Minutes of the September 25, 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), Lee Dunbar, Alison Hilding, James O’Donnell (participating by speakerphone), Richard Sherman, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
At 9:20 AM, Chair Merrow called the meeting to order, noting the presence of a quorum. She asked for a motion to approve the agenda and to move the action items to the top of the agenda so they could be discussed and voted on while O’Donnell was still on the phone. Dunbar made a motion to approve the agenda, as amended, which was seconded by Hilding and approved unanimously.
Approval of Minutes
Chair Merrow asked if there were any suggested additions or modifications to the minutes of the August 28, 2013 meeting. There being none, Dunbar moved to approve them as written and Hilding seconded. The motion was approved. Sherman and O’Donnell abstained because they had not been present at the August meeting.
Chair Merrow said she wanted to begin the meeting by noting the death of Donal C. O’Brien, Jr., who served at different times on the Council under four governors and served as Chair of the Council from 1997 to 2004. She wanted the minutes to reflect the Council’s condolences to his family and appreciation of his life and of his support. Hilding suggested a letter from the Council expressing those sentiments would be appropriate. Chair Merrow said she would draft one.
Review of State Agency Actions
Siting Council Consultation – Wagener said staff had reviewed a proposal for a telecommunications tower in Colebrook and recommended no comments. He added that the application is an example of what is increasingly common: applicants check existing data bases for known bird habitats or listed species to establish what is not at the site. Such surveys are not adequate to determine what is on the site. Dunbar said that when the state’s Natural Diversity Data Base (NDDB) was created, it was the expectation that it would be continually added to by site investigations, and was not intended to be a substitute for field investigations. There was discussion of whether the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is adequately staffed to address the issue. Sherman said that the expertise of local citizens familiar with a site can be very important in providing information about what is at a location; he said this is why public input, early in the process, is so important. Chair Merrow said that the topic of management and regulation of biological resources is something in the Council’s “bike rack” for later action.
Post-Scoping Notices for two projects of the Department of Economic and
Community Development (DECD) – Wagener said the Council’s letter to the DECD, as approved at the August meeting, had been sent and acknowledged; he expected to see a response soon.
Proposed land transfer, former Cedarcrest Hospital property, Newington – Wagener said that the most recent edition of the Environmental Monitor included a surplus-property notice for the former Cedarcrest Hospital property, and referred to draft comments circulated in advance of the meeting. Hilding made a motion to authorize Wagener to send the comments. Sherman seconded it and it was passed unanimously.
Wagener referred members to another scoping notice in the Environmental Monitor regarding Governor’s Station, described as a “transportation-oriented development.” Chair Merrow asked for a motion to add this to the agenda. Dunbar made the motion which was seconded by Sherman; it passed unanimously. Wagener said that the project is at the intersection of Routes 20 and 75; it is very accessible by automobile, but there is no mass transit station. He noted that the phrase “transportation oriented development” is unusual in Connecticut and could describe all of the sprawl developed over the past fifty years. He suggested that an EIE should explain how such a highway-oriented development fulfills the responsible-growth principles of the Department and the state. Dunbar made a motion to send the draft comments and Sherman seconded. It was approved unanimously.
Hammonasset State Park – Wagener referred the Council to the response from Commissioner Esty to the Council’s letter regarding Hammonasset State Park. He noted that the Commissioner agreed the conveyance of the Hammonasset property should be subject to a natural resources inventory prior to the transfer and that the town should pay for it. He said the letter also said that the Department was meeting with wildlife advocacy organizations to avoid future problems.
University of Connecticut Water Supply – Wagener noted the determination from the Office of Policy and Management that University of Connecticut’s (UConn’s) EIE and Record of Decision met the requirements of CEPA. That approval did not appear to address any of the Council’s concerns about the long-term need to mitigate potential secondary land-use impacts. Sherman said it is important to continue to make those points whether they are addressed by OPM or not; others agreed.
Other: Bethel Industrial Park – Wagener said that 30 years ago Bethel received state assistance to create an industrial park; a condition of that assistance was the designation of several parcels as open space. That condition expired after 30 years. Thirty years has passed and the town is seeking state assistance to develop more of the industrial park, including portions of the so-called open space. He said he has asked DECD if it has been a common practice to require that lands be set aside as open space for limited time periods. He said he also asked why this portion of the parcel was set aside and what has changed to make it unworthy of preservation.
Executive Director’s Report
Chair Merrow said that the Council should decide if it wants to hold its annual legislative forum and, if so, when. After discussion, it was decided to hold the forum during the first week of December.
Wagener said that all agencies are required to submit a budget for the coming fiscal year that includes a five percent reduction from the current year.
Wagener reported that DEEP has released proposed stream classifications for the eastern portion of the state, as required by DEEP’s stream flow regulations. The regulations require the classification of each stream into one of four categories. Margaret Miner, Executive Director of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, was present in the audience and was asked by Sherman and Chair Merrow if her organization had concerns about this first attempt at classification. She said DEEP has an excellent map on its web site of the designations created so far. Only eastern Connecticut has been completed. She said it is important that people from all parts of the state educate themselves about the process even if their area is not yet mapped; the methodology for designating streams will remain the same throughout the state and it is flawed in some aspects. She said a stream’s designation is lowered (meaning it can be depleted more than streams with higher designations) when it passes through an area that contains not only current water supply aquifers but also areas that water utilities have identified for future growth. The need to consider groundwater in the regulation of stream flow is apparent and needs to be addressed in statute, Ms. Miner suggested. Dunbar said DEEP’s work on these designations has been an impressive effort because of all the inputs and goals that had to be balanced to create the designations. He noted three points about these regulations and classifications: 1) these are entirely state created; there is no equivalent or underlying federal regulation to support them; 2) the designations are a product of an algorithm executed on a computer; and 3) the public participation process set up for this project is unusual and should be looked at. There was considerable discussion, and Chair Merrow said this large topic appears to be appropriate for a future meeting. Ms. Miner recommended that the Council see DEEP’s presentation about the program.
Wagener said he wished to update the Council on two investigations begun by staff. He said that in response to a question by Council members, staff had obtained data on the number of public hearings held by DEEP for permit applications over the past decade. Wagener referred to a table, prepared by Hearn, that showed an apparent drop in the number of hearings in recent years; however, Wagener said, much of the decrease might be explained by anomalies in certain permit categories and a 2010 change in the law that permits withdrawal of petitions before the hearings start. According to DEEP staff, this law has encouraged negotiations and resolution prior to a hearing. Dunbar added that the recent recession could contribute to any decrease that appears in the data. Wagener said staff is awaiting data on the number of applications to determine if there has been a change in the percentage of applications that are the subject of hearings. Dunbar said there are two things to keep in mind about this. DEEP is averse to hearings due to the demands they place on staff resources, and some hearings are requested by opponents of projects who are seeking to protect environmental interests but some are requested by the applicants. Sherman noted that it is often the case that by the time a plan gets to a public hearing, the die is cast and all that is possible are minor tweaks, which is why early public input is very important.
Wagener said that Hearn and the Council’s intern, Linnea Gotberg, were looking at recent data to update the Council’s 2007 memo on DEEP’s regulation of alternative treatment systems (ATS) for sewage treatment. Hearn said the study will look at whether the system operators are reporting as required and whether DEEP has resources to track the reports and respond to what is in them. It will also examine whether the systems are performing as intended. On the first point, 2011 and 2012 were examined. Eighty four percent of the expected quarterly reports were present in the files. On the second point, he expects to be able to report at the next Council meeting on the percentage of systems that are performing to specifications. Sherman asked if ATS systems encourage sprawl development by allowing development where it otherwise would not be possible in the density proposed. Ms. Miner, speaking from the audience, said that is often the case and added that schools install them to meet their unique needs.
O’Donnell had to hang up at this point.
Environmental Indicators and the Measurement of Environmental Conditions – Chair Merrow referred to the summary of conclusions from the August discussion. Sherman asked where energy issues will fit in the suggested new layout for the annual report. Wagener said they will probably be divided between the categories of human behavior and climate change.
Chair Merrow pointed out that there are many items in the “bike rack”. She said these could be dealt with by subcommittees that would report to the full Council. After discussion of the logistics associated with communication as a subcommittee, it was decided that a better choice is to ask for a volunteer to assume responsibility to report on a topic. The volunteer will be able to draw on the expertise of other Council members as well as outside experts to fashion recommendations. It was decided to test this method on two indicators: non-human biota and climate change.
Chair Merrow asked to postpone the scheduled discussion of the human health indicators until a subsequent meeting. She said some of the Council members most interested in this indicator were unable to attend this meeting.
Wagener passed out a sample of a single page that depicts five years of year-over-year changes for each indicator. He said that after seeing it he did not think it represented the data well.
Ms. Miner, speaking from the audience, mentioned that the issue of providing better protection for state owned preserved land is being explored by many, and the Council should follow it closely.
Wagener summarized a complaint about the inclusions of plantings in association with reconstruction of a seawall along Route 154 in Old Saybrook. He said that Hearn had investigated the citizen’s complaint and found no violation of environmental laws or regulations.
Hearn had extensive communication with a citizen from Branford regarding poor dust control at a large construction site. Investigation showed DEEP inspectors had been responsive to complaint calls and visited the site eight times; he would be following up on the responses to violations.
Hilding had a number of questions regarding estimates made by the UConn that the impact of new construction in North Campus will have only a two percent impact on flow to North Cedar Brook and Eagleville Brook. She asked Jayson Coite of UConn, who was in the audience, to explain how this goal will be achieved. Mr. Coite explained that the mechanisms to achieve it will be decided, site by site, as construction progresses.
Hilding said she would like to see the Council support a state policy to re-purpose state properties that had been previously developed before clearing new land. She said that UConn is mitigating its taking of 38 acres of farmland by clearing equivalent acreage and stripping agricultural soil from a third site and trucking it to the new location.
There being no other business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. Hilding motioned to adjourn, seconded by Dunbar, and the meeting was adjourned at 11:48 AM.