Minutes of the September 26, 2007 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe conference room, 79 Elm St., Hartford.
PRESENT: Thomas Harrison (Chairman), John Mandyck, Richard Sherman, Norman VanCor, Barbara Wagner, Wes Winterbottom, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Carmel Zahran (Intern).
Chairman Harrison called the meeting to order at 9:08, noting that a quorum was present.
Chairman Harrison asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the August 22, 2007 meeting. Sherman motioned to approve and Mandyck seconded. The motion was approved unanimously.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener introduced Carmel Zahran, an intern from Trinity College. She will continue the research of the previous intern on the performance of towns in protecting wetlands and the adequacy of DEP oversight.
Wagener reported that the bonding package contained 110 million dollars for the Clean Water Fund, 15 million for open space and some funding for greenways. However, a veto was likely.
Wagener noted that the provisions of the New Britain Water Department mining bill had been repealed. The repealed bill was replaced with a requirement that the Department of Health hire a consultant to study of the potential consequences of such a mining operation in proximity to the reservoir. The study was to be reviewed by the DEP. However there is no appropriation for such a study.
The Hartford Courant ran a long article describing the number of violators that were discharging pollutants into state waters under expired permits or in violation of their permits. The article generated subsequent letters that quoted the Council to the effect that this is what can be expected when the DEP is under-funded. In fact, almost no funding comes from the Connecticut taxpayer to monitor these discharges. It is mostly from federal funds and permit fees.
Susan Masino, a resident of Simsbury, was given the floor to address the Council about issues of concern to her. The first issue she raised is inadequacy of mass transit. She cited many examples from personal experience of inadequacies in regional mass transit. These included bus schedules to and from Hartford ending too early in the morning and in the evening. She suggested some routes where service is needed; and urged weekend commuter service to Hartford and back. Sherman suggested she bring these excellent ideas to her Council of Governments, since they had co-equal responsibility for transportation planning with the DOT. He referred to his experience in eastern Connecticut where they were able to get a desired response from the DOT with the help of the local Council of Governments. He stated that in general the DOT will claim that there are not sufficient densities to support mass transportation. He recommended that she use the DOT standards to demonstrate sufficient densities for the routes and schedules she would like to see created.
Ms. Masino also discussed recycling as she saw it being conducted in her community. She described separate recycling fees that were being charged by collectors, which she believed to be a disincentive. She thought curbside collection should not be optional. She also decried lack of recycling in state parks and other state facilities. She said there should be an expanded effort at restaurants and apartment buildings. Mandyck inquired as to what exactly was the law in Connecticut about recycling. Wagener said that there were definitely items that were not to be thrown away. Harrison said he believed that the questions of the effectiveness of Connecticut’s recycling efforts was an appropriate area for further inquiry by the Council, and thanked Ms. Masino for her insightful comments.
Wagener reported that after Nancy Alderman’s report to the Council on the prevalence of synthetic turf on athletic fields he inquired of the DEP as to whether there is a need for a general permit for the use of this recycled material. He is still awaiting their response.
Review of State Agency Actions
Cromwell Business Park -- Wagener said he was surprised to see the second project in six months that involved the proposed use of state funds to subsidize development that would eliminate prime farmland. He was also dismayed to read in the Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) that the project was exempt from the provision that state funded projects causing the loss of 25 or more acres of farmland be reviewed by the Commissioner of Agriculture prior to receiving bonding approval. The rationale for this claim for exemption is that although the state funded infrastructure will support a development that will eliminate approximately 50 acres of prime farmland, the actual acreage consumed by the infrastructure is less that 25 acres. Clearly the intent of the infrastructure is to develop the farmland and clearly the argument posed in the EIE is not in conformance with the intent of the law.
He reported that the EIE itself appears to fail to meet the legal requirements of the law. The consultants failed to visit the site to look for the half dozen endangered or threatened species that DEP identified in the scoping process as possibly being on the site. Instead it was proposed in the EIE that this analysis be done prior to the construction of the infrastructure, only for the acres that would be disturbed by the infrastructure. This is not in conformance with the state’s Endangered Species Act, which mandates that the effect of state development on proximate environments be considered. Further the suggestion in the EIE that the site be surveyed after the infrastructure is in place misses the key point that a reason for a survey is to determine the location and extent of appropriate infrastructure. Additionally private businesses are not subject to the Endangered Species Act, and a binding methodology that would protect the species in question is not described. Wagener said it is his opinion that the EIE does not provide DECD with enough information to make a decision on the project.
Chairman Harrison said that in light of the above information he would like to send a strong statement to DECD regarding the inadequacy of the EIE as a document on which to base its decision. A discussion among Council members ensued regarding the issue. Sherman thought the issue of conformity with the state Plan for Conservation and Development needs to be addressed to counter the trend that a project’s location in a growth area is a rationale for inappropriate development. Wagner thought the issue of state funding of farmland loss was crucial here. Winterbottom suggested a meeting with DECD to point out this problem. Wagener said that the root of the problem lay in the STEAP process not with DECD. The agency was assigned the responsibility for the EIE; but the problem is that the STEAP grant process bypasses the requirement that state funded projects receive approval from the Commissioner of Agriculture prior to approval by the bonding commission. This “cart before the horse” approach needs to be addressed so that the presence of agricultural lands is questioned in the STEAP grant application. It currently asks if the project is compatible with the state plan of Conservation and Development. Adding a question about the presence of prime agricultural soils is equally appropriate and easily accomplished. Wagener presented a draft of a letter he wrote to OPM addressing this point. He reminded the Council that this was similar to a letter sent by the Council in 2005 that recommended that an EIE be done before a STEAP grant be awarded and suggested a revolving fund to finance these evaluations.
Chester Sanitary Sewer -- The EIE on this project is adequate, Wagener said.
Seaside - Wagener reported on the Seaside property in Waterford. He explained that the process was proceeding down two tracks simultaneously. The project has been before the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee of the Legislature for approval at the same time that scoping is being conducted. The sales agreement states that the developer or the state can cancel the agreement without penalty if the developer chooses to not abide by the findings of the EIE. Members agreed by consensus to have Wagener send a letter to the DPW urging that community members’ suggestions for alternatives be considered in the EIE, as well light pollution and visual impacts, as required by law.
Route 11 Extension -- Chairman Harrison asked about the status of the Route 11 extension. Wagener reported that the Federal Final EIS had been completed.
Wagener also reported on the progress made by staff in meeting the requirements of the new law requiring that notice of state land transfers be on the CEQ website. The reporting forms have been created and will be accessible on October 1 as required by law.
Chairman Harrison asked if anyone had any other items of business. Since there was none, he adjourned the meeting at 11:57 AM