Minutes of the April 29, 2009 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room, 5th Floor, 79 Elm St., Hartford.
PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Howard Beach, Janet Brooks, Bruce Fernandez, John Mandyck, Earl Phillips, Richard Sherman, Ryan Suerth, Wes Winterbottom, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
Chair Wagner convened the meeting at 9:04 AM, having determined that a quorum was present.
Beach motioned to approve the minutes of March 25, 2009. Fernandez seconded the motion. Approved unanimously. Mandyck and Sherman abstained, having been absent at the March meeting. Brooks, Phillips and Winterbottom had not yet arrived.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener reported he had no recent news regarding the Council’s budget. The Office of Policy and Management (OPM) had requested all agencies to submit budget reductions that contained 5%, 7% and 10% reductions; they were due today.
He spoke of the complications reducing the budget of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Wagener said he wished to report on four bills. 1) The bill prohibiting the use of Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grants to develop on agricultural lands has become much less flexible than originally proposed, allowing no exceptions. It passed the Environment Committee and is now in the Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee. 2) The “wetlands training” bill no longer contained any language regarding wetlands training. He said that there was still some hope that it will be put back in. 3) The Finance Committee has a bill that would assign the University of Connecticut’s Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) the role of coordinating all municipal land use training, including wetlands. 4) A bill to exempt the Oxford Airport project from the requirements of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act.
Discussion on these bills followed. Brooks said the wetlands bill is still evolving. She has been surprised at the number of people who don’t know that the DEP provides training and wondered if CLEAR would simply refer requests to the DEP. Brooks said there is reported to be interest by the Soil and Water Conservation Districts to get involved in this training also.
Wagener spoke about the proposal to exempt the proposed new construction on state owned land at Oxford Airport from the environmental impact evaluation (EIE) requirements of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA). Chair Wagner said that the precedent of exempting a project like Oxford was a cause for concern. Wagener said that he had maintained for a long time that EIEs need not be huge documents and that the DEP has produced EIEs that were less than 20 pages. A document on this scale could be produced in time for construction to commence this summer, assuming that all of the information that is reported to be available is indeed available. He said staff has been providing citizens, legislators, and the town with information when requested. Sherman said the confusion regarding the need for the EIE should have been avoided if there was an Environmental Classification Document as required that said what state agency projects required EIEs. Chair Wagner said that it appears there is no need for Council action except to continue to cooperate with the parties involved if they request information.
Wagener reported that although staff had received complaints, none required action today.
Review of State Agency Actions
a. Danbury Interceptor Sewer EIE – no action was recommended by staff on this EIE.
b. University of Connecticut, Storrs – Two Academic Buildings EIE – no action was recommended on this EIE.
c. Telecommunications Tower, Warren – Wagener reviewed the application for the members, and referred to draft comments that staff had prepared. Site A is on land on which the state has acquired development rights under the farmland preservation program. The owner has already sold the rights to use the property for any non agricultural purpose and may not sell it again. The statute governing the Siting Council appears to allow for consideration of the site, but such consideration does not alter the fact that the applicant does not have the permission of the easement holder (the state) to build there. Members agreed that the idea of allowing the replacement of preserved farmland with farmland in another place is an extremely dangerous precedent that should not accepted as a rationale for allowing the use of preserved farmland for a non-agricultural enterprise.
Site B is not on farmland preserved by the state, but has more scenic impact than site A, which has considerable scenic impact. Hearn added that the farm location is known locally as one of the best views in the region. There may be no place on that hill that would not have a significant aesthetic impact on the surrounding area. It also may affect views from three state parks and that an expanded viewshed analysis should be added to the application. Mandyck said it should be made clear in the comments that there are objections to the negative scenic impacts of both sites. Sherman and Fernandez said that absent a demonstrated public safety need to locate it there the Siting Council has discretion in allowing or not allowing the siting. Chair Wagner said the wording on the draft response to the application should be stronger. Winterbottom agreed. Mandyck suggested obtaining photos of the location as a “before” – in case the tower is approved; these could be an example in future cases of the negative impact a badly located tower can have. Brooks added that the photos should be submitted into the record to be used in the hearing about the application. Phillips arrived at this time and had not participated in any prior deliberations at this meeting. Members agreed to submit the strengthened comments as soon as possible.
There was some discussion of the Council’s plan to investigate scenic impacts generally. Winterbottom and Sherman added that, in the future, the location of wind turbines will raise even more complex questions and the Council should be prepared for these issues.
d. Discussion of placement of land transfer notices and comments in the Environmental Monitor.
Wagener said some questions have arisen about implementation of the still-new law regarding public notice of state land transfers, specifically about the requirement for state agencies to publish any comments received about proposed state land transfers and responses to those comments. Occasionally the only comments received do not really pertain to the transfer; comments of this sort were not anticipated and perhaps should not trigger the second round of notice and publication requirements, so an amendment to the statute might be appropriate in the future. Also, it will soon be time to publish OPM’s responses to the first proposed transfer to receive substantive comments. Council staff intends to redesign the website, but that will take some time. In the meantime, members agreed, it will be adequate for the Monitor to contain a link to responses in PDF format posted by OPM.
e. Others – Wagener raised the topic of the Department of Transportation’s new Strategic Long Range Transportation Plan and distributed some pages, pointing out a new emphasis on the need to integrate transportation with land use and other government functions. He asked the Council if there was an interest in supporting this new approach. Phillips said that there is a need to support the creation of bikeways and improvement of pedestrian access in many parts of the state. He said he would be willing to assist the Council on this topic. Sherman said he would like to see the correlation between the plan’s words and the list of funded projects. Winterbottom and Fernandez urged a letter supporting the DOT in this, an offer of Council assistance and an invitation to speak to the Council about new transportation plans; members concurred.
Discussion of Release and Distribution of the Annual Report
Wagener reiterated that the 2008 Annual Report would be the first to be entirely on line. A PDF version would be available on line for those that wished to print out a copy.
Mandyck said the Council should be prepared to explain to the press the apparent contradiction between the salutary report on the state’s drinking water and the drinking water alerts in the Hartford area for the last five days. He added that an explanation of this exception to the norm should be included in next year’s report as well. Fernandez said that staff should obtain from the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) the explanation the extent to which the standards were or were not violated.
Wagener asked for approval for the one page summary of the Annual Report for distribution to the Governor and elected officials. Members agreed by consensus to release the annual report the next day and to submit the summary to Governor M. Jodi Rell today.
Scheduling of May Meeting and Public Forum
The next Council meeting will be in Manchester on Tuesday May 19 at 6:00 PM. It will be a public forum. Sherman, Mandyck and Wagner agreed that the Farmington area would be a good location for one in the autumn. Sherman said a topic for a future meeting is the question of viewsheds and wind farms and that representatives from all points of view should be invited.
There being no further business, Chair Wagner adjourned the meeting at 10:47 AM.