Minutes of the April 23, 2008 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Russell Room, 79 Elm St., Hartford.
PRESENT: Thomas Harrison (Chairman), Bruce Fernandez, Earl W. Phillips, Jr., Richard Sherman, Norman VanCor, Barbara Wagner, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
GUEST: S. Derek Phelps, Executive Director, Connecticut Siting Council.
Chairman Harrison called the meeting to order at 9:08 AM and determined that a quorum was present.
VanCor made a motion to approve the March 26, 2008 minutes. Second by Wagner. Approved unanimously, with Sherman abstaining for the reason that he had not been present.
Chairman Harrison noted that there had been considerable news coverage of the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP’s) budget situation, and the outcome would be known in a couple of weeks when the legislature adjourns.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener further updated the Council on the status of proposed budget increases for the DEP. Members discussed the proposed appropriations relative to the number of positions. Fernandez commented that he had observed much supportive editorial comment in support of increasing funding for the DEP since the publication of Dreams Deferred?, the Council’s report on the funding needed to accomplish environmental programs. Wagener said there had been a real team effort among advocacy groups.
Wagener reported that legislators are still working to draft a law that will reverse a recent Superior Court decision that land trusts are not entitled to property tax exemption unless they run educational programs at the property.
Wagener said the Annual Report has been largely written.
Wagener said that staff had recently received a complaint regarding the proposed Plainfield Renewable Energy facility in Canterbury. The complaint involved the relocation of a proposed pumping facility along the Quinebaug River to a new location without notice to the abutting landowners and community about the proposed change. Staff is investigating this complaint.
Review of State Agency Projects
Wagener said that the Council has received its first notice of a state land transfer pursuant to the 2007 law that requires publication of transfers of land out of state ownership. The transfer is of a small parcel in the town of Killingworth that appears non-controversial. Wagener said the staff plans some publicity when the next one is published.
Discussion of Annual Report Topics (Part 1)
Chairman Harrison suggested starting on this report and interrupting it when Mr. Phelps arrives. Council members were referred to a handout containing the draft text of the report. Wagener pointed out that some trends showed improvement and others did not. The new, stricter fine particulate standard for air could make air appear worse for 2007; however, Wagener reported that Hearn had updated all years on the graph back to 2002 to reflect the number of bad air days there would have been if the newer standard had been in effect. A discussion followed on whether it was better to continue to count days with multiple air or water quality violations as one day that didn’t meet the goal or whether it would be more effective to list violations for each standard or location.
Wagener noted that land preservation progress was noticeably slow. Only 3,000 acres were acquired while 10,000 acres are needed to reach the target of 21% of the state’s land by 2023. Phillips pointed out that failure to reach 10,000 this year means that next year more than 10,000 will have to be set aside, and that the annual need should be recalculated regularly. Members agreed.
A change was made in the method that is used to determine acres in forest. Wagener said that the Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) program researchers at the University of Connecticut were able to go back in their satellite images to determine the acres of the state that were in forests of fifty acres or more. The trend was much the same as earlier. However, Wagener said the new data is more precise.
The regulation of impacts on scenic and other resources by the Connecticut Siting Council
Philips recused himself from any discussion or deliberation regarding actions or determinations regarding the Siting Council due to his firm’s potential involvement in Siting Council matters. Wagner recused herself from any deliberations that would relate to Siting Council actions in Glastonbury due to her position on the town council and the proposal for a cell tower in the town.
Mr. Phelps began his presentation by stating that he wasn’t there to discuss the specifics of any applications that were now or could be before the Siting Council. He was only interested in presenting an overview of what is the Siting Council’s authority and how the Siting Council makes its decisions. He distributed an outline of his presentation. He explained the composition of the Siting Council and its statutory authority. Using slides to illustrate, he outlined the application process for utilities to bring projects before the Siting Council. He explained what authority the Siting Council has to modify or restrict their plans. In his presentation he explained the differences between the two types of cell phone service, and the trend from analog to PCS digital. He also contrasted Connecticut’s restrictive regulations with what goes on in other states. Important points he emphasized were:
· The Siting Council makes great effort to publicize proposed projects at every stage of the approval process. Publicity includes: a legal notice ad in the local newspaper, notice to the municipal authorities, notice to abutting property owners, a 4’x 8’ sign on the property, public hearing, a balloon fly all day on the day of the public hearing, additional notice to state municipal officials, 30 day public comment period, a legal ad in the local newspaper after the decision.
· The Siting Council requires transparency in all proceedings, and has all documents on its website.
· In response to a question from Fernandez, he said the state’s authority cannot trump that of the Federal Government which does not allow a community to turn down cell service if a provider shows a need.
· The Siting Council therefore is limited in what it can do; however, community opposition or support plays a large role in Siting Council decisions.
· In response to a question from VanCor, he said that they still review applications one at a time, and there is no long-range plan approval, but they are getting better at looking at the big picture and anticipating need for towers and tower sharing.
· Siting Council decisions are limited to choosing between alternatives offered by service providers and in rare instances asking for other choices. In making these decisions the Siting Council will consult with the state’s Historic Preservation Officer and with the DEP and they send copies of docket items to the Council on Environmental Quality as well.
Wagener asked about the authority of the Siting Council to regulate erosion and runoff during construction of facilities it has permitted. Mr. Phelps responded that the Siting Council has authority in this area. It may require the hiring of an independent environmental inspector by the developer and may impose fines of up to $1,000.00 per day. He said he has scheduled a visit to the Kleen Energy site in Middletown to look at the situation there about which there had been some complaints.
Chairman Harrison thanked Mr. Phelps for informing the Council about the law and procedures by which the Siting Council makes its determinations.
Discussion of Annual Report Topics (continued)
The Council resumed discussion about the text of the Council’s annual report. In addition to suggested wording changes, questions were raised on: relationships between indicators, sources of timelines and goals, and whether there was a general trend evident in the report. Due to the lateness of the hour it was decided to meet again to review a final draft and to have publication at the end of May or the beginning of June.
Fernandez reported on the DEP wetlands commission training session he attended. He spoke approvingly of the staff that conducted it, Steve Tessitore the DEP’s Supervising Environmental Analyst of the Wetlands Management Section and Darcy Winther, the DEP’s Wetlands Training Coordinator and Assistant Attorney General David Wrinn of the Attorney General’s Office. Fernandez said that this year they presented a shorter course than in earlier years at the request of prior participants. However, a great number of questions caused the session to run long.
Before the meeting adjourned, Lisa Rapose of Woodstock Citizens for Responsible Cell Tower Placement asked to speak from the audience. She said that there are many examples of the Siting Council not requiring a thorough exploration of alternative sites and she believed they could do more. Not all proposed locations are of historic significance or crucial environmental importance but are nonetheless scenic and that should be taken into consideration more than it is and alternatives considered. She cited her own town as an example. She urged towns to develop a master plan for tower placement and encouraged other towns to do the same. Waiting for the application is too late she said. Chairman Harrison thanked her for taking the time to come to the Council meeting and encouraged her to attend in the future since this is an issue that the Council will continue to work on in the coming weeks.
There being no further business, Chairman Harrison asked for a motion to adjourn. Fernandez moved, second by VanCor; the meeting was adjourned at 12:11 PM.