Minutes of the November 18, 2009 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality held in the Holcombe Conference Room of 79 Elm St., Hartford, CT.
PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Janet Brooks, John Mandyck, Earl Phillips, Richard Sherman, Ryan Suerth, Norman VanCor, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
Chair Wagner convened the meeting at 9:05 AM, noting the presence of a quorum.
Chair Wagner asked if there were any clarifications or revisions of the minutes of the meeting of October 21, 2009. There were none. Mandyck motioned to approve; second by Brooks and approved unanimously, with Suerth and VanCor abstaining because they were not at that meeting.
Chair Wagner announced that the meeting would begin with a presentation on the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP’s) proposed new stream flow regulations and standards from Betsey Wingfield, Chief of the Bureau of Water Protection and Land Reuse.
Overview of Proposed Stream Flow Regulations and Standards
Ms. Wingfield began her power point presentation with an explanation of the history that led to the development of these proposed regulations. She recounted dramatic examples of the need for regulation including the Fenton River desiccation event in 2005. Under the proposal, minimum flow regulations would be created for all the streams in the state and users who were diverting or withdrawing more than 50,000 gallons per day would be required to monitor, regulate and report their withdrawals. The regulations would be phased in over 15 years with a series of intermediate steps. Eventually, the restrictions on water users would be dependent on the class of stream affected and the recent meteorological conditions. Ms. Wingfield described the steps leading up to full implementation including the possibility of variances, how users will be able to determine their allowable withdrawals, and guidelines for wells and dams. She also described the types of technical support that the DEP would provide to users, and also confirmed that many organizations have expressed concern about different parts of the propose regulations. She said that there is a public hearing on the proposed regulations scheduled for January 21 and that the deadline for public comments will be February 4. Comments will be welcome, especially on the technical aspects of the proposal.
In response to questions from the Council, Ms. Wingfield said that, except for short term or emergency situations, no priority is assigned among uses; withdrawals for farming are given the same consideration as for industry or recreation. Wingfield added that these regulations may prompt the initiation of important changes like the use of non-potable water for uses that don’t require potable water and the shifting of supply from water rich areas to water poor areas. She said this is a priority of the Department, and they will see it through with the staff they have. The Council agreed that this is an issue of high importance to the state and encouraged the staff to keep abreast of it and to report back.
The Council thanked Ms. Wingfield for taking the time to come before the Council to make such a thorough and clear presentation.
Chair Wagner asked if the office had received any comments about the proposed regulations. Wagener said that many organizations would like to know which rivers will fall into which categories. However, the regulations will have to be implemented before this is known. Chair Wagner suggested that an environmental indicator relating to adequate stream flow should be developed for the Council’s annual report; members agreed.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener reminded that Council members who had completed the “environmental literacy” quiz to hand it in at the end of the meeting so it can be scored before the next meeting when the correct answers will be discussed.
Wagener said that each agency had been asked to submit a budget option that would reflect a five percent reduction for fiscal year 2011. He said that such a reduction is possible and that it would eliminate any funds that had been available for printing and most other expenses.
Wagener said that the Citizens for Clean Groundwater (CCG) had drafted a report on the numbers of contaminated sites, and that he soon would be meeting with them to work on it. CCG also asked if the Council might send a letter to the Commissioner of Environmental Protection to let her know that the Council was following closely the Tylerville case; members thought this to be unnecessary because she probably is aware of that fact.
He said that one radio station and one newspaper reported on Council’s news release regarding the incorrect estimates of preserved open space in the state.
Following up on the recycling discussion at the October meeting, Wagener said that at this exact point in time a lot of efforts in the area of solid waste reduction and recycling are coming together. The idea had been raised at the last meeting to recognize Hartford for launching the RecycleBank program. Staff inquiries have determined that there are other cities and towns about to implement changes in how they encourage recycling. The DEP is encouraging the SMART (Save Money And Reduce Trash) approach, which ties trash collection fees to volume. Also, the legislature is about to receive recommendations from the Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee for managing solid waste services in Connecticut. Members agreed that these are good reasons to postpone singling out any one community at this time, but that recycling would make for a good “Indicator of the Month” at an upcoming meeting.
The agenda was rearranged to accommodate the guests from the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) who were present to discuss Agenda Item 7b – possible amendments to statutes re: state land transfer notices. Wagener introduced Nelson Tereso and Bill Frederick, who explained that the DECD was required to publish notices in the Environmental Monitor of proposed land transfers of very small residential properties. They reported that over 80% of the transfers that they receive from the DOT are small house lots of less than an acre that were acquired by the DOT for planned road improvements that never happened. They pointed out that the DOT is exempt from the publication requirement for any parcels smaller than 10 acres; the DECD is proposing that the exemption continue when the property is owned by the DECD.
Brooks, Wagner and VanCor said that a 10-acre exemption might be too large. Brooks said that if the purpose is to exempt small house lots then an exemption of two acres might be more appropriate. Wagner asked if there were any administrative procedures that had to be put on hold while the public notice process was under way in the Monitor. The answer was “no” except in rare instances. Mandyck said that he knows, from working with Habitat for Humanity, that the length of time to get a house lot transferred from the DECD can be frustrating. The Council thanked Mr. Frederick and Mr. Tereso for taking the time to appear before the Council to explain what the DECD is proposing.
Valley Railroad Improvement . Wagener referred to the memo and correspondence that he had distributed in advance of the meeting. Although the Council has received several expressions of concern regarding the proposed improvement and reopening of the Valley Railroad north to Middletown to carry freight, members agreed that the Council should wait to see if the federal grant for the work is awarded.
Merritt Parkway Tree-cutting and Landscaping. The Council had received complaints about DOT-sponsored tree cutting along the Merritt Parkway. Wagener said the activity is tied to two projects: One is a maintenance project in Stratford that is removing hazard trees (reported in the press to be 300 trees over 4 miles). The other is a restoration project that runs from Fairfield to Trumbull, which is funded by federal stimulus money. Wagener said that staff still is reviewing the project’s history, but it appears that the DOT has complied with the regulations regarding public notice and agency review of improvements on the historic, scenic road, though some of those reviews were done eight years ago. There will be a public informational meeting about this restoration on December 2 in Fairfield. Wagener recommended waiting until then for any further action; members concurred.
Review of State Agency Actions
a. Connecticut Siting Council Solicitations. No action was recommended regarding the proposed cell towers in Stratford and Barkhamsted.
Comments were recommended for the tower that was proposed for Branford. Ninety three percent of the area that is visually impacted is on the Long Island Sound, a major recreational resource. Staff recommended that visual simulations be required of the applicant from that area to allow the Siting Council to accurately evaluate the impact on the users of the Sound. Members agreed to send such comments.
b. (see reference to item 7b above)
c. Land Lease for a New Hangar Facility at the Waterbury-Oxford Airport.
Wagener reminded the Council that this was the project for which the Town of Oxford sought a legislative exemption from the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA), as preparing an Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) would greatly delay the project. Instead, the DOT prepared this EIE. Wagener said this is an example of how, for most projects, an agency can produce an accurate EIE in short time with minimal expense. Staff recommended sending no comments on the EIE, which staff found to be thorough and easy to understand.
d. Waterbury Transportation Center. This is an EIE for a proposal for a depot that will allow easy transfers from bus to bus or bus to train in Waterbury. No comments were recommended by staff.
Discussion of Annual Report Topics
Forest indicator. Wagener explained how the University of Connecticut’s Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) had recently released data, based on analysis of satellite imagery, that measured total forest as well as “core forest”. Core forests are areas that are at least 100 meters from roads and other development that could interfere with the forest’s ecological functions. This is similar to the measure that had been used by the Council in its annual report but may have more ecological validity than the 50 acre forest parcels that the Council had been measuring. Wagener recommended a switch to the CLEAR criteria. A discussion followed. Council members wanted to be assured that the total forest measure would remain. Sherman said that the shift to the new indicator must be accompanied by an explanation of its validity, and it must note that while total forest acreage can fluctuate over time, the acreage of core forest will only decline.
Inland Wetlands indicator. Wagener said that this measure has been an indication of permitted alterations of wetlands. There is no accurate measure of total inland wetlands in the state. The Council agreed to stay with this measure until an accurate tally of the acres of wetlands is possible, if that ever occurs.
The meeting was adjourned at 11:33 AM.