Minutes of the October 26, 2006 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in Conference Room 6A, 79 Elm Street, Hartford.
PRESENT: Thomas Harrison (Chairman), Howard Beach, Susan Mendenhall, Earl Phillips, Richard Sherman, Norman VanCor, Barbara Wagner, Karl Wagener (Executive Director).
Chairman Harrison convened the meeting at 9:10 AM and determined that a quorum was present.
Phillips made a motion to approve the September 27, 2006 minutes. Second by Sherman. Approved unanimously, with Mendenhall abstaining for the reason that she had not been present.
Chairman Harrison reported that he had been asked to introduce Governor M. Jodi Rell when she announced her Executive Order 15 establishing an Office of Responsible Growth earlier in the month. He also described a meeting with DEP officials and other organizations to discuss the DEP’s Grasslands Habitat Initiative, which is very much related to the Rentschler Field project discussed later in the agenda and which was formally announced at a press event where Harrison was again asked to speak.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener described the Connecticut Forest Forum to be held in November, of which the Council is a co-sponsor.
Wagener discussed some recent articles and correspondence that caused him to conclude that the state’s effort to control invasive species was stumbling. Members agreed that the Council should re-visit the issue to determine what legislation and/or funding is required, especially to increase the state’s capability to respond to initial reports of infestations. Phillips agreed but said the Council would want to avoid recommending any steps that would put Connecticut companies at a competitive disadvantage but not solve the problem.
Wagener and members reviewed the list of complaints that had been distributed in advance of the September meeting. Several were discussed at some length.
After discussing the public participation procedures associated with two dock permits in coastal areas, the Council decided to write to DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy to suggest some modifications to ways in which known interested parties are notified of changes, and to invite her to a future meeting to discuss that point and others, including the upcoming legislative session.
After discussing complaints about people obtaining permits from the Department of Transportation (DOT) to cut trees in state rights-of-way without knowledge of the town, the Council agreed to write to the Commissioner of Transportation, commending the Department’s District 4 for always requiring an applicant to communicate with the municipality, and to recommend adopting this policy statewide.
Wagener presented an oral report on the status of options available to towns for road sweepings, which had been the subject of numerous complaints. He said that DEP staff acknowledged that the 2005 guidelines were still a work in progress in need of change, because most of the recommended options were not realistically available. He said that the DOT is moving toward ice prevention, rather than the traditional use of sand and salt. Ice prevention involves the spreading of pre-wetted sodium and calcium chlorides before the snow falls; it has been adopted by New York, Massachusetts, and some towns in Connecticut, and is recommended in a 2006 report from the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering. Mendenhall says that Ledyard is one of the towns that went to ice prevention, and it works and almost eliminates the need to sweep the streets. Wagener said it appears that the best solution to the difficult problem of road sweepings is to avoid them altogether by not using sand. Members agreed this policy should be advanced. VanCor suggested that the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities should be contacted to see if it is publicizing these efforts; Wagener said he would find out. Members agreed to write to the Commissioner of Transportation commending the recent trend away from sand.
Wagener updated the Council regarding DEP oversight of sewer construction projects, where he learned that the DEP can and does threaten to withhold funds if a contractor is a problem. Beach noted that such a procedure could cause its own problems, if the contractor quits and the construction site is unattended for a while.
Wagener updated the Council on the complaints from Colchester about proposals to change local zoning to allow processing of stone and asphalt in all zones. He said that the DEP had written to the town to clarify the status of asphalt, which is not necessarily clean fill, and he is confident that the town is now getting accurate information.
Review of State Agency Projects
Proposed Infrastructure Improvements and Rentschler Field Development – Wagener summarized the project and the Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE). Patrick Comins, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Connecticut, speaking from the audience, answered some questions about grassland birds and the potential for mitigating habitat loss. In response to a question, he said that his organization had submitted detailed comments during the scoping period, but he could not find them in the EIE. After considerable discussion, the Council asked Wagener to prepare comments on the EIE, for further review and approval, that would address the timing of the EIE relative to decisions that appear to have been made already, recommending more detail about the Charter Oak Greenway and its design, and stating that the full plan for mitigating grassland habitat and its funding should be part of the EIE.
Discussion of Inland Wetland Topics
Wagener said he reviewed the large amount of information received during and after the August meeting, and proposed five topics for further Council review and possible action:
· The structure of local commissions, including the question of whether inland wetland agencies should be separate from other commissions.
· The future of technical assistance to municipal commissions, and whether it should be provided by the DEP, a third party, or consultants paid for by applicants’ fees.
· The quantity of training available, and whether the results of training should be measured. Training includes web-based information, DEP training, and third-party training.
· The supervision of municipal commissions, including actions that should be taken when there are major problems and minor problems (the latter including such things as municipalities’ failures to report actions to the DEP as required), and evaluations of the quality of municipalities’ decisions, enforcement, and follow-up actions.
· Possible amendments to statutes and regulations to introduce the possibility of meaningful action by the DEP in the case of problems with a commission, as the option of revoking authority is never used and official corrective letters are very seldom used.
Members agreed with this outline, on a preliminary basis, and asked Wagener to circulate among all the members for further review.
Harrison adjourned the meeting at 11:20.