Minutes of the August 22, 2007 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe conference room, 79 Elm St., Hartford.
PRESENT: Thomas Harrison (Chairman), Howard Beach, Susan Mendenhall, Earl Phillips, Richard Sherman, Norman VanCor, Barbara Wagner, Wesley Winterbottom, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
Chairman Harrison convened the meeting at 9:04 AM. A quorum was present.
Chairman Harrison asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the June 28, 2007 meeting. The minutes were approved unanimously subject to minor clarifications from Sherman and Winterbottom.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener followed up on the discussion at the July meeting about synthetic turf. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station preliminary report on this subject is now available. It identifies what chemicals are released and says that more are released in hot conditions.
Wagener reported that he met with DEP staff to discuss the Green Plan.
Wagener said he sent the letter, approved by Council members, to DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy with the Council’s comments on the Farmington wetlands complaint.
Wagener reported that Susan Masino of Simsbury invites the Council members to a celebration of the preservation of the Ethel Walker Woods. It is on Sept. 23 from 2:00 PM until 5:00 PM. She would also like to appear before the Council in September to speak about another issue.
Wagener reported that he contacted Representative Tim O’Brien and Senator Donald DeFronzo to invite them to speak to the Council about the recent legislation that would lease water utility land to a private mining company. Both said they would welcome the opportunity to speak to the Council but not at this time. They are seeking repeal of the Bill in question at the next legislative session. Sherman said that the legislation is only an example of what will come in the future. He would like to invite the leaders of the House and Senate to the Council. Chairman Harrison agreed.
Wagener reported that the DEP has had a difficult time acquiring grasslands for preservation primarily because those lands which are generally flat and well drained are also the most prized for development. Many are too costly, contaminated or are snatched by developers before the DEP can act. So the DEP is looking at innovative ideas such as conversion of portions of corporate parks and cooperative arrangements with farmers. Mendenhall thought the corporate park idea was a good one given that DEP is so under-funded in so many areas. She reported that Subaru claims to have a natural area surrounding its factory in Iowa. Beach, VanCor and Phillips thought this is an area in which the business community could be more involved and that there could be incentives developed for business set-asides of grasslands. Wagener and Chairman Harrison said the Council could act as a catalyst and put representatives of the CBIA and the DEP together to discuss the concept. Phillips wondered if agricultural land with soils too poor to qualify for the agricultural land preservation program could qualify if grassland habitat were a criterion.
Discussion of Annual Report Format
Wagener solicited feedback from the Council regarding the new online format of the annual report. If the Council wanted to change it, work on a new format would have to begin very soon. Chairman Harrison said he had received generally complimentary feedback about it. VanCor liked the fact that a navigation bar was on each page. He suggested adding the annual report to the navigation bar for to the home page of the web site. Wagener said that he had received inquiries about the absence of some indicators that had been in previous reports. He explained that indicators are dropped if data for them deteriorates or a stronger indicator is found. Sherman asked if a count is available to determine the number of visitors to a site. Wagener said that DOIT is unable currently to provide visitor count information but expects to be able to in the future.
Wagener said he would report on two complaints. The first was regarding the DEP’s swap of easements at the Griswold Airport property, which the Council had addressed previously. Phillips said he would have to recuse himself from this discussion. Local citizens, through their attorney, had requested the Council to assist in ascertaining the status of their complaint to the Attorney General. It was the sense of the Council that it is not the role of the Council to do this research.
The second issue was from Leo Smith, who is on the board of the International Dark Sky Association. Mr. Smith had submitted calculations that show that unnecessary and inefficient highway lighting in the state amounted resulted in more than 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, with municipal lighting probably being ten times greater. Winterbottom and Beach cited examples in other states where there is a municipal initiative to eliminate wasted lighting. Chairman Harrison suggested the Council respond with a letter of interest asking for more information and what targeted action Mr. Smith believes the Council should pursue.
New law regarding public notice of state land transfers
The new law takes effect on October 1, and Wagener sought approval of the form that will be used by state agencies to announce, via the Environmental Monitor, their intent to transfer land or an interest in land. His goal is to have a process that is simply administered and easily understood by the public. By use of a flip chart Wagener explained how surplus lands were disposed of prior to this law and how the new public notice requirement changes the process. There are three possible routes in the new process. Explaining the consequences that derive from each will be one of the challenges in designing and posting the form.
Council members made many helpful suggestions. These included:
Mandating an appropriate scale and detail on property maps that are submitted.
Addition of data regarding the presence of wells, sewer or septic on the site.
Status of the property in the Plan of Conservation and Development.
Identify the type of property right to be transferred.
Restrict information only to the portion in question when only a portion of a property is involved.
Phillips offered to tighten up the wording to make it consistent with the statute. Beach moved to approve the form subject to the revisions stipulated as well as other minor revisions that might be required. VanCor seconded and the motion was approved unanimously.
Wagener said that although transfers authorized by acts of the legislature were not included in the new law, he and representatives of some environmental organizations met with Representative Mary Fritz, who is the legislator who coordinates these actions in the legislature. She was receptive to providing notice of pending transfers to interested organizations and believes that DEP gets notice now. He estimated that 20 to 30 such transfers are made each year. After the meeting with Fritz the groups discussed the possibility that the Council staff could perform a cursory review of lands to be disposed of this way to screen for properties with potentially high environmental values, if no one else is doing it.
Review of State Agency Actions
Harrison asked if there was any new information on the DEP funding problem. Wagener replied that he had a few summary statistics to report. He pointed out that despite all the increased regulatory responsibilities that have been assigned to the DEP since 1972, funding for the agency remains at the same 1972 dollar level when adjusted for inflation. The DEP receives only 0.24% of the state general fund budget and is heavily dependent on park revenues and other fees for its operations. Wagener is collecting information to document this problem of increasing responsibilities without an increase in funding. Council members suggested various appropriate examples.
The meeting adjourned at 11:30 AM