Minutes of the September 24, 2008 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room, 79 Elm St., Hartford.
PRESENT: Thomas Harrison (Chairman), Bruce Fernandez, John Mandyck, Earl Phillips, Richard Sherman, Norman VanCor, 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 August 27, 2008 meeting. Winterbottom’ stated that he would like the minutes from that meeting to mention his suggestion that wetlands commissions with trained members be able to receive a special recognition from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for having done things correctly. Chairman Harrison asked if there were any other additions or deletions. There being none Chairman Harrison asked for a motion to approve the minutes subject to Winterbottom’s amendment. Winterbottom moved to approve, seconded by Chairman Harrison and the motion was approved with Fernandez, Mandyck and VanCor abstaining because they were not present at the August meeting.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener reported that the Council had been asked to submit a budget with a 10% reduction, along with all other agencies.
Wagener referred the Council to a critique of the Council’s Annual Report that was sent in by Mr. Robert Klancko.
Wagener mentioned he received a thoughtful suggestion from a citizen that water temperature in Long Island Sound be added as an indicator in the annual report. He said this may have promise and he would investigate the availability of this data over time. Also related to the Sound was a meeting he had with Art Glowka regarding Mr. Glowka’s belief that there is no benefit to fisheries from nitrogen removal in the Sound.
Wagener said the Council must choose a town for the October meeting if it is to be held in eastern Connecticut as had been discussed. A discussion ensued of the possible choices and New London was chosen for the October 22 meeting.
Wagener said that he sat in on the meeting of the legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee that is investigating the potential transfer to private ownership of some of the state’s resource recovery facilities. There is still time to submit comments and he suggested a short letter urging serious consideration of the potential environmental consequences of this development. He observed that most of the committee members at the hearing were dismayed that Connecticut’s recycling rate was below the national average. Phillips concurred that a major concern about the transfer to the private sector is the possibility that out-of-state haulers will out-bid Connecticut haulers thereby effectively closing these facilities to Connecticut waste, resulting in more exportation of garbage. A discussion followed about the potential problems and it was decided to keep an eye on the issue since so much was unknown at this time. It was agreed that Wagener should send a short letter noting the Council’s concerns.
Wagener next mentioned an article that had been sent to him regarding a proposal for a cell tower on a farm that had sold its development rights to the state. The Commissioner of Agriculture had reportedly commented that this would be an inappropriate use of land that had been preserved for agricultural purposes only. He also mentioned a proposal before the Federal Communication Commission that cell tower location decisions be made within 45 days for co-location on multiple use towers and 75 days for new towers or the application would be automatically be approved. He said the Siting Council will be commenting on this proposal.
Review of State Agency Actions
Renewal of DEP General Permit for Stormwater From Construction Activities – The DEP is proposing to extend the current general permit for storm water runoff for another 18 months because it is still in the process of creating a revised general permit. Wagener said the Council might want to comment on the revised one in the future, not the current one.
Discussion and approval of special report on inland wetlands and watercourses – Discussion of the draft report, Swamped, began with the question of why the DEP staff opposed the recommendation in the report that commissions that are not in conformance with the requirement that at least one member be trained be required to disclose that failure before every hearing. Hearn reported that the staff at the DEP saw this as a punitive action that would sour their relationship with the commissions and might create the impression that training was punitive. Winterbottom agreed saying he preferred the approach of a reward for exceptional performance to a sanction for lax compliance. Mandyck said that the number of “trained” towns should be considered as a future environmental indicator in the Annual Report. Fernandez said that the intent of the law was that more than one commission member be trained per town and that a certificate of commendation should be issued only for towns with more than one trained commissioner. Phillips said that the report makes it clear that training matters for wetlands preservation, and consideration should be given to what model will be the most effective to encourage training, and a statement at a hearing may be insufficient incentive. Chairman Harrison said that it is important information for the public to know and if a citizen asked at a hearing they would have to disclose it. He said he is open to methods to accomplish this. Members agreed to a recommendation that municipal wetlands agencies be required by statute to state on the record whether they are in compliance or out of compliance with the statutory training requirement, and that he DEP commend such agencies that exceed the minimum requirement.
Mandyck and Winterbottom suggested some wording changes. VanCor asked for a discussion of how the report would be released. Wagener suggested that a press release without a press conference would be appropriate for this report, and members concurred. Chairman Harrison asked for a motion to approve the report as written subject to the revised recommendations regarding training and minor revisions suggested by the Council members. Sherman moved to approve. Fernandez seconded the motion and the vote passed unanimously with one abstention; Phillips said he would have to recuse himself due to the fact that his firm is involved in wetlands decisions.
Discussion of outline for special report on scenic resources
Wagener said that despite numerous references to the importance of scenic vistas in multiple state laws, very little has been done to define what constitutes a scenic area and then to protect it. Winterbottom asked about the CT River Gateway Commission as a model. Hearn said that is a model of regulation in a scenic area and not a model of how to define a scenic area. Wagener added that there are some examples in state law such as the scenic highways program, which protects the road itself but does not protect the vistas visible from the road. Such protections do not necessarily protect an area from an intrusion from an installation like a cell tower or wind turbine if the area has not already been designated as having scenic or historic importance. Sherman added that historic preservation is often decided based on a checklist of features, which could be a model approach. Wagener pointed out that the Siting Council that the presence of a representative of the DEP on the Siting Council is the protection they depend upon to preserve scenic areas. Yet Wagener pointed out that the DEP representative is forbidden to have communications within the DEP about proposed sites due to the prohibition on ex parte communications, so all that is presented to him is the same information that is presented to the rest of the Siting Council.
John Filchak, Executive Director of the Northeast Connecticut Council of Governments, who was in the audience, was invited to speak about this issue. He said that this issue is becoming increasingly important in his region as more cell towers are being proposed. He said there is growing sentiment among towns to win back control over their own land use decisions, as is the procedure in most states. He would like to see the Office of Responsible Growth in the Office of Policy and Management assume responsibility for developing an objective method for defining scenic areas and then assist towns in protecting them. On the discussion of wetlands he added that access of towns to wetlands training should be expanded and the DEP should partner with the Regional Planning Organizations and UCONN to accomplish this. He suggested training trainers who could provide the information more conveniently. He also urged the re-institution of the rule that a project may not be submitted to a wetlands commission less than three days prior to the hearing to give the commissioners time to prepare.
Fernandez raised the question as to why the DEP charges anything for the wetlands training and suggested this limits participation by commission members. Wagener said that occasionally when there is an indication that a commission is performing incorrectly an advisory letter will be issued and additional coupons for training will be given to that town. Questions were raised about the current system regarding expertise on a commission at any given time. What if the trained person was absent or had to recuse himself? Mr. Filchak said that towns should go to a fee based application process that would allow the town to hire a consulting engineer. Sherman asked him what he thought of an attempt to quantify scenic values. Mr. Filchak said he thought it could be a fair way to include these considerations in a decision provided towns do the work in advance.
Winterbottom said that the current emphasis on reducing outdoor advertising might mean that the state is receptive to this concept, and that it should be emphasized in the report. VanCor said that scenic preservation cannot exist separately from efforts to preserve farmland and open space and that OPM, the Department of Agriculture and the Siting Council can no longer be effective if they work independently of one another. He said a review of these three agencies’ impact on land use and preservation needs to be done including whether or not they are in compliance with their jurisdiction and the legislature’s intent when they were created. Chairman Harrison said this type of review is within the authority of the Council. VanCor said he would like to see the “scenic” report include an evaluation of the function of these agencies and would like to discuss this at the November meeting.
Wagener asked for feedback now so the staff could continue with the necessary research. He asked to what degree the Council wished to involve other agencies at this stage. Sherman said he had the same concern as VanCor. The state has repeatedly violated its own plan for conservation and development, undercutting its value as a tool. If scenic can be quantified it may be a useful tool for local government. He said the energy to preserve these areas will come from the local residents who enjoy those views and would be most affected by their disruption. He would like to see a map of what has already been chosen as scenic areas in the state. VanCor said that areas identified in the Connecticut Walk Book and 50 Best Hikes in Connecticut should be included.
Wagener said there are some members of the legislature looking for more coordination among agencies on land preservation. Sherman said the task must be narrowed to be appropriate to Council resources. Mr. Filchak said there is lots of overlapping responsibilities and jurisdictions. Agencies have responsibility but not accountability, and there is insufficient coordination among them. This is a problem of great complexity. There is a need to for a methodology to recognize what needs to be protected and then to implement protection. Sherman said that establishing a criterion is a big step. Chairman Harrison said that it is clear that the Council wishes to continue to pursue this and asked that the missing members be notified and their input solicited.
The release date for Swamped was set as October 1. Chairman asked that the revised version be sent to the absent members.*
The Meeting was adjourned at 11:38 by a motion from VanCor that was seconded by Mandyck.
*Barbara Wagner notified the Council by e-mail on September 26, 2008 that she wished to be recorded as approving the report on wetlands.