Minutes of the April 23, 2014 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, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, James O’Donnell, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
At 9:38 AM, Chair Merrow called the meeting to order, noting that a quorum was present.
Chair Merrow asked for a motion to add an item to the meeting agenda. She said that under Item 7, “Review of state agency actions” she wished to add “discussion of Environmental Impact Evaluation for the proposed "The Villages" housing project in Montville.” Hall motioned to approve the agenda with the change, which was seconded by Dunbar and approved unanimously.
Chair Merrow asked if there were any additions or modifications to the minutes of the March 26, 2014 Council meeting. Wagener noted that there was a typo which was noticed by a member before the meeting and had been corrected on the Council’s website. Brooks made a motion to approve them as corrected, which was seconded by Hall and approved unanimously. The vote was held open, pending the arrival of Hilding, who voted in favor of approval after she arrived.
Chair Merrow noted that it was “Land Conservation Day” at the Capitol, and suggested that members could attend after the meeting; there also would be a “climate change roundtable” sponsored by Senator Chris Murphy in the Legislative Office Building.
Chair Merrow introduced Arthur Smith, an Attorney from Mansfield. Mr. Smith explained the history of his involvement with a group of citizens who had organized to present information regarding the environmental impact on a vernal pool from planned road construction on the Storrs campus of the University of Connecticut (UConn). Some of the members of that group had come to a Council meeting to express their concerns about the proposed construction where they met a member of the Council whose research had been broadly cited in the Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE). They wished to engage that member to testify on their behalf. After initially agreeing, the member subsequently learned that he would have to appear in person, for which he would be compensated, and thought it best to check if this would constitute a conflict of interest. He asked this question of Wagener, who referred the question to the Office of State Ethics.
Mr. Smith said the ethics regulations govern conflicts, not appearances. He explained that in his opinion, based on state law and precedent, there is not a conflict in this situation. He said there were evidentiary consequences under the state’s rules of practice that made the testimony unusable, because the person was not available for cross-examination. He said he is concerned that in the future, if the Council followed this guidance, persons who appear before the Council to present a problem or concern will be precluded from utilizing the expertise of attorneys or scientists who sit on the Council, should hearings or litigation follow. Mr. Smith asked that the Council develop a policy regarding citizens contracting with Council members, and that the information be made available on the Council’s website.
Hall said that it appears that timing is an issue here. If the Council member has been hired by someone appearing before the Council, that member must recuse himself or herself. Brooks asked for the background of this matter in a document that could be studied by the Council. Mr. Smith said he would provide that for the Council. Chair Merrow thanked Mr. Smith for bringing the issue to the Council and asked that it be included on the May agenda.
Executive Director’s Report (including updates on legislation)
Wagener said that there was little new information to report regarding environmental bills. He said the outdoor wood furnaces bill passed the Senate and was on the House Calendar. The bill concerning preserved lands passed the Government Administrations and Elections Committee and was on to the Senate Calendar. He said the bamboo bill has been sent to the Judiciary Committee. The Water Planning Council bill passed the Planning and Development Committee and was on the House Calendar. In response to a question from Chair Merrow, he said that there were two separate bills on fracking that are proceeding through the legislature; one would prohibit the storage, treatment or disposal of waste, while the other would regulate it. Chair Merrow said the Blue Plan bill had passed the Senate in amended form.
Dunbar asked about the bill to prohibit public hearings on subdivision applications. Hilding and Hall expressed the opinion that a public hearing could help a commission determine if a specific project complied with a regulation. Wagener added that it could also help with some discretionary decisions like allowable road grade or lot shape.
Wagener said that the Council’s special report, “Preserved But Maybe Not,” was noted and quoted in the latest editions of newsletters from the Connecticut Association of Conservation and Inland Wetlands Commissions and of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association.
Wagener referred to the letter the Council received from a resident of Bolton objecting to allowing bow hunting on private land on Sundays. The Council discussed the issue and how hikers and adjoining property owners could be affected; no action was taken.
Review of State Agency Actions
Wagener reported that he received notice late on Monday that the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) had approved the EIE for "The Villages" housing project in Montville. The Council had submitted comments when the EIE was originally released expressing the opinion that the EIE was deficient in many regards. The response by the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) to the Council’s comments failed to correct some of the deficiencies, he said. Wagener noted that it had been customary for OPM to call the Council prior to approving an EIE to be sure the Council’s comments had been addressed. Because that did not occur in this instance, Wagener recommended that a letter be sent directly to DECD to express the Council’s advice that the EIE was inadequate to support a decision to fund the project, and to recommend adoption of the no-action alternative. Wagener had sent a draft letter to the Council prior to the meeting. The Council agreed by consensus that the letter should be sent, with a copy to OPM; Brooks abstained.
Discussion of Annual Report Topics
Wagener used the smart-board to call up each page of the draft Annual Report. Each indicator was discussed as to its appearance and content. Many suggestions were made for modifications. There also was discussion of the conclusions to be drawn and highlighted, including the ones in the draft plus the downturn in compliance, the important influence of climate change on the state’s environmental conditions, the need for government to invest in data if people want to see good policy developed, and the consequences of inadequate staffing in certain programs. At the conclusion Hilding made a motion to approve the draft report with the inclusion of the suggestions made by the Council, and to authorize the Chair to approve any changes. This was seconded by Hall and approved unanimously.
There being no additional business, the meeting was adjourned at 12:09 PM.