Minutes of the November 17, 2010 meeting and public forum of the Council on Environmental Quality held in Hearing Room 1C of the Legislative Office Building, Hartford. (The entire public forum can be viewed on CT-N on Demand.)
PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Howard Beach, Janet Brooks, Liz Clark, Karyl Lee Hall, Richard Sherman, Norman VanCor, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
Chair Wagner convened the meeting at 8:35 AM, noting the presence of a quorum.
Chair Wagner asked if there were revisions to the minutes of the October 20, 2010 meeting. There was none. Beach moved to approve the minutes; second by Clark and approved by the Council, with VanCor abstaining for reason of having been absent at that meeting. Brooks and Sherman had not arrived at the time of the vote.
Executive Director's Report, Citizen Complaints and Other Business
Wagener reported on the proposed budget for the next fiscal year that had been prepared by the outgoing administration, and there was some discussion.
Wagener said that the proposed capital budget showed no funding for capital projects at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) except for the Clean Water Fund, and said there is no money recommended for the Department of Agriculture for farmland preservation. He noted these because they could be relevant to the upcoming public forum.
Wagener reported that the temporary Forest Practices Task Force, on which he had represented the Council, had completed its work. He noted that the Forest Practices Act was complex in its structure. Wagener said there was no consensus, but the majority of task force members came to the conclusion that there was no evidence of need for additional forest practice regulations and that the DEP could speak directly to the handful of towns that might be over-regulating forestry through zoning.
Wagener reported on the Selectman’s meeting in Haddam on October 20, in which he had been invited to participate on behalf of the Council, regarding the cost of providing public water to the portions of Tylerville that are affected by groundwater pollution. The first selectman said the town did not have the funds needed to extend water lines to the affected areas, and convened the meeting to learn what could be contributed by state agencies and the Connecticut Water Company. A representative from the DEP said that funds that normally would be available for filters could be used to help provide water line extensions, and that his office would calculate that amount, but noted that the DEP does not actually have the funds. Wagener said that he came away from the meeting that drinking water programs and authorities need to be consolidated and improved.
Wagener reported that the office had received an inquiry about the applicability of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act to a state grant for a boat launch facility in Glastonbury. Because he had attended a public meeting on the topic as an individual citizen, Wagener said he wanted it to be on the record that he would have no involvement in the matter and was referring the matter and any further communications to Peter Hearn. Chair Wagner noted that she had been a member of the town council when the project was discussed and that she also would abstain from any possible CEQ action on the matter.
It was the consensus of the members to continue with holding meetings at 9:00 AM on Wednesdays in 2011 and asked staff to schedule the same.
At 8:55, Chair Wagner said the Council was now concluding its regular meeting and would take a break to allow for CT-N to set up for the public forum which would begin at 9:00.
At 9:02 AM Chair Wagner called the Public Forum to order and welcomed everyone to the Council’s first public forum at the Legislative Office Building. In most years, she said, the Council holds forums every few months to learn about environmental concerns in different regions of the state. This year, Wagner, said, the Council has an unusually long list of potential recommendations for legislation – recommendations the Council is required by statute to make – and is interested in hearing the public’s comments and suggestions on the list. Wagner said that many of the recommendations were related to citizen complaints that the Council investigated in the past year.
Chair Wagner called on speakers in the order in which they signed up. Below are summaries of each speaker’s major points. The entire forum can be viewed on CT-N on demand.
Ellen Luekin, Advocates for a Maromas Plan: The memorandum of understanding between the Northeast Utilities (NU) and the DEP needs to be reaffirmed before it expires in 2014. She said the urgency of this is the fact that the company holds many properties of environmental significance, and after NU’s merger with NSTAR, based on Boston, the company might be less concerned about the fate of the properties. She expressed concern that the conservation needs of Connecticut may appear remote or unimportant to the new management. She urged legislation to create incentives for the transfer of these lands to public ownership.
Eric Hammerling, Executive Director, Connecticut Forest and Park Association (CFPA): First, addressing the Council’s draft recommendations, he spoke in favor of enhanced training for members of municipal wetlands commissions. He said that the CFPA supports the farmland preservation goal in the Council’s recommendations. Because funds from the Community Investment Act are now being used to support the state’s dairy industry, there is a need for state bonding to fund the purchase of development rights. He supported a voluntary mechanism to record, in real time, the amount and location of preserved land in the state, to improve the planning of greenways, trails and wildlife corridors. Hammerling then listed the CFPA’s top five priorities in its environmental agenda, an annual agenda that the CFPA has been publishing every year since the Cooke Administration: 1) Liability protection is needed for municipal governments when they allow the use of their land for recreational purposes. 2) Forest owners who have land in the state’s “10 mil” program should be able to transfer their land into the PA 490 program without penalty. 3) A timber harvest revolving fund is needed to replace the Conservation Fund that is no longer available to the DEP. 4) Community Investment Act funds must be restored for farmland preservation and protected overall; said that Dr. Bingham would address this topic more in his testimony. 5) Authorize towns to create a “Green Fund” for conservation and green projects.
In response to a question about ATVs from Brooks, Mr. Hammerling said that CFPA supports the intent of the Council’s recommendations, but is wary; if ATV users must pay registration fees, they might have enhanced expectations about using public lands. Regarding forfeiture: stronger laws won’t be sufficient unless there are enough enforcement agents. In response to a question from VanCor about the NU memorandum of understanding with the DEP regarding NU lands, Mr. Hammerling said he would be following up on that as well; CFPA has a good relationship with NU, and wants that to continue after the merger.
David Bingham, Connecticut Land Conservation Council Steering Committee: Supports all of the land-related recommendations on the CEQ list. He would recommend preserving the farmland in state ownership but not permanently set aside as farmland, which has been identified. Numerous cutbacks in funding have led to decreased performance at the DEP which has become a rationale for further reductions. He advocated the creation of “Community Green Funds” that could be supported with a small increase in conveyance fees on property transfers. He said that this is allowed in Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts. Although originally opposed by real estate interests and developers on Long Island, they came to support it as they observed higher property values in towns that had it when compared to towns that don’t. Because a community green fund could be spent on a variety of green projects it is a “jobs bill” as well. Dr. Bingham proposed a revision of PA 490 to permit a definition of farming that would include “farming” for plant and animal diversity on plots of less than 25 acres, if the landowner adheres to a management plan approved by a certified forester. He said he would like to see an extension of the requirements of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) when properties owned by the state are transferred out of state ownership for development. These are no-cost recommendations. In response to a question from Hall, Dr. Bingham said that there are models for certifying private lands as being managed for wildlife.
Nicholas Harding, environmental attorney, Reid and Riege: Made suggestions regarding the procedures by which contaminated properties are remediated. He said the two year statute of limitations for lawsuits regarding contaminated properties needs to be lengthened to four years from discovery of the problem. He recommended amending CGS Section 22a-452 to incorporate more strict liability, similar to federal laws; this would give private landowners more tools to hold the responsible parties accountable when, perhaps, they have moved out of state. He disagrees with those who have argued that this change would impede brownfield redevelopment; his experience is that the existing law is an impediment. He said there is a need for a clearer definition of when contamination is “discovered”. He also said that there is no good funding mechanism for taking care of “legacy” contaminated properties; perhaps there could be guaranteed loans for remediation, similar to Small Business Association loans. In response to a question from Brooks as to why four years would be the best length of time, Mr. Harding said that six years would be preferable. He said the Licensed Environmental Professional program has been a success; changing the statute would help.
Greg Sharp, environmental attorney, Murtha Cullina: In the future, the DEP will face budget cuts and united opposition from opponents of regulation. It would useful to have a broad conversation about what should be expected of the DEP and what is essential to be preserved at the DEP, and the CEQ is in a good position to lead that conversation. Over time the DEP has incorporated some non-essential programs through “mission creep.” He said a task force to define the DEP for the future is worth considering. The history of the fate of the stream flow regulations is illustrative of what can be expected in the future. A wide and diverse coalition of opponents coalesced to oppose those regulations. He believes this will be the model for future opposition to DEP proposals. IN response to a question from Wagner about where he would start paring nonessential programs, Mr. Sharp cited the DEP’s implementation of the endangered species regulations as an example of overreaching. He also said that with regard to remediation, the list of sites in need of remediation has swelled but owners of good will are unable to get timely response and closure for their sites. Sherman asked if the failure to receive a permit is evidence of the system doing what is supposed to do: prevent ill-considered or marginal proposals from proceeding. Mr. Sharp agreed that there are many bad proposals, but cited examples where environmental laws were used to delay projects by opponents with other motives. He also pointed out that delays in the DEP’s renewing of a discharge permit allow the continuation of operations under the old permit which could be less stringent than a newer permit.
Lisa Wadge, Citizens for Clean Groundwater: Said that her group speaks for groundwater. First, she read part of a letter from a businessman in Chester, Ted Tine, who advocated improving the DEP’s remediation programs to spur economic development; she gave the letter to the Council. She then presented 19 recommendations to improve the way the state now deals with toxic contamination of groundwater and provision of potable water to affected residents:
- In aquifers where contamination is known to exist all potentially affected wells should be tested for known pollutants. Testing should be done at all locations at the same time and repeated in early spring and late summer to best characterize water quality at both high and low water levels. In addition any sites near the coast should be sampled at low and high tide interval to understand these fluctuations.
- Testing requirements and financial assistance for installation of carbon filters should be extended to include commercial properties. Currently commercial properties are exempt from testing and are not eligible for carbon filters or assistance when off site contamination is present in their well. The regulations need to extend beyond residential properties.
- Any location that has a carbon filter system should be guaranteed quarterly monitoring and filter changes to maintain the safety of these installations. They should be given results in a professional and consistent manner.
- The statute of limitations for the institution of a lawsuit should be extended from the current 2 years to a minimum of 5 years, as most sites are not studied within a 2 year time frame. The clock should start when the contamination is identified at the impacted facility not an offsite source.
- When properties are out of compliance with CTDEP or EPA regulations they should not be allowed to obtain local building permits to develop the site. Building permits for adjacent sites should not be granted until well water quality tests have verified that the water is potable for a one year period.
- There should be one single agency that has responsibility for issues pertaining to groundwater contamination. At present the Departments of Public Health and Environmental Protection may be involved in any one aquifer, testing water quality and permitting wells. In addition local health departments may be involved and as well as private parties and no one is tracking or monitoring the aquifer testing or the combined results.
- CTDEP should be held accountable to remediate sites in a timely manner and pursue enforcement of the applicable laws. There should be regulations that required the CTDEP to act in certain time frames.
- CTDEP should not rely on city water as an alternative to remediation. Remediation is required to prevent rivers and streams from receiving contamination. City Water is not a substitute for enforcement of environmental laws.
- Towns with known groundwater violations at their landfills and town garages are reluctant to push for remediation on anything in their town. Town issues of contamination should be handled differently than private company issues of pollution. Towns should be able to ask for enforcement of environmental laws in their community without fear that they will open up discussion of their issues.
- Groundwater would benefit from integrated cooperation within the CTDEP, CTDPH and CTDOT and other state agencies in a more professional and seamless manner.
- Health departments need to have access to information about local contamination and be part of team responsible for active groundwater improvements.
- The department should consider working on aquifers rather than sites to improve efficiency and overall understanding of source areas. This would also reduce costs and confusion over source areas.
- CTDEP should enforce the Transfer Act and RCRA in a more aggressive manner. This would help business by leveling the playing field.
- Businesses should be incentivized to characterize and remediate their sites and be given recognition when this occurs. In addition if a business would like to privatize their clean up they should promptly be given that authority and not have to wait years for this decision to be made by CTDEP.
- All of the CTDEP information about sites should be combined and streamlined so that information about the history and status of sites is easily accessible to agencies and concerned citizens alike.
- There are duplicative state Brownfield programs in many numerous state agencies and they should be eliminated. All sites should be cleaned up in the state not just designated sites.
- Outside consultants should not be retained to do the work that the CTDEP is supposed to be doing. Whenever possible the Lust program mobile lab and sampling efforts should be used to characterize contamination.
- If an LEP is designated for a site and then not retained to do the work, the project should revert back to the state for management immediately. Deadlines should not be extended and enforcement relaxed.
- If a private party chooses to switch consultants on an active project deadlines should not be extended. For example gas station owners can delay remediation by switching consultants and needing 6 months for them to get up to speed.
Margaret Miner, Executive Director, Rivers Alliance: Agreed with the testimony of Greg Sharp that the Council should play a role in shaping the priorities of the DEP in a time of austerity. She observed that CEPA-required scoping review for major projects like power plants often comes after 4 or 5 years of engineering and siting work. She said that this is too late in the process to be helpful or effective and needs to be changed. She supports the continuation of the Clean Water Funding and urges that more resources be allotted to smaller projects and to upland projects. She said that the future of drinking water is in groundwater resources; but contamination is severe and spreading. There is no program or set of laws that provide a rational and comprehensive way of dealing with this resource. She also agreed with earlier speakers that the disconnect between the DEP, the Department of Public Health (DPH) and local health departments must be mended for there to be any effective protection of groundwater. This must be accomplished before any scheme to integrate management is enacted. She said the Council should propose legislation and she would be willing to help with the task. Ms. Miner agreed that there is a need for better training of wetlands commission members. She said the DEP must support the commissions when they make a correct decision. Without the support of the state, some commissions who want to make the right decision will make the wrong decision to avoid lawsuits.
Sandy Breslin, Director of Governmental Affairs, Audubon Connecticut: Testified that continuation of support for clean water projects is essential to keep projects from being interrupted. Continuation of the Clean Water Fund at the 130 million level recommended by the Council would retain 4,000 jobs. Adverse economic impacts result from reductions in investments in wildlife and wildlife habitat as well. Wildlife-related recreation generates $873 million in the Connecticut economy, according to the latest federal data. Referencing Mr. Sharp’s comments on the DEP’s attempts to protect endangered species, she offered a contrasting perspective: the number of listed species is now 597, up from 498 in 2002, and Connecticut has the weakest endangered species law in the country. Audubon Connecticut is recommending a law to raise awareness early in the development process that would require applicants before local commission to consult the DEP’s Natural Diversity Data Base for the presence of rare or endangered species; it would allow the town to decide how to handle that information. Ms. Breslin also supported the concept of creating a “green fund” that towns can use to support “green” projects and conservation within their borders. She supported a “real time” voluntary registry of preserved lands that can build on the work of the POSM project at the DEP. She said that the “Audubon at Home” project has been a success; and that extension of that concept to “biodiversity farms” under PA 490 land is a good idea, if the management plan for the land is approved by a certified forester. She supported a state-wide natural resources inventory and monitoring project. Ms. Breslin urged a strategic planning process to deal with a reduced budget at the DEP, and suggested that the Council is an appropriate third party to conduct it.
Kachina Walsh-Weaver, Senior Legislative Associate, Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM): Supported continued funding of the Clean Water Fund. She pointed out that prior to the current biennium, funding for these projects to clean up the rivers and the Long Island Sound had fallen woefully behind. She said that the CCM supports the concept of a voluntary reporting mechanism for preserved lands. She said that they were opposed to any expansion of PA-490 categories. They also oppose the imposition of any mandated or unfunded training requirements on inland wetland agencies. Ms. Walsh-Weaver said that CCM would be willing to consider a training requirement that is less expense and more convenient that would help towns do their job well. Brooks asked if CCM would support the recommendation to allow local commissions to charge higher application fees to cover the cost of training for commissioners; Ms. Walsh-Weaver said that CCM has supported impact fees.
Wagener said that written comments had been submitted from individuals and organizations that were unable to appear. He summarized them as follows:
The Connecticut River Watershed Council: Strongly supports continuation of funding for the Clean Water Fund.
A resident of West Granby: Recommended a statutory change that would prevent land transfers mandated by the General Assembly from escaping public notice and environmental review.
Connecticut Audubon Society: Supported expansion of the duties of the Natural Heritage, Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Review Board.
A resident of Middletown and member of Conservation Commission: Supported allowing municipalities to create “Green Funds” and supported enhanced training for wetlands commissioners.
Environment and Human Health Inc.: Provided copies of the organization’s recent report on outdoor wood furnaces.
Wagener said copies of these written submissions are on file in the Council office, as are all written comments submitted by the speakers.
Chair Wagner thanked all who attended, and adjourned the meeting at 11:37 AM.