Minutes of the February 2, 2009 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Ensign Room, 5th Floor, 79 Elm St., Hartford. (This meeting was originally scheduled for January 28, 2009 but was postponed because of snow.)
PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), M. Howard Beach, Bruce Fernandez, John Mandyck, Earl Phillips, Richard Sherman, Ryan Suerth, Wesley Winterbottom, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
The meeting was convened at 9:05 AM. A quorum was present.
Sherman moved approval of the December 17, 2008 minutes. Fernandez seconded. The minutes were approved unanimously.
Chair Wagner began the meeting by referencing the anticipated release of the proposed state budget. She said she would bring up this topic later.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener reported that the Council’s one-page summary of recommendations had been distributed to the Governor, the legislature and the Commissioner of Environmental Protection. The summary generated favorable comments.
Wagener announced that the DEP was making a space available to a member of the Council to attend the wetlands training that it provides for municipal wetlands agencies, and that Suerth had expressed an interest. Members agreed that the Council should accept the space and Suerth would be the Councils’ designated person.
Wagener said that Council staff met with staff of the Siting Council and with DEP staff last week. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss measures currently being utilized to assess and protect scenic areas in the state from projects over which the Siting Council has jurisdiction. The representatives from the Siting Council and the DEP agreed that there is more that could be done in this regard and expressed a willingness to collaborate with the Council on this issue. Sherman suggested a follow-up letter to confirm the impression that was left after the meeting. Wagener said there had already been general agreement to have a follow-up meeting on this topic.
Wagener reminded the Council members that at the New London Public Forum the suggestion was made that developers pay a fee to fund continued maintenance of the catch basins in their developments. This idea was proposed in Ellington, where it has met public opposition.
Following up on a complaint discussed at the December meeting, Wagener reported on the frequency of use of emergency authorizations at the DEP. Bob Kalizewski of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had provided the summary information. Kalizewski who was present in the audience said that the figures clearly show that emergency authorizations are rare. The Millstone plant’s temporary authorization was an exception that the DEP has been attempting to renegotiate for years. He said that with the increase of General Permits at the DEP, temporary authorizations were few and are just used for emergency situations that require a 30 day permit with the possibility of a 30 day extension.
Wagener said he received a complaint from Environment and Human Health, Inc. about the increasing air pollution from the use of wood burning stoves that may require further investigation. Wagener also recommended to the Council a new publication from the Connecticut Audubon Society, State of the Birds, which is available on its website. It recommends an assertive land acquisition strategy based on sound habitat planning principles, rather that the reactive policy that has been more common.
Wagener said that there have been a few proposals discussed for the current legislative session aimed at reducing use of plastic and/or paper bags. Sherman asked what studies have been done on the issue. Wagener said that industry had usage figures. He said the grocery industry would prefer a positive rather than a coercive approach.
Wagener said he had no information on what changes to expect in the Council’s budget for next year nor did he have any new information about the proposed DEP budget. Chair Wagner polled the members regarding their availability for a special meeting to discuss the budget and related matters, and set the date and time of a special meeting for Friday, February 6th at 9:00 AM at 79 Elm Street.
Several bills relating to prior Council recommendations have been introduced, said Wagener. One would require separation of Inland Wetlands and Planning and Zoning Commissions and would mandate disclosure of whether the Commission is in compliance with state training requirements. Another puts restrictions on STEAP grants that would be used to develop prime farmland.
Three citizens from Farmington were introduced. They had come to the Council to inform the Council about the difficulties they have had reforming the way wetlands issues are handled there. Charles Leach, Walter Sargent and Joseph Treggor spoke. They described the history of attempts to separate wetlands from planning and zoning functions. Mr. Leach described what he thought was a problem in Farmington and other municipalities, the short staffing in towns that made wetlands enforcement problematic. He pointed out that wetlands laws often have very strong sanctions; but there is a reluctance to enforce those sanctions. Mandyck said there has been a pattern of disappointment in this area of the state on this topic. He suggested that the next Public Forum be held in Farmington to discuss these issues. The question was also raised about compliance with laws regarding public notice in circumstances when the start time for combined commission meetings wasn’t differentiated between the two functions, as when the wetlands agency notice gives a 7:00 start time but does not begin until hours later.
The next citizen complaint came from Margaret Miner of the Rivers Alliance. She spoke about some consequences of the relatively new statutory procedures that allow certain power plant proposals to be given a fast track before the Siting Council. She said that the DEP needs to get involved much earlier in the process than it does currently. She said that when substantive questions arise about a siting location or about a technology, the Siting Council should have the authority to require a full hearing. The new statute that requires Siting Council approval if the project meets DEP air regulations should be changed, as it overlooks many other environmental issues that may be involved in a siting decision. She also objected to the mechanisms for public participation. She said the public becomes involved too late in the process and that public comment is given only cursory consideration in a footnote. Ms. Miner offered as example the Plainfield Renewable Energy hearing where the DEP staff appeared to be working in “silos,” and gave several examples, which she also included in a handout. The intervenors could not get information into evidence. She said it seemed that the DEP had issued an opinion prior to the hearing that was unaffected by any evidence brought to the hearing. As a further example she cited the Westport YMCA hearing where DEP aquifer maps were not allowed into evidence at the DEP hearing. She said that DEP is in need of a single coordinator to bring together all the data from the various divisions within the DEP into a preliminary scoping document.
Wagener added that the hearing officer in these procedures does not have to respond to public comment. Sherman questioned if this was due to law or administrative regulation.
Chair Wagner thanked the citizens who took the time to bring their complaints to the Council.
Review of State Agency Actions
a. Wagener said that comments on the Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) for the proposed New Hartford Water Pollution Control Facility Upgrade were submitted on January 30, the deadline, after consultation with Chair Wagner. The comments suggested that expansion of the service area to extend a linear commercial strip along Route 44 was contrary to responsible growth principles. After submitting the comments, he learned that this statement was in concurrence with comments from others concerned with the proposed plant’s impact on the Farmington River.
b. The Siting Council’s response to the Council’s questions and comments regarding the Plainfield Renewable Energy petition had been distributed prior to the meeting. Members discussed the response and asked Wagener to send a letter to thank the Siting Council for their consideration of the CEQ’s questions.
c. The Council staff had reviewed the EIE for the Naugatuck Renaissance Place project, and recommended no comments as the EIE appeared to be adequate.
d. The Council received correspondence from DEP Commissioner McCarthy outlining the DEP’s role in the expansion of the Shoreline East rail line. It outlined the regulations involving recreational access to the water and railroad bridges and expressed a willingness to attend meetings of interested parties. Wagener said the project may be on hold for the summer due to the need to replace thousands of concrete ties along the right of way.
Discussion of Council Priorities
The results of the survey of members regarding priorities were passed out for a discussion of what are the most important areas of focus for the upcoming year. There was a general consensus that some of the priorities could be combined, and that further discussion would ensue.
Discussion of Annual Report Topics
Wagener offered different possibilities for design, printing and distribution of the annual report including the suggestion that it be a document that points people to the web site where a thorough analysis of the state’s environment would reside. Many members thought that it would need to be more than a postcard or it would not be read by busy legislators. Mandyck said it must be modest in cost or it would be viewed as extravagant excess. Fernandez suggested many inexpensive alternatives for layout and printing. Chair Wagener said she wants it to send the message that it is an austere document. Wagener said he would follow up with suggestions by e-mail.
There being no other business, Chair Wagner asked for a motion to adjourn. It was offered by Sherman and was seconded by Suerth. Adjournment was at 11:10 AM.