WILLINGTON — Republican gubernatorial candidate David Stemerman outlined a five-point plan to address crumbling foundations Monday, including ordering an independent investigation of which state officials knew of the issue years ago, determining the full scope of the problem, and holding private businesses and insurance companies accountable for their roles.
While visiting the Willington home of Timothy Heim, Stemerman said he would order an independent investigation to determine how the issue came about and who is responsible.
The investigation, he said, would focus on state officials who knew about the problem as early as 2003, as well as the companies that supplied and mixed the concrete aggregate.
“We need an independent investigation about what happened here and who is responsible,” Stemerman said. “The stories that I’ve heard about the follow-up lead me to be concerned that because of business or political interests, we have not gotten the right story.”
To ensure the investigation is done responsibly, he said he would establish a “special counsel” independent of the executive branch and the legislature, with subpoena authority to determine whether the problem was covered up when officials were first notified.
Additionally, Stemerman said he would launch an investigation to determine the number of homes, businesses, and transportation infrastructure that could be at risk due to the mineral pyrrhotite, which is causing foundations to fail.
Considering the number of structures that were built with the defective material, the issue could cost billions of dollars to fix. The actual cost, however, can be known only when it’s determined how many structures contain pyrrhotite, which Stemerman aims to deduce through systematic core sampling.
He also would attempt to determine who is financially responsible.
“The first financial responsibility should be in the private sector for those businesses and insurers for whom there is responsibility,” Stemerman said. “Those businesses that poured the concrete, that owned the quarry of a product that is proven to be defective, we should understand what they knew and when and how they should be held accountable.”
The same would apply to the insurance companies that represented the concrete company and quarry, as well as homeowners insurance providers, he said.
Stemerman said that if elected governor, he would work to collaborate with the federal government and insist on shared responsibility, with the understanding that neither municipalities nor the state can solve the problem on their own.
The final piece of his plan is to establish a commission that would ensure accumulated funds are distributed responsibly. The commission would be in addition to the nonprofit captive insurance company that has been created, he said.
Although the Department of Consumer Protection and the attorney general’s office conducted an investigation into the issue, Stemerman doubts the state was diligent.
“I don’t think that the investigation of this problem has been held to the level that it needs to be,” he said. “I am concerned that administrations dating back for years have been more concerned about covering this problem up.”
As opposed to many other gubernatorial candidates, Stemerman called it “inappropriate” to say the insurance companies need to pay without knowing what overall cost would be.
Those who say that insurance companies need to pay are simply “pandering,” he said.
Stemerman appeared to be far more knowledgeable of the issue than many of his competitors, many of who learn the basics for the first time when speaking with homeowners.
Stemerman compared the foundation crisis with the state’s overall fiscal issues.
“Our state is crumbling at its foundations,” he said, “literally causing our state to be at risk of collapse.”
Eleven out of 15 homes in Heim’s neighborhood have crumbling foundations, meaning that even homes that are not affected are seeing their property values decline.
In order for towns to make up the loss in tax revenue, they must raise tax rates.
“It’s a death spiral,” Stemerman said.
“You look at this and you want to have tears in your eyes,” Stemerman said, as Heim nearly choked up while telling his story. “It’s sickening to see.”
Stemerman vowed that as governor, he would enhance workforce development by strengthening the relationship between companies such as Electric Boat and its partners, and raise awareness among young people of the opportunities in the trades.
He that he would support the expansion of casino gambling through transportation improvements as well as updating the state’s agreement with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes.