Minutes of the July 23, 2008 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Room, 5th floor at 79 Elm St., Hartford.
PRESENT: Thomas Harrison (Chairman), Bruce Fernandez, John Mandyck, Earl W. Phillips Jr., Richard Sherman, Norman VanCor, Barbara Wagner, Wesley Winterbottom, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Nathaniel Danforth and Brittney Holmgren (interns).
Chairman Harrison called the meeting to order at 9:03 AM.
Chairman Harrison noted the presence of the camera crew from CT-N and suggested that those present at the table introduce themselves for the benefit of the viewers.
Discussion of new DEP Policies on Land Exchanges and Encroachments
Chairman Harrison introduced Gina McCarthy, Commissioner of Environmental Protection, who began by saying that what the Council does is important to the DEP and the agency pays close attention to it. She cited the new encroachment laws and the hiring of a surveyor as examples of action taken as a consequence of a report from the Council on encroachments. She referred members to the copies of the Encroachment Enforcement Response Policy, which had been distributed to them prior to the meeting. This policy has categorized encroachments into three categories according to severity, each with an appropriate response. These responses range from letters requesting restoration, to suits for damages and possible arrest. The Commissioner said that it is important that the public understand the Department is serious about enforcement actions against encroachments. The DEP also has initiated a Protected Open Space Mapping (POSM) project that will identify private, municipal and state-owned open space lands; this could help to avoid encroachments.
Commissioner McCarthy also outlined the new Directive on Exchanges of Land or Interests in Land. She explained that previously this was only a “policy” but under her administration has been elevated to a “directive” which is the strongest tool a commissioner has. The new directive lists the conditions under which a transfer can be made. If these are not met, the transfer will not be considered. She added that future transfers will be well documented to be clear to anyone reviewing the record why the transfer was made and how the conditions were met. She thanked the Council for having raised these issues to her attention.
Chairman Harrison thanked Commissioner McCarthy for appearing before the Council and stated that it is a tribute to her governance that the Council’s suggestions have been well received and have been acted upon. Mandyck suggested the number of encroachment actions taken by the DEP be publicized. Fernandez added that publicity would increase public awareness and possibly reduce future encroachments. Commissioner McCarthy said that was a good suggestion.
Approval of Minutes
Chairman Harrison asked if there were any suggested revisions, additions or deletions to the minutes of June 25, 2008. Mandyck said he had not been present at the meeting. VanCor moved approval as corrected. Second by Winterbottom. The motion was passed with Fernandez and Mandyck abstaining because they had not been present.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener reported on distribution of the annual report, and said that the report received considerable attention from the news media. Sherman asked Wagener if, in light of the reduced number of hard copies of the annual report, there is a way to measure readership on the web site. Wagener said that visitation data was not available because of a long-running technology problem at the Department of information Technology, which promises to see it fixed eventually, hopefully with historical data intact. Wagener reported that like last year only 500 hard copies were printed and 1400 postcards were sent to persons who formerly received the printed report, urging them to go the interactive version on the Council’s site. Winterbottom asked if there had been a response from the Governor’s office. Chairman Harrison said that he had received a letter thanking the Council for an informative report but questioning the per-copy cost; Harrison said that he provided a very positive response stating that the Council had greatly reduced the number of paper copies, and that the cost of the contract included content for the web version, which is what most people read. Sherman said that the Council should follow up with the Governor’s office on the substance of the report, and others agreed.
Wagener said he had received some good substantive comments about the annual report. For example, he heard from a land trust that had acquired conservation easements on 500 acres of land in 2007. He said that this was relevant to the report because it is likely that due to the difficulty of tracking conservation easements statewide the annual report probably under-reports the annual land preservation progress. The land trust is interested in meeting to discuss ways to capture more complete data.
Sherman raised the question about feedback in general about the annual report. A discussion followed about what feedback mechanisms would be most appropriate and effective.
Wagener recommended that the Council again co-sponsor the Connecticut Forest Conservation Forum; members concurred.
Wagener reported that a summer intern, Nathaniel Danforth, whom he introduced, was working on the ongoing wetlands report, looking specifically at the performance of municipalities that never report to the DEP. He was going to the non-reporting towns and reviewing their records and permits for 2005. Wagener said the staff was approaching a conclusion to this research.
Wagener said he would ask for the Councils’ concurrence in adding two complaints to the agenda under “Others.”
Plainfield Renewable Energy – Wagener stated that a response to the Council’s letter to the Siting Council indicates that the Siting Council will hold a hearing in August on the question of whether the petition by Plainfield Renewable Energy needs to be re-opened. He did not recommend testifying at this hearing as the issues are primarily legal in nature.
Seymour Inland Wetlands – Wagener reported that a number of complaints were received about a court decision regarding a wetlands case in Seymour, and reviewed the unusual history of the case. The Superior Court upheld the town’s denial, but the Appellate Court reversed that and its remedy was to order the town to issue the permit, which is highly unusual. The town is appealing the ruling to the State Supreme Court, and the Attorney General has asked the court for permission to file a brief in support of the town.
Others – Wagener said that he had received complaints about the proposed Army installation in Middletown. Wagener said that he learned that the project would be subject to the National Environmental Policy Act, but not the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act because the proposed involves no state funds.
An interesting inquiry came from a citizen who witnessed a large traffic jam caused by highway work being conducted by the Department of Transportation on an Ozone Alert Day. The citizen suggested that state highway maintenance activities be curtailed on such days. Wagener said he believed the idea has some merit and urged the Council to consider a recommendation to the DEP on this, especially since the DEP is in the process of submitting a revised state implementation plan for air quality (specifically fine particulates) to the federal EPA. Wagener pointed out that other jurisdictions have such restrictions and said he would circulate a draft memo in support of the idea by e-mail to the Council members for their input. Members agreed, by consent, to send such a recommendation to the DEP, with exact language to be circulated by email. Fernandez added that paving as well as repairs should be banned on such days. A discussion followed about the costs of such a restriction and the cost and safety of doing such repairs and paving at night.
Review of State Agency Actions
South Windsor I-291 Gateway Zone – The Department of Economic and Community Development’s (DECD’s) revised Record of Decision had been submitted to the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) regarding the proposed Gateway Project in South Windsor. Wagener said that one of the Council’s recommendations was addressed, and that by agreement with the DECD local permits must be approved by the DECD to ensure implementation of required habitat mitigation measures. The other areas of concern that were expressed by the Council in its December 17, 2007 memo were not addressed. Members agreed to send the draft memo, which had been prepared by Wagener and distributed in advance, to OPM in anticipation of OPM’s consultation with Council staff on t-his matter .
Branford Shore Line East Railroad Station – Wagener said the EIE for the Branford shoreline railroad had been reviewed and there is no need to comment on the project.
Future of in-State Solid Waste Facilities and Environmental Consequences – Wagener referred to the memo from hi, and the letter from Lois Hager, that had been distributed in advance. Four of the five quasi-public resource recovery plants might go into private ownership and that could lead to Connecticut towns being outbid for their local facilities. The Solid Waste Management Plan says that Connecticut should be self-sufficient in waste handling and therefore this could be a concern, as towns would have to ship their waste out of state. Lois Hager, a resident of Bloomfield and former solid waste planner for the DEP, was in the audience and was invited to offer her insights. She said that private ownership could have significant environmental consequences. In addition, she was concerned that these facilities, which were created at public expense, would be sold for pennies on the dollar. Wagener said that the legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee had decided to study the implications of private ownership of these plants, and that the Council could rely on that Committee’s facts. VanCor said that the Council should contact the Committee now to make its concerns known; members agreed, and asked staff to report back at the next meeting. Harrison thanked Ms. Hager for her information.
Proposed Telecommunications Facility in Putnam – Wagener stated for the record that he was refraining from any participation in this matter for the reason that he personally was an intervenor in another Siting Council docket which, while far removed from Putnam, could involve some of the same issues and he wanted to avoid any appearance that there was any connection between his personal actions and Council actions; though there was no actual conflict of interest, he left the room. Phillips also recused himself for the reason that some of his partners could be involved in this or similar cases. Hearn handed out a draft of a response to the Siting Council regarding a proposal for a communications tower in Putnam. The draft suggested further investigation of the tower’s impact on three scenic areas before a final decision is made. It also urged special attention be paid to the visual impact of sitings on the state’s recreational and scenic areas. The Council approved the draft.
Report on Scenic Resources
Holmgren presented the Council with a summary of her research on how state agencies protect scenic resources in Connecticut. She explained why the aesthetic of pleasant scenery is important economically, where scenic values are referred to in state law, what actions have been taken in the state to protect pleasing viewsheds, what resources are available to towns that want to protect the defining scenic characteristics of their locale, why it is important to identify those assets, what means have been used by governments to evaluate the significance of scenic features. She referred to an outline which had been distributed previously.
A discussion followed on why this was an issue of importance, how these issues are dealt with currently, why this is an appropriate issue for the Council, what models from other states would fit Connecticut, and what state and local agencies and organizations deal with these considerations. It was decided that further research and meetings are warranted to complete a report that the Council can act upon. Chairman Harrison said it was an excellent report, and other members agreed.
Chairman Harrison adjourned the meeting at 11:28 AM.