Walmart lawsuit unsettles GOP

A settlement agreement between Trumbull and Monroe regarding plans for a Super Walmart may not be so settled. The status of the lawsuit and relationship with Monroe has led to some disagreements and concerns within the Trumbull Republican Party.

The Times reported in early July that Trumbull was dropping its lawsuit, according to officials. The big box store is slated to be built at 2 Victoria Drive, directly off Route 25. Trumbull filed the lawsuit after the project received approval from Monroe Planning and Zoning in January. The lawsuit cited flooding concerns and environmental issues on the Pequonnock River. Monroe First Selectman Steve Vavrek also said in July that he was happy to move forward with Trumbull.

However, on July 23, Town Council member Cindy Penkoff, representing District 2, sent an email to other Republicans, voicing concerns about the terms of the settlement and information given to elected officials. That email has led to some backlash from First Selectman Timothy Herbst who said Penkoff went “rogue” and misrepresented Trumbull’s position.

In an email July 23, Penkoff said the relationship between Trumbull and Monroe becomes more difficult and the lawsuit continues, with rising legal fees.

“This is not good for either town,” Penkoff wrote. “Monroe’s RTC already hates Tim and will not work with him. How long before they start to blame the rest of us for allowing this to continue?”

Penkoff said she has talked with Monroe officials and was disturbed to hear that, apparently, the first selectman was requiring the town of Monroe to sign an agreement that she said would require Monroe to have Trumbull sign off on all projects along its borders.

“You all know as well as I do that Trumbull would never sign such an agreement with another town,” Penkoff wrote.

However, Herbst and Town Attorney Dennis Kokenos said while the issue is ongoing, the terms mentioned by Penkoff are not accurate.

“We in no way, shape or form demanded that Monroe get Trumbull signoffs on all of Monroe’s future projects,” Kokenos wrote in an email to Penkoff, given to The Times.

Kokenos said the town asked three things of Monroe in the settlement, including that a copy of the approved construction plan and drainage report be provided to Trumbull. It also mentions a June 11 meeting with Project Engineer Kevin Solli, in which he agreed that the “catch basins will have a two-foot sump and have a hooded cover over its outlet pipes. Finally, Trumbull asked to be provided with an updated status of the state’s review of on-site wastewater systems.

“Monroe refused this settlement despite the fact that Trumbull simply asked Monroe to confirm that the plans showed to us regarding drainage would become part of the final approved plans, and that they simply send Trumbull letters that are already subject to FOI and available to the public,” Kokenos wrote. “The refusal regarding drainage was concerning for me as the settlement put forth was the least invasive way to assure that Trumbull’s concerns are met.”

The attorney said Penkoff’s email states the town demanded much more than was actually discussed.

As to cost, Herbst and Kokenos said the legal fees are coming out of the town’s general retainer for legal services.

Herbst responds

First Selectman Herbst said he feels strongly that Trumbull needs to be protected from potential negative impacts of the Walmart project.

“As a former chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission and current first selectman, I take environmental protection of our natural resources very seriously,” Herbst said this week. “So, when the Town of Trumbull found out that a commercial developer was going to construct a retail facility the equivalent size of eight and a half football fields, on a septic system, adjacent to the Pequonnock River which flows downstream into Trumbull, naturally any reasonable person would want to take action to make sure environmental concerns are addressed and Trumbull’s natural resources are protected.”

He noted the project was also met with opposition within Monroe, though Trumbull’s concern is exclusively environmental.

“The settlement that we are prepared to sign incorporates all of the conditions imposed by land use agencies within Monroe and guarantees that our environmental concerns have been addressed and incorporated into the settlement,” Herbst said.

Herbst said Penkoff’s decision to “insert” herself into a legal process being handled by town attorneys and the chief executives of both towns is a problem.

“What complicates this process is when a first-term Town Council representative decides to speak to legal matters of which she has no knowledge,” he said. “In point of fact, without any knowledge, Ms. Penkoff inserted herself into this process and engaged in conversations with the Town of Monroe, purporting to properly represent the town’s legal position. She did this without consulting with me or the town attorney and completely misrepresented Trumbull’s position to multiple third parties.

“To say that this almost compromised settlement negotiations is an understatement,” he said.

Attorney Kokenos in his response to Penkoff said he has always found her to be a dedicated member of the community and asked her to consult with him on any future questions about the lawsuit. Penkoff last week told The Times that her record as an active Republican and Town Council member shows she is not trying to cause dissention within her party, but she is concerned about information she heard from officials in Monroe.

Herbst said Penkoff’s action begs the question of why a Town Council member would misrepresent the town’s position.

“I have asked Chairman [Carl] Massaro and Town Council Majority Leader Rick Costantini to address this matter with the council representative in question and make sure in the future no other members of the Town Council decide to go rogue and play lawyer on any issue, especially issues where they have no knowledge,” he said.