A video of this meeting and public forum is available for viewing on the Connecticut Network (CT-N) website at http://ct-n.com/ondemand.asp?ID=6806
Minutes of the July 27, 2011 meeting and Public Forum of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Council Chambers of the Audrey P. Beck Municipal Building in Mansfield.
PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Howard Beach, Janet Brooks, Liz Clark, Bruce Fernandez, Richard Sherman, Norman VanCor, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
Chair Wagner called the meeting to order at 5:03 PM, noting the presence of a quorum.
Chair Wagner asked if there were revisions to the minutes of the June 22, 2011 meeting. None was made. A motion to approve the minutes was made by Sherman and seconded by VanCor. The minutes were approved with Fernandez abstaining because he had not been present at that meeting. Brooks had not yet arrived, so did not vote.
Chair Wagner said there would be no chair’s report and asked Wagener to proceed with the executive director’s report.
Executive Director's Report
Wagener explained the status of the Council under the Budget Balancing Plan, saying that the both staff persons had received layoff notices, as had been anticipated. The layoffs will be effective in early September. Wagener described the law that would reinstate the previous budget if the state employee unions ratify the proposed concessions before the end of August.
Wagener discussed the new format of the Council’s website and the staff’s use of web traffic data to arrange links. He distributed a graph of web traffic over the past three months, which the Council reviewed and discussed.
Wagener said that because most data in the annual report do not become available until later in the year, a comprehensive midyear status report is not possible. Midyear data are available for five indicators, and he reviewed apparent trends for those. The number of “Bad Air Days” are on track to match the high levels of last year. Hypoxia in the Sound has improved compared to this time last year. More households have signed on for green energy through the Clean Energy Options program, but the rate of increase is slowing significantly. Bald Eagle nesting is close to last year’s numbers. Farmland preservation is continuing, though still not at a pace to meet the state’s goal, but better than the state’s progress toward its statutory open space goals, for which data are not available.
Review of State Agency Actions
Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (DEEP) Comprehensive Evaluation and Transformation of Connecticut’s Cleanup Laws – Wagener said that the DEEP was required by the recently-signed brownfields legislation to complete a comprehensive evaluation of its remediation programs by December 15. The DEEP has added “transformation” to the required evaluation, and conducted a “visioning session” with representatives from industry, environmental interests and government to discuss possible changes and improvements. Council staff has attended these and found them to be well organized, Wagener said; materials are on the DEEP website. There was considerable discussion of the process, its origins and the importance of weeding out bad information submitted by consultants. Proposed telecommunications tower in Waterford, solicitation of comments from Connecticut Siting Council – Wagener said that the staff did not see a need for the Council to comment on this application as there did not appear to be a significant effect on state resources.
Proposed telecommunications tower in Waterford, solicitation of comments from Connecticut Siting Council – Wagener said that the staff did not see a need for the Council to comment on this application as there did not appear to be a significant effect on state resources.
There being no other business, the meeting was adjourned at 5:22 PM.
At 5:30 PM Chair Wagner called the public forum to order and welcomed everyone. She explained how the Council fulfills its legislative mandate to receive and investigate citizens’ complaints as well as to report and advise on environmental conditions and priorities, and the role of these periodic public forums.
Chair Wagner thanked the town for hosting the forum and invited Betsy Paterson, Mayor of Mansfield, to speak. Mayor Paterson outlined the many things the town was doing to conserve energy, promote renewable energy and recycling, and preserve open space. The town is cooperating with the University of Connecticut on water issues.
Chair Wagner said she would call speakers in the order in which they signed up. She promised that each would receive a written response to their comments and suggestions after staff researches them and the Council discusses them at a future meeting.
Below are summaries of each speaker’s major points. Some speakers provided written comments, which are on file in the Council’s office.
Russell Kunz of Vernon spoke of the virtual absence of ruffed grouse in his part of the state and noted that they were formerly abundant. He wondered why, and asked if the Council would investigate this.
David Morse of Mansfield was concerned about the effect of continuing growth by the University of Connecticut on the regional water supply and on natural aquatic resources. The lack of water is affecting the continuous care facility. The University must begin to live within its constraints. There also needs to be a platform for resolving these town/gown disputes over water. He also wished to see the University follow through on its seven-year-old commitment to relocate its hazardous waste storage facility.
Francis Pickering of Mansfield, who is a professional planner with the Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency but was speaking as a private citizen, expressed concern that failure to adopt smart growth policies contributes to the flight of young people from the state, which is one of the state’s largest problems. He gave examples of where transportation infrastructure is inadequate and poorly coordinated. Rerouting existing bus routes would improve land use and development patterns. He said some towns have been successful in promoting growth in the central core. The state should use their example to provide guidance and model codes for other towns to imitate. He asked why the state continues to build schools and other public facilities on undeveloped areas when brownfields and other underutilized properties are available. When the state’s Conservation and Development Policies Plan is revised, it should provide more guidance at the street level, not just the 35,000-foot view. Less-than-optimal development patterns are the state’s biggest problem. Also, other regions and other states have developed recreation destinations for such activities as mountain biking, which Connecticut should do.
Louis Burch of the Citizens’ Campaign for the Environment said that even in these fiscally challenging times the state must continue capital expenditures to address sewage treatment and stormwater that is the cause of dead zones, die-offs and algae blooms. He estimated the infrastructure needs to total 1.7 billion dollars over ten years. Impaired water bodies must be improved. He also called for close monitoring of the state’s environmental protection work after the merger of the Department of Environmental Protection with the Department of Public Utility Control that created the new Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), saying that protection of the air and water must remain the highest priority.
Ed Wazer of Storrs spoke of his young daughter’s concern for the environment, and activities she has undertaken on behalf of whale conservation and, more recently, carbon dioxide emissions and ocean acidification, and expressed his wish that we could tell children that the adults are taking care of these and other environmental problems, but they are not. He is a small business owner and he believes that carbon use should be taxed to reduce ocean acidification. He would like the Council to urge the governor and legislature to work with other states in taxing carbon emissions.
Coleen Spurlock of Mansfield Center said that many have lost faith in Government. We are not living within our means if we are living on fossil fuels. She is promoting the “transition towns” concept of addressing climate change and energy use on the local and individual level.
Jean deSmet of Willimantic wished to see changes in school construction regulations to allow for some of the state funds for these projects to be used for site remediation and landscape architects. This will encourage the reuse of existing sites and the better siting of these structures. She gave as an example a new school in Windham that is so far from the population it serves that no child can walk to it, and site constraints that will make LEED certification difficult. She believes that the draft school siting guidelines of the US Environmental Protection Agency should be followed in Connecticut. These include 1) The school should be walkable for some of the children, 2) It should be placed where there is existing utility infrastructure, 3) There must be an actual need for it. She also referred to the planned tech park that will consume green fields when previously-developed properties are nearby. This happens all over eastern Connecticut. As a construction worker, she knows that reconstruction creates more jobs than new construction. She said that she agreed with many of Mr. Pickering’s statements (above), and that the state does a poor job of informing people of mass transit options, such as the Willimantic to Hartford commuter bus. She also expressed support for the concept of returning passenger service to the rail line that runs north and south through Willimantic and other eastern Connecticut towns.
Chuck Boster of Storrs presented and submitted information about the fact that ash residue from wood burning outdoor furnaces contains radioactive elements that could be a hazard if spread on gardens, as is the custom in much of the region. He said agencies never seem to consider the ash from these furnaces. Regulations should address ash, and not just the height of the stacks, setbacks, etc. He answered questions from Sherman and Brooks about radioactivity in ash from indoor wood stoves and in wood mulch.
Sandy Breslin, Director of Governmental Affairs for Audubon Connecticut said she wished to make the following points on behalf of her organization: 1) There is a need for a real-time, online database of preserved land in the state. The POSM model being used at the DEEP is inadequate to the task. 2) It should be possible to create a predictive model of the state’s biota that would assist in conservation decisions. Such a model would have synergistic values in the DEEP’s own new roles in siting energy facilities. 3) Her organization is advocating legislation that would require land-use applicants at the local level to certify that they checked with the DEEP’s Natural Diversity Database for the potential presence of endangered and threatened species. The DEEP’s proposal to include a similar provision in the stormwater general permit is opposed by the building industry. 4) One of the continuing education credits for pesticide applicators should be on organic pest control; too often, contractors say that organic methods required on school properties do not work, when the problem was in implementation. 5) The renewal of the state’s Plan of Conservation and Development is approaching and the process will have to be monitored. 7) The experience of the Haddam Land Swap necessitates a re-thinking of how to protect state-owned lands. Janet Brooks commented that the legal premise of the DEEP’s position regarding endangered species could be challenged on the basis that it is overreaching, and the best solution may be a legislative one. Chair Wagner mentioned the comments of Mr. Kunz (above) about the scarcity of grouse, and said the Council might be asking for Audubon Connecticut’s expertise.
Quentin Kessel of Mansfield, a retired professor of physics, said that with regard to previously expressed concerns about wood ash, radiation risks are relative and very dependent on levels and length of exposure.
Alison Hilding of Storrs made three points regarding the process by which proposed drinking wells are reviewed and approved. 1) There is a need for accountability among engineers and professionals that certify falsely or provide inadequate and misleading information on applications, and provided an example. She noted that there is no consequence for an applicant who leaves out potentially-damaging information, whereas the consequence of including the information might be denial of the permit; it creates an incentive to include incomplete or misleading information. 2) The 50,000 gallons per day threshold to trigger the need for a diversion permit is too high. 3) Wells for monitoring and geothermal energy should be subject to the same permit process as wells for drinking water.
Chair Wagner thanked all for coming and adjourned the meeting at 7:05 PM.