Minutes of the December 19, 2007 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Russell Room, 79 Elm St., Hartford.
PRESENT: Thomas Harrison (Chairman), Bruce Fernandez, John Mandyck, Earl W. Phillips Jr., Wesley Winterbottom, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
Chairman Harrison called the meeting to order at 9:16 AM, noting the presence of a quorum. He welcomed the newly appointed member of the Council, Bruce Fernandez.
Chairman Harrison asked if there were any comments on the minutes for the meeting of November 28. There were no corrections. Chairman Harrison moved to have them approved, Winterbottom seconded and they were approved with Fernandez abstaining, since he had not been appointed at the time of the November meeting.
Chairman Harrison mentioned that board members of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters were meeting with Governor Rell on Thursday. To prepare for the meeting, they had requested some of the documents and analyses produced by the Council for Council members. They are public documents and he asked Wagener to provide them.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener reported that he attended the first meeting of the Old Saybrook Council on Environmental Quality. Many town officials were there, and there was a high level of enthusiasm for this new group that would monitor the town’s environmental quality and produce an annual report.
By statute, the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management is required to submit a Fiscal Accountability Report. Wagener said that this year the projections are alarming. Chairman Harrison requested the link to the report so he could read it; other members requested it as well.
Discussion of Funding of Environmental Programs
Wagener presented an informal memo that showed the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) neither receives nor spends much in general fund revenues. Most of what is received from the general fund goes to programs for parks, fish and wildlife programs, and a few engineering programs such as dam safety and flood control. In addition general fund monies go to agency administration and operations. Wagener pro-rated these operational expenses across all other divisions for the sake of the analysis. The average Connecticut resident paid $14 per year in taxes to support the DEP. However Wagener made the point that this is used mostly for parks and programs that constitute recreation or public safety that people don’t necessarily think of environmental protection.
Chairman Harrison asked if Wagener had gathered all the data needed for the Council’s analysis of the possible inadequacies in the DEP’s budget. Wagener said he was still analyzing the consequences of under-funding. Chairman Harrison asked what do the Council members believe should be done when all the information is finally in. This led to a general discussion of the information presented by Wagener in the context of the environmental issue facing Connecticut.
Phillips stated he believes the public does think of state parks as an important component of environmental protection. Winterbottom said the parks provide an important educational and wildlife protection role. Phillips said he would like to see a breakdown of DEP employees in the two categories of 1) Parks and other “resources” categories and 2) “media” categories like clean air and water.
Winterbottom was surprised to see that the amount of money paid in state taxes by a resident for the regulation of air and water pollution amounted to less than the taxes paid when one buys a tank of gas. He said the Council should publicize the fact that so little of the general fund revenues go to improving the environment; yet Connecticut has the second or third highest asthma rates in the country. Winterbottom, Phillips and Chairman Harrison thought a comparison to funding for similar programs in New England, New York and New Jersey would be of value, provided the comparison was of similar programs and avoided “apple to oranges” errors.
Since the mid-1990’s park staff was decreased by approximately one third. Wagener made the point that it is important to distinguish between the functions of parks and environmental protection.
Mandyck asked what is the consequence of under-funding of the parks? Wagener answered, “shorter season, fewer lifeguards, elimination of parking at some parks”. Closed roads and fewer facilities” added Phillips. Mandyck said these should be highlighted. Wagener said that these problems have already been well documented in an objective fashion in the Clough Harbour report of a few years ago. Wagener also referred to the December 2006 report of the Program Review and Investigations Committee on the Environmental Conservation Police; he said most state park supervisors were dissatisfied with the response time of the officers, though the officers themselves were professional. Phillips added that he hardly ever sees officers in the parks, whereas he used to see them.
Chairman Harrison, Mandyck and Phillips all recommended relating these specifics to appropriate sections from the Council’s annual report in time to have an impact on the next round of budget deliberations. Fernandez said it is important to ask for something specific, rather than offer a general observation of inadequacies. Wagener said he put some specific recommendations on page 6 of the memo.
There was discussion of the brief section of the staff memo that summarized capital spending needs.
Discussion of State Subsidies of Development on Prime Agricultural Land
Wagener referred to his memo, distributed previously, that included a draft of a change in the law that would subject STEAP grants to the same review by the Commissioner of Agriculture as other bonding expenditures. Chairman Harrison moved to adopt this concept as a Council recommendation to the General Assembly. Winterbottom seconded. The motion passed with Phillips recused from the vote, for the reason that he might have a conflict because of his law firms’ clients, though he was unsure.
In response to last month’s complaint about the UCONN composting facility Wagener contacted Richard Miller, of UCONN, who said the university had added alternative sites to its consideration. He added that Mr. Miller requested to come to the Council to make a presentation about the project. Chairman Harrison suggested extending an invitation to Mr. Miller to speak at a future meeting for about 10 minutes with 10 minutes for questions.
Review of State Agency Actions
South Windsor I-291 Gateway Zone, Record of Decision – Wagener referred to his memo, distributed previously, regarding the Record of Decision from the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) on the proposed South Windsor Gateway project. He summarized the memo, concluding that the DECD’s responses were inadequate. The Record of Decision also states that it is not the responsibility of the DECD to mitigate impacts to endangered species; Wagener said that it is in fact the DECD’s responsibility since the state’s endangered species law applies to state agencies and not to private developers. Mandyck moved to approve it. Chairman Harrison seconded. The motion passed with no objections; Phillips recused himself for the reason that he was not certain if there was a conflict with any of his partners’ clients.
Office of the Business Advocate – Wagener reminded members that they had asked that this be put on the agenda. Despite the discrepancy between what the Office of the Business Advocate says on its web site it is charged to do and what the legislature actually authorized it to do, Wagener saw no action he could recommend to the Council regarding comments that have come from the Office. He did check with the permits ombudsman at the DEP to confirm that the Office of Business Advocate knew that there is a DEP Permit Ombudsman and learned that the Business Advocate had been in communication with the DEP Permit Ombudsman. Chairman Harrison and Phillips said they recommended that Wagener meet with the Business Advocate to introduce the Council and its work and to open a channel of communication.
Middletown Water Pollution Control Facility Abandonment – Wagener referred to the draft comments circulated in advance, and members concurred with them and agreed to send them.
Chairman Harrison made a motion to approve the draft schedule of meetings for 2008. Second by Winterbottom. Approved unanimously.
There being no further business Chairman Harrison adjourned the meeting at 10:50 AM.