will be what happens AFTER the settlement is approved — will the Council revisit the Laffey-vetoed ordinances and outlaw concrete plants altogether? Will Pawtuxet River Authority purchase the land from the city, thereby reducing the overall burden on Cranston? And will the Council revamp the entire process so that projects of this size and potential impact can’t just be rammed through the Building Office in 11 days?

    That’s what I’ll be watching.

  5. While I am pleased we are finally at the negotiating table (and Jesse, I agree the New Year was a time I too thought would be good timing as we approach the campaign trail) I am not pleased about the amount. I expected with a expired permit that the land would be negotiated on the “pre-permit” evaluation, which was a storage industrial use. I want the City Council to conduct their own independent Appraisal fo the land. Also an Environmental Site Assessment must be part of the Agreement…that is, if there is any hazardous debris/waste that the current Owner, Cullion is responsible for cleaning up. There are some other specific considerations that should be in addition to Rachel’s above….namely the assurance for what the land is to be used as. How about Mayor Napolitano adhering to the 1992 Comprehensive Plan which specifically carves out what the intent/use of this land should be????

    I never received an answer as to my idea I brought up to the Mayor on future Open Space issues? I am willing to buy into this and I think it should be on the ballot in 2008:

    While I am not fond of Cranston’s tax base, I would be willing to pay a special tax such as the Town of Yorktown, NY’s Open Space Preservation Process. The Town of Yorktown created a system to identify, inventory and acquire parcels to limit sprawl as well as to protect water, air and scenic qualities and ecological systems and habitats. The Advisory Committee on Open Space was created to develop an Open Space Preservation Plan, identify open space opportunities and enhance community awareness of open space protection. An evaluation system was devised to make recommendations to the Town Board. It included consideration of fiscal implications to taxpayers. A $30 flat tax for open space was instituted, paid annually by each property owner. Residents also approved authorization to expend $5 million in bonds, of which the debt service is equal to the annual amount collected by the flat tax allowing it to be leveraged to a larger amount. The preservation process is supported by the Natural Resource Conservation recommendations of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan. In recent years, more than 2,000 acres of open space have been protected. Why can’t we do the same, even if the tax is voluntary?

    I would like to ask that you City officials and Mayor consider appointing someone from the Conservation Commission, the Pawtuxet Rivershed Authority and an individual(s) from groups such as SCOS and CCRZD to sit on a panel that’s primary function would be to acquire and preserve parcels of open space according to the above, hence creating balanced buffers on all sides of the City. Paradise is quickly disappearing into silica dust from a proposed concrete plant, which was also supposed to be Open Space according to the filed 1992 Comprehensive Plan.(END)

    Everyone is relieved that this is close to settlement, but everyone I spoke to is NOT happy about the outrageous amount. And I will not forget about how the formula was arrived at and how it could have be thwarted off to a greatly diminished amount. Laffey is the clearly the Nematode who spawned this, however, we shouldn’t have had to give the bank away.

  6. I was at yesterday’s press conference/photo op and would like to share some impressions that I came away with:

    Conspicuous by their absence were councilpersons Garabedian and McFarland. Given Aram’s past comments about not one nickel to Cullion, I get his absence. McFarland, on the other hand, was also a no-show. While appropriately cautious the previous night in her comments relative to the proposed settlement, her absence was somewhat surprising. May be nothing, may be something, but surprising nonetheless.

    Related to the above, given the public vibe in the Mayor’s comments and the private vibe in conversations with some state and local officials, council approval of the settlement is a far cry from a sure thing. If yesterday’s event was any indication, there are three votes for the settlement, with the rest to be determined.

    Let’s not lose sight of the fact that there is only an “agreement in principle� between the city and Cullion. There’s still a way to go before the ink is dry. To put it another way, legally this situation is analogous to Team A trading a player to Team B. They have an agreement in principle, but the player is still going to have to pass his physical in order to finalize the deal. Something to keep in mind before prematurely lighting up to proverbial victory cigar.

    Once signed, like others I am eager to see the specifics of the settlement. Only then will we know whether it’s a good or bad deal. Frankly, any settlement agreement was going to cost the city money. Since Cullion owned the land and was in possession of a permit, tainted or otherwise, anyone who thought that he was going to be bought out for a couple of hundred thousand dollars lives in Fantasyland. That’s a far cry from saying the $ 1.9 million is a valid settlement amount, but once the settlement negotiations started the only question that remained was whether six or seven digits would be necessary to close the deal.

    Any provision in the settlement where Cullion releases any and all claims, present and future, against citizens in opposition to the concrete plant is a good provision. Any action against people who legitimately exercise their legal rights to oppose a project and appeal issuance of a permit, with the sole purpose of increasing the opponents’ costs thus driving them out of the game, is obscene.

    We should know in a couple of weeks what at least some of the provisions of the settlement are. Under court rules/guidelines, the parties are required to report the summary of provisions and a statement of the likelihood of success to the mediator. If that schedule is kept, that might be a good sign that a final settlement is in the offing. If it’s not kept…

    Based on conversations I had yesterday, the funding stream for this settlement will resemble a patch-worked quilt. There are those who are holding the Rocky Point purchase as a model. There are any number of differences between the Cullion project and the Rocky Point purchase – not the least is the fact that the State, which contributed a substantial amount to the Rocky Point purchase, is in a different financial position now than it was a year or two ago. According to telecast reports, the Mayor stated that, with council approval, the city will float a judgment bond for any outstanding amount due Cullion. Given the tenuous nature of the funding, it will be interesting to see how long Cullion will wait for his money.

    Finally, I agree with “Jesse� – what happens after the settlement agreement is ratified is as important, if not more important, than the agreement itself. First, the property needs to be re-zoned to conform to the 1992 (and presumably the revised 2008) Comprehensive Plan. Under state law, the city had 18 months from the time the State Planning Office accepted the city’s comp. plan to bring its zoning ordinances into conformance with the provisions of the Plan. Through successive city administrations and councils, that was never done. Had the city acted appropriately, Cullion would probably have never purchased the property – let alone be permitted to do anything with it that wasn’t a nature walk or recreational preserve.

    Second, remedial legislation must be enacted to make the permit process more transparent. I’ve suggested an approach in another venue. I’m sure that there are others. What matters is that the process be repaired to prevent any future occurrence of this type of permit problem.

    Third is an action that I’ve advocated for the past nine months or more – a thorough investigation of the issuance of the Cullion permit. Both the Mayor and the council have this power under the City Charter. Either or both should use this power. An investigation into this matter would uncover procedures and processes that should be remediated as indicated above. An investigation may also confirm or refute the suspicion of wrongdoing regarding the issuance of this permit. I know that some would argue that there has already been an investigation by the council – in August of 2006. I would respond that anyone who holds what happened in 2006 as an investigation has a low regard for, and even lower expectations for an investigation.

    One last thing (I promise) – I learned yesterday that Cullion has recently purchased land in Smithfield. The property is near a “toney� residential area. And so it goes…

  7. GCF:

    You write: “Once again some on this blog sound as if they have fallen for a lot of crap w/o any details.”

    Um, yeah, about that… What details have YOU ever offered to support your claims and accusations? Oh, right: none.

    I’ll also remind you that I suggested previously that the city would put the money up before Pawtuxet River Authority later bought out the property. See here (specifically post #12):

    http://kmareka.com/?p=1507#comments

    … So you’re a.) not talking about me or b.) referring to me but just taking gratuitous pot-shots (again) — though, either way, you’re wrong.

    Oh, and a little history lesson for you: Laffey left the ProvWater settlement buried under months’ worth of paperwork before Nap discovered it and settled it — same goes for the accident settlement. Clearly, neither issue could be made into a huge PR stunt for Laffey if they were settled (I seem to recall Laffey going nuts about Cranston “paying for Providence’s water” — convenient, ins’t it?), so he let them slide until Nap had to handle them.

    And using bond proceeds is not “slight of hand”; leaving the issues to fester and pretending they don’t exist, though, is. As I have in the past, I again suggest that you actually get the facts in order before you post (not that it’ll make a difference, as I’m sure we’re about to see)…

  8. Mr. Schoos:

    I don’t know if I’d read too much into councilors’ absence from the press conference. I’ll be watching the upcoming vote with a lot of interest.

  9. Suzanne,
    You’ve referred to the 1992 Comp Plan, but as Geoff said, the revised Comp Plan is of importance as well. The City is reworking the consultant’s draft of the new plan and will be announcing public hearings for each section.

    It is VERY important that citizens play an important role in the creation of the new plan because it will affect all of us in the future. The zoning of land can’t be changed without going through this process and there are areas that we need to be sure remain Open Space or that the current zoning isn’t changed to allow contruction that wouldn’t be permitted under the current zoning.

    I’m also interested in seeing how this plays out financially, bonds have been discussed but I’d like to see what the final “agreement” is. One last thing, Cullion must be doing okay if they’ve already purchased additional land despite having this project and legal fees tied up.

  10. Jesse,

    Like I said regarding the absent council members, it might be something or it might be nothing. But in a business where perception often becomes reality, their absence was curious.

    But we’ll all know once the plan is finalized and presented to the council for approval. At that point, in the words immortalized by then singer, now a Detroit city councilor, Martha Reeves, it will become “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.” Sorry. My “geezer” starts showing when another year drops off the calendar.

    At any rate, I hope that you and all others who read and participate on this blog, especially our hosts who provide an invaluable service by maintaining this forum, have a Happy and Healthy New Year.

  11. Thanks, Geoff. You have added a great deal to the conversations here, particularly because of your legal background and your close attention to the history and details of events.

    As a note to those checking this thread, there is an update in the body of the post with a letter sent by Suzanne Arena regarding the proposed settlement and a response she received from Council member Barone.

  12. Kiersten, thanks for letting us know about the updated post.

    Could someone fill me in on the Valley settlement that Councilman Barone is referring to? I’m not familiar with it, although it must have happened within the past year.

  13. ‘Never argue with an idiot; they’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.’ ~ anonymous

  14. Maybe Councilman Baron should worry less about scoring cheap political points and more about fixing the problems Laffey left behind. If Laffey had actually addressed these issues, it might have been more to the Councilman’s liking, given his slavish devotion to SL.

    Once again, he exhumes the dead GOP talking point about raiding the surplus — with no evidence, just slaps at the mayor. I seem to recall Nap saying he was going to borrow the funds through bonds for the Cullion settlement and the crash settlement — not add it to the current budget or use the surplus. Maybe Councilman Barone would prefer a supplemental tax bill, or maybe he’d just like to go on ignoring the issues (both of which were his pal Laffey’s specialties). We don’t really know, do we? Although we DO know that the Councilman doesn’t like Nap. That’s some real insight there, Jeffrey.

    Plus we get a couple of doses of his condescending tone: “The City Council was not even part of it, what makes you think you should be?” and “your Mayor told the press before the Council of this deal, why do you think he’ll tell you first.” Not to mention his suggestion of Suzanne’s ignorance — funny how 2,500 GOP yuppies in Ward 6 can insulate this guy from dealing with the truth.

    I guess it’s also inconvenient for Councilman Barone to recall that he supported Laffey’s “I’m the Mayor so I can approve the concrete plant with no Council oversight” argument — now, suddenly, he has a problem with the Mayor doing his job?! And didn’t Councilman Barone want the Council to stay out of Laffey’s contract negotiations?

    No offense to my fellow bloggers, but I’d stop looking for insight from Councilman Barone — unless you like kites (i.e., things that shift with the winds).

  15. I’m not sure of all of the legalities of the Cullion case, but I know that the council members can’t discuss details because of litigation against them. Is there also pending litigation against former Mayor Laffey and his administration?

    Happy New Year to all!

  16. Bravo to Mr. Schoos for calling for a thorough investigation into how this permit was issued! It’s wonderful that the plant will be stopped, but the parties responsible for making this buyout necessary need to be found out and held accountable. With the light being shone on the corruption on the state level (Celona, Martineau, CVS, Blue Cross, etc.), it’s about time we start lifting a few rocks in Cranston as well. Paying Cullion off to make it all go away isn’t enough; the city needs to make sure that this doesn’t happen again by exposing the culprits and changing the culture of “I know a guy” to “everyone follows the rules, no exceptions”. We should not let this get swept back under the rug, because we’ll just end up in the same situation when it inevitably happens again.

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