Tilting at Power

The Bridgeport Telegram

(Renamed Connecticut Post)
Cityline  by Kenneth Dixon
April 6, 1987

 A modern-day Don Quixote who is opposed to the construction of the huge regional garbage-to-energy plant in Bridgeport’s South End claims he was fired from his executive position with The Connecticut Bank & Trust Co. because of pressure from Gov. William A. O’Neill to assure the success of the project.

If what Ethan Book says is true, a political pall could be cast over last year’s demise of a plan in Stratford for a smaller, municipal garbage-to-energy plant.  Book, who was handling preliminary funding proposals at the bank for the now-defunct Genitron plan, charges that pressures at the bank from the governor scuttled the plan.

Book is tilting at a windmill that is looming larger and larger over the South End as the plant’s skeleton nears completion.

Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority officials scoff during his public statements to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

In his mission, Book often drives to Hartford to badger state officials.  He’s a regular in area newsrooms, constantly trying to persuade reporters and editors of the fallibility of the mass-burning technology.

His many opponents are quick to point out that his criticism of the CRRA project is tainted because he is a consultant representing the preprocessing of garbage, which is then separated from its metals before it’s burned.  The technology, which has made many advances since the city’s garbage-to-powdered fuel plant failed, is called RDF, refuse derived fuel.

Book’s a gadfly with portfolio, a former Peace Corps volunteer from America’s heartland.  His resume is chock full of international banking experience, including funding for nuclear and coal-fired power plants and hydropower.

He was employed at CBT from Feb. 19 until Sept. 19, 1985 after leaving a Bank of America position in Manhattan to be closer to his Fairfield home and young children.  He’s a member of the town’s Representative Town Meeting.

Book: “My first week at the bank, they requested that I arrange financing for the Stratford project and that’s where things began.  About halfway through the period, I noticed the first changes in management.  Before, things were going extremely well and after the change it became totally opposite.  They were aware that I was interested in pursuing the Stratford project.  I reviewed it in-depth and it was my understanding that I had their blessing.

They accepted the point that I indicated the apparent competition between Stratford and Bridgeport, with both of them competing for customers.  I felt there was support for me until early August, when I was given some conditions for (the Genitron) loan approval which did not correspond with either the norm or to our prior conversations.  They required an engineering consultant report to review the technology prior to requesting loan approval of the loan committee.  Normally, we would get loan approval subject to satisfactory review of the technology.  It’s unusual for a group to have to spend $5,000-to-$10,000 beforehand.”

In an affidavit Book signed last fall, he reconstructed a conversation with a CBT government liaison officer, whom he met during a reception for new CBT officers.

Officer: “I realize, Ethan, that you are arranging a loan package for the Genitron Group.  Tell me.  Would you be opposed to the Loan Committee postponing approval on this credit until after Aug. 31?” [August 31, 1985 was the date imposed by the CRRA as the deadline that Bridgeport area communities should join their project or else they would face a surcharge for late joining (an unlawful condition which was later disregarded by CRRA).]

Book: “Actually, as the loan officer for Genitron, I’d like to please my client and an earlier approval would benefit the project.”

Officer: “Well, you see, Walter Connolly (chairman of the board for the CBT holding company) is very close to Gov. O’Neill and Gov. O’Neill wants the CRRA to do very well.”

Book: “I can understand that, however, the Stratford project is a better project.”

Book said he began to tell the officer why the Genitron project’s fundamentals, including size efficiency and economics, were better.

Officer: “Ethan, you’re not listening to me.  You’re giving me detail and I don’t want detail.  The governor wants the CRRA to do well.”

Book said that on Sept. 3, the Genitron account was taken away from him.  Three days later, he said he was given a written warning of performance grievances, which he contested.  On Sept. 11, he was placed on formal probation.  “No reason of substance was given for his action.”  He claims he still doesn’t have a reason for why he was fired about a week later.

Lucille Brown, legal counsel in the bank’s Hartford office, said last week:  “I can’t give any statement and advise any corporate officers not to make any statement regarding Ethan’s status.”