2018-02-15 / Letters

Condo owner unhappy over story

To the editor:

Regarding the Feb. 1, page 1 article, “Heat Issue Arises With Unit 91,” thanks for returning my call and taking the time to listen to my concerns about this. I wish this was an isolated incident. But the very nature of the press is to not isolate. I spoke directly with reporter Grant McPherson to address the falsities in his previous article on the subject which prompted a correction from your paper albeit incomplete, minuscule and relegated to a distant corner of print with hardly the same impact as the original front page article of uninformed reporting. Compounding the mistakes of Courier reporter McPherson is that a sitting Saco city councilor, in an open city council meeting, openly stated that, “If you want to know what’s happening at Saco Island, just read last week’s article in the Courier. It’ll tell you everything you need to know.” I don’t portend to know who will prove himself the wiser, Grant or the councilor? Having spoken directly with you, you are now aware of the horror I must have felt when I not only read the article but heard that our elected officials are citing it as fact. If I was a young reporter looking to make a career out of journalism, I would not want the likes of Grant’s work on my resume, I can tell you.

I have been a resident of Island Terrace Owners Association since 1994 and getting into the nitty gritty, I can take issue with many blatant falsehoods within Grant’s article. On page 1, Saco Island LP – not “Saco Island West” is – not “was”– responsible for providing heating and cooling services to the Island Terrace Owners Association. Grant could have also added that Saco Island LP is also responsible for providing heating and cooling services to Building 2, also known as Rivergate, which houses many entities, including the Social Security Office and a restaurant/deli. Onto page 16: The sale of Mill 4 to Chinburg has absolutely nothing to do with Saco Island LP’s obligation – “Its responsibility to service the boiler that provides heat to Island Terrace Owners Association ended last December and no organization was slated to take(r)over” is a complete and utter falsehood; an agreement dated 1991 binds Saco Island LP to provide heat/cooling to the Island Terrace Owners Association in perpetuity. The agreement also states that Saco Island LP is solely responsible for supplying fuel and maintenance and replacement costs for the entire system.

Further on, the article makes it appear that Saco Director of Code Enforcement Richard Lambert is misinformed. To clarify, Unit 91 comprises more than 24 percent of Island Terrace. From a bird’s-eye view, sure, it could possibly appear as Lambert states, “Things were just not getting done.” As a stand-alone statement, this is misleading and left without further investigation, paints Island Terrace as lazy or unmotivated. The ITOA has been diligently seeking a resolution in this matter and has asked Saco Island LP to provide maintenance and fuel documentation for the purposes of, one, general knowledge of the scope and breadth of the system – if one is to purchase a car, does not one look at the tires, mileage and maintenance records? Well, this is a $750,000 car; and two, for the purposes of obtaining financing – lenders want all of the pertinent facts. Island Terrace Owners Association was given only one year’s worth of data and that itself was woefully inadequate and misleading. I saw the two-page profit and loss statement and, to be perfectly clear, it looked as if it was made up with information pulled out of thin air. Island Terrace is still asking for documentation to this day. To take further issue with Grant’s lack of clarity pertaining to Mr. Lambert’s remarks: During this process, the current owner of Building 2 (Rivergate), Meredith Richardson expressed a sincere interest in taking over the HVAC plant and responsibility. We thought we could breathe a sigh of relief at the obvious synergies that could be attained; the owner of Rivergate had also made an offer to purchase Unit 91 from the city of Saco that not only would have released residents of Saco from the burden of owning Unit 91, but also the prospective owner would have replaced the ailing HVAC system and released Saco Island LP from its obligation as well. During this process in which the owner of Rivergate made a sound and reasonable offer to the city, Island Terrace waited, fingers crossed. This was the only time during which Island Terrace remained inactive in pursuing a resolution to this longstanding issue. I might add that, in my opinion, the city outright dropped the ball when it refused Mr. Richardson’s offer to purchase Unit 91. From what I understand, the city would have recouped all the money it had spent to date. That didn’t happen, unfortunately, and the residents of Saco are, for the foreseeable future, obligated to continue paying condominium fees and utilities instead of collecting taxes on the property. Mr. Richardson, from my perspective, is a respectable property owner with the resources necessary to get the job done, whatever that may be. As a member of Island Terrace and a resident of Saco, I remain somewhat saddened that the city did not act favorably on Mr. Richardson’s offer, not even bothering to counter-offer. He could have likely been the perfect neighbor.

Moving on: “Zaitlin wrote that the city’s Economic Development Director William Mann advised Island Terrace Owners Association not to replace the heating and cooling system in August 2017.” This is at best misleading and at worst a malicious distortion of the facts. At one of the monthly meetings Island Terrace was approached by a representative of a firm that specializes in solutions, working as a middleman to assist associations like Island Terrace in qualifying for no-money-down, low-interest options and also working with government and quasigovernmental entities to obtain rebates and general cost reductions based on projected efficiencies that could be offered with a new, state of the art system – much in the same way a homeowner would get a tax rebate for installing cost saving insulation or windows. It all sounded good from my perspective except for the timing. The problem that Island Terrace had with this proposal, was that it was delivered with a tact not unlike that of a stereotypical high-pressure car salesman. He literally said that he “had to know by tomorrow” and wanted Island Terrace to cut a check then and there. Where Bill Mann came in was pretty much where we all came in – we were flabbergasted at this proposal. The gentleman caller had no idea that not only does Island Terrace not even officially own the current system, and that to disentangle Island Terrace and Rivergate from their current 1991 agreement with Saco Island LP would take time, negotiations, lawyers and information gathering – information that Saco Island LP had, to date, been hesitant to, at least, and perhaps more correctly, deliberately evasive in furbishing. When we informed Mr. Mann, his reaction was the same as ours – while he did not directly advise Island Terrace on the issue of this proposal, he did exhibit the same expression of incredulity that everyone else in the room had that night and in the days following. At no other time did Bill Mann come close to advising Island Terrace to not replace the heating and cooling system, as stated in your article. Still, Island Terrace did continue to explore funding options and receive further counsel from said representative. But, again, the main snag in all of this has been the lack of information due from Saco Island LP.

More on Mann: we were informed that on at least one occasion the system was left to run out of oil, though I do not believe that we were informed of this by Mr. Mann. Contrary to the sentiment of personalities in Mr. McPherson’s article, Bill Mann has been steadfastly supportive of Island Terrace seeking a positive lasting resolution for the many obstacles that are faced by all of the parties involved, including Saco Island LP and Saco Island West.

Lastly, “Island Terrace will reimburse Saco Island West for the cost of the repairs.” There are two significant falsehoods in this statement. First, as I have said before, it is Saco Island LP, not as is stated “Saco Island West.” Secondly, on the issue of reimbursement, Island Terrace owners are billed monthly for two aspects of the HVAC.

First is the obvious fuel consumption. Each individual unit has a metering device that informs Saco Island LP how many BTUs were used and the owner is billed accordingly for that amount based on the cost of fuel per BTU and, of course, this cost varies with the price of oil. Secondly is what has been called a Demand Charge – this charge is calculated with many factors that include projected maintenance, both scheduled and unscheduled, parts, electricity that is used to run the large HVAC central plant, and projected replacement cost. All of these factors and costs are spread among Island Terrace owners equally, based on square footage. Island Terrace alone has contributed, in Demand Charges alone – over and above the cost of fuel – more than $400,000 to Saco Island LP since the latter was established and an estimated $200,000 during the five years prior to Saco Island LP’s genesis. That is roughly $600,000 from Island Terrace alone – not including the contributions that should have also been garnered over the same period of time from the owners of Rivergate – coincidentally, the previous owner of Rivergate was Saco Island West and/or another LLC under the Mattson properties/development umbrella. So, you can see that costs for repairs have indeed already been paid for in addition to the cost or some of the cost of replacement. One doesn’t have to wonder why Saco Island LP is hesitant to release documents and data and system history. Perhaps while one of Mattson’s LLCs owned Rivergate, the latter did not have to pay for fuel or maintenance. I can offer no real explanation as to why there is no pile of money sitting in an account, allocated for replacement. It seems hokey and deceptive at best. Either way, Island Terrace owners – the little people of Saco’s largest neighborhood – have been paying this demand charge for 15 years in the belief that it would cover or partially cover the eventual replacement cost. We are told there is no money and the whole show reeks of deception and shysterism.

The bottom line is, the system is Saco Island LP’s responsibility – fuel, service, replacement, everything – until such time as an agreement can be made to release Saco Island LP and give Island Terrace the autonomy it seeks. Island Terrace is doing everything within its reach and power to solve this serious issue.

You can now readily see how an article such as the one written by your reporter, Grant McPherson, can have far reaching and detrimental consequences for our community. Articles such as these gravely undermine the good work of the members of the Island Terrace community and board members and are a discredit to those officers of the city that I mentioned who are also actively seeking a solution. May this be a lesson to your paper and to your reporter to check and crosscheck and re-crosscheck all of the so-called facts that he writes and you print.

Thank you, for devoting your attention to correcting this serious injustice.

Paul Culloton Saco

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