A video recording of the meeting can be viewed on the Connecticut Network (CT-N).
Minutes of the December 19, 2012 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Russell Conference Room, 3rd floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.
PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Howard Beach, Janet Brooks, Bruce Fernandez, Alison Hilding, Richard Sherman, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
Chair Barbara Wagner called the meeting to order at 9:02 AM, noting the presence of a quorum. She began by announcing that the primary focus of the meeting was to ratify the Council’s recommendations for the 2013 legislative session.
Chair Wagner asked if there were any additions or revisions to the minutes of the November 28, 2012 meeting. Brooks made a motion to accept the minutes as presented, which was seconded by Sherman and approved. Fernandez, who was not present at the November meeting, abstained.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener reported that he and Hearn had attended the annual Environmental Summit sponsored by the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters. He said that it was well attended, with many legislators present, and that he would provide more details later in the meeting.
Wagener said that in the current Environmental Monitor there is an announcement of the availability of the responses by the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) to the comments it received regarding the Draft revision of the State Conservation and Development Policies Plan. After the draft is changed to reflect some of those comments, it will be presented to the legislature and a public hearing will be held on it.
Wagener spoke briefly of correspondence with the University of Connecticut regarding the site selection process for the hazardous waste storage facility.
Chair Wagner thanked Wagener for the update, and said she would like to rearrange the order of the agenda as a courtesy to the many people who were in the audience for the discussion of the Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) for alternative sources of potable water for the University of Connecticut (UConn) at Storrs (agenda item 6a).
Review of State Agency Actions
Additional Sources of Water Supply for the University of Connecticut, EIE – Wagener referred to the draft comments that had been distributed prior to the meeting. Members discussed the EIE and the comments, especially the sections relating to land use and the State Conservation and Development Policies Plan.
Chair Wagner said that there was time for brief comments from the audience, if people wished to speak. Donald Rieger of Simsbury spoke from the audience; he had submitted comments prior to the meeting and wished to summarize them briefly. He said the sprawl that could result from the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) route may not just be an unintended consequence; it perhaps can be seen as a strategic action to increase the utility’s customer base. He described his concerns about the selection of MDC as the water source. DEEP has documented problems with both temperature and volume in the Farmington River; withdrawals from that watershed will only exacerbate these problems. He said the stream flow figures cited in the EIE are from a study published in 1992 and based on prior years. He said those do not consider the growth that has occurred since then, or the warming temperatures of recent decades, a point on which he elaborated, and therefore any interbasin approval should require new, rigorous estimates of demand and stream flow. The EIE makes no estimate of the total demand it is trying to meet. He pointed out tha the MDC has been inconsistent on the question of availability of adequate water to maintain healthy streams while meeting future demand. He said the MDC objected to proposed minimum stream flow regulations in 2011 by stating that they would force it to immediately begin withdrawals from the west branch of the Farmington River, which would otherwise not be needed until 2050. He said the MDC option is clearly the most expensive choice, even while being vague regarding total project costs. He said the need is not justified. He added that a more sustainable model for UConn should be sought. He also said the process is flawed; a project of this size and potential consequence should be more widely publicized and have a longer period for public comment.
Charles Petricelli of Redding spoke as a private citizen, though he noted that he is a chapter president of Trout Unlimited. He also objected to what he said is inadequate notice for such a major project. He said an apparent rationale for the new water supply is the proposed technology park at UConn. He did not see the sense in creating a new large research park in an undeveloped area when Hartford and other cities have many dormant sites with infrastructure already in place. He said there is a need for more time for people to read, analyze and comment on the plan. He recounted that the Farmington River was too low and too warm for fish this summer; many anglers abstained from fishing for that reason. He asked the Council if the comments regarding the plan must be addressed by UConn. Wagener said that each comment must be addressed. Sherman added that UConn decides on the alternative, And OPM decides if the EIE is adequate; if it is found to be inadequate then the project is not eligible for state funding. Chair Wagner added that once a source is chosen there will be opportunity to comment on the application for a permit to divert water from one river basin to another. Brooks asked how much of an extension had been granted for comments by UConn. Wagener said the original deadline was December 21 and it was extended to January 4, 2013. Wagener noted that state regulations requires a 45 day comment period and state that in cases of complex EIEs the comment period may be extended to 60 days. This leaves unclear whether this is a maximum comment period. Brooks recounted a project that was rejected by the federal Environmental Protection Agency because the comment period was for a period in August when many people were away on vacation. She pointed out that this comment period falls over the winter holidays and an extension to mid-January would be justified. Chair Wagner suggested adding to the Council’s comments a request for an extension of the time allowed for public comment. Sherman said that the towns along the Farmington River were not informed. He added that MDC is enforcing an old agreement to restrain the Farmington River Watershed Association from commenting thereby preventing it from providing valuable expert commentary. Beach said that Simsbury officials were not notified directly about the proposal, which has great significance to the town in a time of predicted increasing water scarcity. He added that all the proposals to provide water to UConn require interbasin transfers and all need close scrutiny. Hilding says the MDC proposal is unprecedented in terms of its scale and potential impact and is deserving of regional attention.
Dori Smith of Mansfield said she learned of the project through a local news outlet, and has found it difficult to get questions answered. She said she would like to see the correspondence and draft contracts among the potential water suppliers and potential municipal and business partners. She said that at the public hearing on the topic she was told by the UConn representative that he was there to receive comments only and not to answer questions. She said the public needs some questions answered so that comments can be drafted. An important question is how the project was initially conceived. She said that the ground water pollution at Mansfield Four Corners has been the impediment to expansion of business development there. She believes that developers have already met with town officials to discuss plans for the arrival of water. Investors know that a partnership with UConn is the least expensive way to provide potable water in large quantity; therefore UConn’s need is the vehicle for regional growth. She said her town officials have already met with officials from other towns to plan for water needs beside those of UConn, Four Corners and the Tech Park. She said better siting of large projects is called for.
Chair Wagner asked the Council, in light of what was heard, if the Council’s comments should ask for more public notice in addition to an expanded comment period. After considerable discussion, members were unanimous that they should. Hilding said that the comments should point out problems that exist with the other water companies’ plans too; Wagener said he will make it clear that the comments apply to all alternatives. After more discussion, Chair Wagner asked for a motion to approve the draft comments with the two additions discussed (asking about the regional water plan, and requesting an extension of the comment period with more public notice). Sherman made the motion; second by Brooks. All voted in favor, with Beach abstaining.
Discussion of Recommendations for Legislation
Wagener began with a summary of presentations at the League of Conservation Voters’ Environmental Summit on December 6, 2012. Daniel Esty, Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) spoke, emphasizing shoreline protection issues, the need for new approaches to materials management and remediation, new models for funding parks and forests, and key parts of the Comprehensive Energy Strategy, always with the tight budget picture in mind. Senator Ed Meyer, Chair of the General Assembly’s Environment Committee, sat on a panel with incoming Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, and echoed the fiscal reality described by the Commissioner. While he spoke about many issues, he offered two priorities for 2013: 1) preserve DEEP’s ability to function, 2) prevent the Community Investment Act funds from being swept into the state’s general fund. Representative Sharkey said that it will be important to focus on the big issues, like smart growth, and not get bogged down in small battles. Wagener mentioned several issues on which there was much discussion.
Wagener went on to say that there are some common themes that came up at the Council’s November public forum on its legislative priorities. The importance of appropriating funds for DEEP and maintaining the Community Investment Act was emphasized by many speakers. The importance of training for municipal officials – wetlands commissions, planning and zoning commissions, floodplains managers and tree wardens – was mentioned by several speakers. The third common theme was increasing penalties, specifically for poaching, illegal ATV use and tree theft.
Chair Wagner asked the Council if it would be advisable to limit its recommendations to those with low financial impact. The consensus was that the list of recommendations should reflect the documented deficiencies, and they should be ranked by priority. Members agreed that the group of recommendations referred to as the “basics” should collectively be the highest priority, as they are essential to meeting the state’s basic environmental goals.
Wagener referred the Council to the list he had prepared with the Council’s original recommendations to which he added the recommendations received at the Council’s public forum and/or in correspondence from citizens who could not attend. Each of the 35 items suggested by the public was discussed by the Council with regard to making it a legislative recommendation and establishing its priority. Some suggestions from the public forum were reserved for future consideration to allow staff and members the time to further investigate them. Beach made a motion to authorize Wagener to revise the Council’s draft recommendations to conform to the wording changes approved by the Council and with inclusion of the new items. This was seconded by Hilding and approved by all.
Chair Wagener noted that existing law limits the terms of Council members, and asked if the Council thought it a good idea to suggest a revision of CGS Section 22a-11 to allow continuation of service until replaced with a new appointment. By consensus, the Council agreed that it should be added to the list of legislative recommendations.
Comprehensive Land Conservation Strategy (“The Green Plan”) Update – Wagener said that DEEP is required by statute to consult with the Council when developing its 5-year “Green Plan,” and was inviting comment on how that plan could be improved. He referred to the draft comments that he distributed prior to the meeting. Chair Wagener asked for a motion to approve the comments as drafted. Brooks made a motion to approve. It was seconded by Beach. All voted in favor.
Discussion of Annual Report Topics
Wagener explained that staff had been working on some improvements to the annual report that will utilize features appropriate for an online publication. The Council discussed the changes, expressing general approval and suggesting some modifications. Wagener said he would circulate draft text for preliminary review.
Hilding asked, with regard to the UConn EIE, when the public will be able to view the comments that were received by UConn. Wagener said that they are public documents and should be available upon request, but UConn did not seem to agree. Wagener reported that he had asked UConn staff for a copy of the December 11, 2012 letter from the MDC that was referred to in news articles; UConn staff responded that they would prefer to withhold the comments from public review until the public comment period ended in order to prevent a back-and-forth dialogue among people submitting comments. Members were unanimous in stating that if such documents are public, as they would appear to be, they should be made available immediately. Brooks pointed out that public comments on dockets are posted on the websites of PURA and the Siting Council. Beach made a motion to add discussion of this item to the agenda. This was seconded by Chair Wagner and approved by all. Brooks made a motion to write to UConn to advise them that the public comments should be considered public and ideally should be posted on their website within a short time of their receipt. Second by Sherman. Approved unanimously.
Beach made a motion to adjourn. The meeting was adjourned at noon.