Minutes of the August 28, 2013 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room on the fifth floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.
PRESENT: Susan Merrow (Chair), Janet Brooks, Lee Dunbar, Alison Hilding, Michael Klemens, Karyl Lee Hall, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
At 9:05 AM, Chair Merrow called the meeting to order, noting the presence of a quorum.
Approval of Minutes
Chair Merrow asked if there were any suggested additions or modifications to the minutes of the July 24, 2013 meeting. There being none, Brooks moved to approve them as written and Hall seconded. The motion was approved unanimously.
Chair Merrow said she wanted to begin the meeting with a motion to approve the agenda. She likened the agenda to a contract. Referencing the agenda items she said the discussion of annual report indicators is the most important and allocated the beginning of the meeting to it. She suggested discussion of that item until 11:00 AM. Hall made a motion to adopt the agenda. It was seconded by Brooks and passed unanimously. Chair Merrow next thanked the Council members who worked hard on their “homework assignment” to critique current indicators and identify broad directions for the report.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener reported that he had been invited to attend a meeting called by Environment and Human Health Inc. to address disposal of fracking wastes in Connecticut, and to update the attendees on the status of current laws and regulations.
He also attended a meeting with representatives of the US Army Corps of Engineers and Audubon Connecticut who announced an “in-lieu fee agreement”. The agreement provides an alternative form of compensatory mitigation for applicants seeking permits from the Army Corps of Engineers for work in Connecticut which requires mitigation. It allows a fee to be paid “in lieu of” permittee-performed mitigation. The funds can be applied via grants to projects that will more benefit Connecticut's aquatic resources.
He met with staff from the Inland Wetlands office of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) who reported that DEEP now defines completion of its online modules as satisfying the “comprehensive training” requirement for wetlands commissioners. The program now is administered by Central Connecticut State University. It costs $75 for each participant. DEEP is retaining the annual update as continuing education.
Wagener said that members of the Council had asked if the number of public hearings for permits has been increasing or decreasing. He said staff has been collecting information on this but does not yet have all the data needed to answer the question. He said that at the July meeting, the Council had also asked staff to review the agreement between the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) and the University of Connecticut, Storrs (UConn) regarding procedures for modifying UConn’s North Campus Master Plan. He said he has obtained documents that summarize the agreement and will present more on that at a future meeting.
Environmental Indicators and the Measurement of Environmental Conditions, Working Session
Chair Merrow began the discussion of environmental indicators with the explanation that the term “parking lot” in the workbooks is to signify that a conclusion on that item had not been reached and it would be re-visited at a future date. After brief discussion, the term “parking lot” was changed to “bike rack” to reduce the (imaginary) impacts of stormwater and internal combustion. Chair Merrow suggested taking each question as it appeared in the workbook that had been sent out prior to the meeting. Wagener said that member James O’Donnell was absent because of a prior appointment but that he had submitted his answers to the questions in writing; and that he (Wagener) would introduce O’Donnell’s comments in to the discussion.
The questions have been paraphrased below. The actual workbook, which includes introductory text to frame the questions, is available from the Council upon request.
Q. 1. Do we want to continue with the basic strategy of publishing a consistent set of indicators in the annual environmental quality report? (“Consistent” means that most of the same indicators are used every year with some additions or deletions as required.) The consensus was to continue with a basic set of indicators annually, allowing for them to be interspersed with some that are available only at multi-year intervals.
Q. 2. At what audience are we aiming the content? There was much discussion on this, leading to the consensus that the audience is: 1) the Executive Branch, as mandated by statute, the General Assembly and the general public; reporters will be interested by virtue of it being an official report to the public. O’Donnell, as channeled by Wagener, suggested the possibility of publishing a full version and a shorter version for the public which could be assimilated in two minutes.
Q. 3. What do we expect people to do with the knowledge they gain from the report?
Here there was agreement on the following choices: Be motivated to work on state-level change; be motivated to work on local environmental issues; write or speak accurately when addressing environmental issues; and identify priorities for legislative action, including budget decisions.
Q. 4. How much time do you think the average reader spends on the report? This question was rhetorical, since the answer was in the Appendix. The Appendix showed number of visitors and time spent on the site. During the discussion the concern turned to the need to increase readership of the report, including its potential as an educational resource. Consideration of strategies to accomplish this was put in the bike rack.
Q. 5. How much do we care about the “problem” that some indicators only show changes in conditions but not causes which can be numerous, interactive, complex and possibly unclear? On this question all agreed that the primary purpose of the report is to describe actual conditions. A downward-trending indicator was likened to an alarm bell to which the public expects policy makers to respond by addressing the causes, to the extent they are known. Members concurred that the Council should be honest in its own understanding and communication.
Q. 6. Should indicators which are influenced substantially by climate and weather be labeled or otherwise treated differently in the report? A discussion followed on the role of climate change and the impact that personal actions and state policy can have. The question of how to depict climate change indicators was put in the bike rack.
Q.7. Should each indicator include some notation as to the certainty or reliability of the indicator in communicating environmental conditions or trends? Discussion of this included a discussion of what degree of certainty is needed to direct public policy. The degree of certainty should be highlighted in the text; some members advocated putting this information right up front. The Council should use its judgment to reject any indicator that is not sufficiently reliable.
Q.8. Should data be “normalized” to more clearly show the effects of factors including weather and the impact of environmental management programs? Here there was unanimous agreement that normalization can create distortion of reality and that the report should depict actual conditions. Brooks and Hall made the point that it could contravene the Council’s statutory mandate. Dunbar made the point that climate variability, which could be used to normalize some indicators, deserves of its own place as a separate indicator. Chair Merrow said this discussion should continue when discussion of a climate change indicator is brought up later.
Q.9 Should the current grouping of indicators into the following categories be changed: 1) Air, 2) Farmland, Forest, Wetland, 3) Sound and Shore, 4) Rivers and Reservoirs, 5) Human Health, 6) Personal Impact (not environmental conditions, but behaviors that are presumed to affect environmental conditions)? Brooks and Klemens expressed concern about the very weak scientific association between environmental conditions and the human health indicators. Klemens suggested the following categories: Air, Water, Land, Non-human Biota, Human Health and Behaviors, and Climate Change. There was agreement to use Klemens’ six divisions; some specifics, especially regarding human health, were moved to later questions and the bike rack.
Q. 10. Should long term trends be presented together with annual data, or should each be treated separately? After discussion, it was agreed that the annual progress buttons should be kept but that other ways to depict change over time should be explored, such as a five-year display of the buttons for each indicator on a summary page.
Q. 11. Should the “interactive” format, in which the value of the indicator is displayed when the cursor passes over points on the chart, be retained? A brief discussion led to the decision that if it did not create additional work for staff, or if it saves time, it should be retained.
Q. 12. When, if ever, should statistical techniques like rolling averages, percentiles and others be used? It was decided that this was dependant on the specific indicator and should be determined on an individual basis.
Q. 13. How many years should be presented in the typical chart? Wagener showed four charts that demonstrated for two indicators how the 20-year and 10-year trends show entirely different pictures. Dunbar said that what matters to policy makers and the public is the short term – the shorter the better. There was consensus that trends of five years to 10 years are appropriate, but not more than 10.
Q. 14. How many indicators should the report include? There was not agreement on this. Dunbar and Hall said it would depend on what is being added and dropped. Klemens said it should not exceed 30, and 25 is better for public comprehension. Chair Merrow said, to move the meeting along, this question would be parked in the bike rack.
Q. 15. Should significantly more information on biological resources be added to the report? It was decided that the condition of our flora and fauna can tell us a lot, even if we cannot explain all the causes; the Council should make a major effort over the next year to beef up reporting of biological resources.
Q. 16. Is there consensus on the importance of keeping the category of human health indicators? Some members find the human health indicators wanting for lack of strong links between the diseases examined and the environment. Were there stronger associations they would support them. Brooks pointed out that the strongest correlations to breast cancer are to racial and ethnic factors. Hall said the public health benefits of environmental protection are extremely important to demonstrate. Klemens said that West Nile virus, Lyme disease, obesity and asthma can be correlated to our environmental circumstances. There was strong support for depicting environmental health indicators, but the specific ones were unclear. Chair Merrow suggested this question be parked in the bike rack.
Q.17. How to proceed from here? Wagener pointed out that the one-page survey of members’ attitudes toward the indicators revealed support for keeping most of the indicators, though some with some tweaking, and just a few received negative ratings. Chair Merrow asked the Council members to review one more time the interactive online version of the annual report. Chair Merrow said she and Karl could create a work plan for implementing the decisions made today and taking up the items in the bike rack.
Review of State Agency Actions
Connecticut Siting Council Docket 409A, proposed telecommunications tower in Canaan (Falls Village), motion to reopen on a finding of changed conditions – Wagener reported that he attended the August 8, 2013 Connecticut Siting Council (CSC) meeting at which the CSC members, in a straw poll, voted to not find changed conditions. Such a vote, if formalized, would end the proceeding without consideration of substantive matters. Subsequently, the applicant withdrew the motion to reopen the docket, which ended the docket. The Canaan Inland Wetlands Commission asked the SCS to reject the motion to withdraw, but the CSC acknowledged the withdrawal and the end of the docket. Despite what in his view was the proper outcome, Wagener said, the docket raised several questions and concerns that should be addressed as the opportunity arises: 1) By withdrawing the motion to reopen following the straw vote, the applicant avoided a denial; meanwhile, the town, public and state agencies spent many thousands of dollars putting data and expert testimony into the record which were never considered; 2) DEEP said in 2010 that there were no listed species in the area of the proposed tower, but in 2013 said there were more than 30; 3) There was no mention in the CSC’s finding of fact of whether or not Cobble Hill is a scenic resource; 4) One of the votes to find changed conditions was DEEP’s vote; 5) Wagener requested the draft finding of fact prior to the CSC meeting; under the Freedom of Information Act this would be public once it is sent to the CSC members, but he was told that the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act allows for this material to be kept confidential in contested cases. Merrow said these are important issues, deserving of consideration at a subsequent meeting.
Siting Council consultation re: proposed telecommunications tower in
New London – Staff suggested there is no need for comments.
Post-Scoping Notices for two projects of the Department of Economic and
Community Development (DECD) – Wagener said that the DECD had submitted two post-scoping notices in the current edition of the Environmental Monitor. He said one involved the construction of a pedestrian bridge to cross the railroad tracks in New London. For this project DECD is recommending an Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) be conducted. The other project is an 850,000 square foot office building, proposed for the Stamford shoreline in a flood zone and on a contaminated industrial site, with parking for thousands of cars and possibly helicopters and boats. Wagener reviewed the relatively new post-scoping process, which the Council had discussed in depth at previous meetings, as an easy and useful “off ramp” for small state projects to avoid the detailed analysis required by the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) to be included in an Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE). He said there have been 30 post-scoping notices in the past two years; most were water supply projects. The largest project in any prior post-scoping notice was a 130,000 square-foot redevelopment project in Norwalk. He said that after a post-scoping notice is published there is no further opportunity for public review, comment or for approval by the Office of Policy and Management (OPM). Hall asked what would prevent an agency from using post-scoping for all its projects; Wagener said that the agency would run the risk of creating grounds for a legal challenge. He said that in the Stamford case the DECD is relying on agreements with the developer to mitigate environmental concerns that would normally be discussed in an EIE and would be subject to public scrutiny and comment. Hall asked who makes the decision that the agreements with the developer are sufficient and what assurances are there to guarantee compliance with those agreements. The Council members expressed interest in pursuing that question. Hilding made a motion to add it to the agenda as an action item, which was seconded by Klemens. The motion was approved unanimously. After additional discussion, Klemens made a motion to authorize Wagener to ask DECD how the mitigation would be enforced, if DECD had sought a legal opinion as to whether the post scoping choice is in compliance with CEPA, and for further explanation of how DECD reached its decision. The motion was seconded by Hilding and approved unanimously.
University of Connecticut decision on water supply for Storrs campus - Wagener reported that the Board of Trustees of the University of Connecticut had approved the Record of Decision for the future water supply for the Storrs campus; the Connecticut Water Company was chosen as the preferred supplier, and the Windham Water Company was designated as an acceptable alternative. Wagener said he was still reviewing the 77-page Record of Decision, but that it appeared that the biggest issue going forward would be the management of sprawl and growth. The Record of Decision appears to put the responsibility on the affected towns to employ overlay zones or similar mechanisms, but those zoning changes have not been enacted. Wagener said that the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) must approve UConn’s Record of Decision (ROD). He suggested that it would be the state’s ongoing responsibility to see that recommended controls are enacted. He invited Dan Morley of OPM, who was in the audience, to speak to the issue of controlling the secondary impacts. Mr. Morley said that because the document is under review by his agency he could not speak to the question at this time.
Chair Merrow said there were members of the public in the audience who came to the Council meeting to speak about potential impacts of water supply expansion at UConn. She asked them to address the Council. Betty Wassmundt, a resident of Mansfield, said that in addition to Mansfield, Willington will see unanticipated development pressure with the UConn expansion and the development of the Tech Park on the UConn campus. She said the construction of the Tech Park will disrupt wetlands, vernal pools and displace farmland. She said that the state has invested millions to renovate former mill sites in nearby Willimantic which could be made suitable for the Tech Park tenants. She said East Hartford also has suitable locations for the Tech Park. Both Willimantic and East Hartford have adequate water supply. She expressed concern that the town of Mansfield has no significant role or veto power regarding the additional water supply.
Jean DeSmet of Windham spoke next. She said that the record of Decision ignored the most appropriate option: no new water supply. She said that moving water to create a new city is a bad environmental choice. It violates the growth principles in the state’s Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD). She listed the guidelines in the POCD that are violated by growth-inducing development in Mansfield, including the need to consider infill development before developing new lands and the need for regional planning. She said that currently Mansfield has no unemployment; residents will not benefit from the expansion planned by UConn. She said that the Tech Park plans do not include plans to provide housing for the workforce that will have to commute from elsewhere.
Wagener said that he will review the ROD with regard to how well it addresses these issues and include them in the Council’s comments to OPM about the ROD. David Radka, Director of Water Resources for the Connecticut Water Company (CWC), spoke from the audience to address the question asked by Hilding and others, namely does the agreement between UConn and the CWC depend on the participation of Mansfield? Mr. Radka said that the town’s participation is not required but that the town has been working all along with the university on this. Jayson Coite, of UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy, also responded from the audience to note that the water diversion permit will be a joint permit for the Connecticut Water Company and UConn. He said the legislation requires the university to consult with the town, which it has been doing every step of the way in the process.
Hilding asked if, as had been reported to her, the State plan of Conservation and Development had been amended in the spring of 2013 to weaken growth principles four and five; Mr. Morley, speaking from the audience, said there was no intent to do so; at that time, the plan was out of OPM’s hands and was being discussed by the legislature’s Continuing Committee on Planning and Development, which ordered a few minor changes pertaining to sea level rise and a couple of other points. Wagener said he would get a copy of the memo that described those changes and distribute it to the members.
Chair Merrow said that the way forward on this discussion appears to be to answer some questions that were raised in discussion, specifically is sufficient consideration given to managing sprawl in the Record of Decision? Members concurred. Wagener said he would finish reviewing the ROD to determine how well public and agency comments on the Environmental Impact Evaluation were addressed and, after circulating his conclusions to the members, would communicate them to OPM. Mr. Coite said that the ROD considers secondary growth in pages 32 to 38.
Wagener said staff had received a complaint about reconstruction of a seawall along Route 154 in Old Saybrook. A citizen complained that the plantings which were added to the wall create a visual barrier to his enjoyment of the view. He said staff found that the project had been the subject of permits and public notice and that he did not see where there could be a violation; members agreed there was no need to hear evidence directly on this.
There being no other business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. Dunbar motioned to adjourn, seconded by Hall; and the meeting was adjourned at 12:24 PM.