Minutes of the February 24, 2011 special meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room at 79 Elm St., Hartford.
PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Howard Beach, Janet Brooks, Bruce Fernandez, Karyl Lee Hall, Richard Sherman, 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 revisions to the minutes of the January 26, 2011 meeting. Brooks noted that there was no mention in the minutes of attorney David Sherwood’s comments that, in contrast to his calls to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and other agencies, his calls to the Council’s office were always returned. Chair Wagner asked for a motion to approve the minutes with that addition. Beach made such a motion that was seconded by Fernandez and approved unanimously.
Chair Wagner announced the resignation of John Mandyck, and said that she was sad to see him leave as he had been an important member of the Council. Members signed a certificate to honor his service.
Executive Director's Report
Wagener reported that he had testified at two legislative hearings related to Council recommendations, one concerning wetlands training and one concerning outdoor wood furnaces.
Wagener asked the Council if they wished to receive regular updates on the budget as it develops. The Council agreed that such updates should continue.
Discussion of Proposed Merger of DEEP and CEQ
Wagener summarized what was known about the proposed merger of the Council with the proposed Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). He said that prior to the budget’s release he had received a call from Secretary Barnes of the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) advising him that a consolidation would be proposed in the budget, and that Secretary Barnes told him that the details would appear in the implementing bill accompanying the proposed budget. That implementing language indicates that the Council’s principal duties and responsibilities would be retained, but that the Council would be prohibited from hiring staff of its own. He noted that this language is identical to what was proposed in 2009. Gina McCarthy, the former Commissioner of Environmental Protection, testified at that time that the DEP did not have staff to spare to provide assistance to the Council beyond scheduling meetings.
Wagener outlined the hearing process for the budget and implementing bill.
Members discussed potential alternatives that would achieve goals of agency consolidation while maintaining the Council’s independence and staff.
Sherman stressed the need to make it clear that a Council without a staff cannot function and that a Council dependent on staff who answers to an agency it monitors is unworkable. Hall said that keeping staff is crucial and it does not matter where the Council is placed for administrative purposes.
Chair Wagner said that it is clear that the consensus of the Council is that it is immaterial where the Council is put for purposes of administration, but that without independence and a separate staff it cannot fulfill its responsibilities. She said that she and Brooks would present that message to the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee that evening.
There was additional discussion of the point that the Council does not duplicate any of the functions of the DEP or any other agencies. This led to a discussion about the accomplishments of the Council, including actions that had saved the state money and actions that involved numerous other agencies. Chair Wagner said these would be appended to the testimony.
Sherman said it would be valuable know the number of hours that are involved in fulfilling the Council’s responsibilities, as this would show how unrealistic it is to expect these functions to be undertaken by a volunteer Council. Wagener said that some information on this could be included in the testimony.
Review of State Agency Actions
a) Glastonbury Boat Launch Facility – Chair Wagner appointed Sherman to chair the meeting for this discussion. She and Executive Director Wagener, both residents of Glastonbury, recused themselves from this discussion and exited the room. Sherman asked Hearn to discuss the memo and draft letter to OPM he had sent to the Council prior to the meeting. Hearn said that the DEP’s analysis misinterpreted its own Environmental Classification Document (ECD). Much of the DEP’s argument was based on misinterpretations of its own ECD: 1) The ECD refers to the creation of new launching facilities and to expansion of existing launching facilities. The DEP suggests the proposed park is an existing facility in which the launching area is only a small component. This confuses the park facility with the launching facility. 2) The DEP maintains that the difficulty of separating out the impact of the launching area from the impact of the larger park makes the analysis nearly impossible. However, analysis of the impact of the larger park in not a requirement of the ECD, which only addresses the launching facility. 3) The DEP makes a distinction between parking for cars with boat trailers and cars without trailers. It assigns to the launching facility only the spots allocated for trailers, ignoring all the spots for automobiles. The ECD makes no such distinction among parking categories. Finally, the DEP contends that only minimal impact will result from the construction of the launching facility without any study to support that conclusion.
Brooks motioned to approve the draft letter to OPM as presented by Hearn. It was seconded by Fernandez and approved unanimously (with Chair Wagner abstaining, as noted above).
Chair Wagner returned to the room and assumed the chair. Wagener also returned.
b) Siting Council consultation re: two wind generation projects in Colebrook – There was discussion of the applications and related legislation; no action.
c) Western Connecticut State University Comprehensive Campus Master Plan – Staff did not recommend comments on the Environmental Impact Evaluation for the master plan. In response to a question from Sherman, Wagener said that staff would look in to future CEPA requirements for developments on those campuses.
Brooks and Hall asked questions about the DEP’s level of review of Siting Council applications. Wagener said that staff had been collecting data on those questions and would report at a future meeting.
Following up on the Council’s wetlands training recommendations, Brooks said that she had learned that the DEP was reducing “live” wetlands training even before online training opportunities are complete.
Chair Wagner asked for a motion to adjourn. Hall made the motion which was seconded by Beach and the meeting was adjourned at 10:51 AM.