Minutes of the May 28, 2014 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Russell Hearing Room on the third floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.
The first part of the meeting was recorded by the Connecticut Network (CT-N) and is available for viewing on demand at http://ct-n.com/ondemand.asp?ID=10310
PRESENT: Susan Merrow (Chair), Janet Brooks, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Michael Klemens, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Allison Hall (Intern).
At 9:30 AM, Chair Merrow called the meeting to order, noting that a quorum was present.
Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the meeting agenda. Hilding moved approval; second by Hall. Approved unanimously.
Chair Merrow asked if there were any additions or modifications to the minutes of the April 23, 2014 Council meeting. Dunbar made a motion to approve the minutes, which was seconded by Hilding and approved unanimously with Klemens abstaining because he had been present at the meeting.
Chair Merrow reported that her time since the last meeting had been spent conferring with Wagener on the annual report.
Chair Merrow asked if there are any members of the public who wished to address the Council. There was none.
Highlights of Environmental Quality in Connecticut (Annual Report)
Chair Merrow reported that the annual report had been delivered to Governor Malloy on the previous day. Merrow asked Wagener how many years the Council has been producing an annual environmental quality report. Wagener answered that this is the 42nd year.
Wagener presented a summary of the main themes of the annual report that were emphasized in the introduction and letter to the governor, and also the changes that had been ordered by the council at the previous meeting.
Members had several comments and questions.
Klemens expressed his concern that because the chart of Notices of Violations (NOVs) for 2013 showed only NOVs issued by the state, and there was only one inland wetlands violation cited by the state, the public would be led to the conclusion that this was a minor category of violations when there were actually many wetlands violations, perhaps hundreds, that were handled by municipal and federal agencies. Wagener agreed, and said it would be useful to show the municipal numbers if they were available, which they are not for recent years.
During the discussion of the new indicator for resident turtles, Klemens added that the spotted turtle was just recommended by the scientific advisory panel for inclusion on the state list of species of special concern; if that occurs, then the indicator will show a downturn next year. Wagener read from a letter received in the office the previous day from Barrie Robbins-Pianka of Middletown urging the Council to consider the plight of native turtle species and also the new state regulations regarding snapping turtles, which Wagener said he had not yet looked at but which the correspondent thought were inadequate.
Wagener reviewed the new format for the report’s summary section. He pointed out that a new addition is the symbol showing what indicators are most affected by a warming or changing climate. Dunbar said it is important to show the impact that climate change has locally, rather than presenting it as an abstract or distant threat. Members agreed that the climate-change symbol probably could be added to even more of the indicators. Referring back to the previous discussion of turtles, for example, Klemens said that in many turtle species sex determination is influenced by temperature. The long term consequence of a warming climate on the viability of those species is unknown, but some scientists suspect that change is already occurring, though a change in the ratio might not yet be apparent among adult turtles because of their long lives.
Summing up the report, Dunbar said that it showed behavioral changes by individuals that could lead to an improved environment but deficient response by government in areas such as land preservation and enforcement.
Merrow said that obtaining data on government effectiveness is normally a challenge and the report has made the data accessible and the interactive feature of the charts is actually fun to use. She urged Council members to share the link with their friends.
A SHORT RECESS WAS TAKEN TO ALLOW THE CREW FROM CT-N TO REMOVE THEIR EQUIPMENT FROM THE ROOM.
When the meeting resumed at 10:23 AM, Hilding brought up the wording in the recommendations regarding “better patterns of land development", suggesting that “land use” or “reuse” would better emphasize the importance of reducing sprawl and focusing development where the infrastructure already exists. She said there should be an indicator showing the rate of land reuse and brownfield reclamation in the state. Robert LaFrance of DEEP spoke from the audience to say that such data might become available from the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) and provided the name of the person who is working on it. Klemens agreed with Hilding that “land use” is a better term. He said that development will always follow the path of least resistance. He described the change made by Barkhamsted to make cluster development the norm and requiring a special permit for traditional sprawl development, but that is not common.
Wagener answered questions from Hilding and Hall about how the indicators on highway miles traveled is derived. Dunbar suggested listing in a future report all the indicators that the Council would like to measure for which reliable data are unavailable. Much of this information would be useful to policy makers. Hall said that the changes in this year’s report were good ones that addressed the critiques and suggestions which the Council received during the past year.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener provided the Council with an overview of the important environment-related bills passed during the recent legislative session and listed those which did not. Rob LaFrance of DEEP, and Lori Brown of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, speaking from the audience, provided additional insights.
Members discussed several details of the bills. Merrow and Klemens questioned how the bill concerning running bamboo would be enforced and how the plant could be eradicated upon the sale of a property that has it. Hilding had several questions about the implications of the bill to give the Water Planning Council additional duties, reorganize the Water Utility Coordinating Committees and the Statewide Water Plan. Dunbar, in response of one of Hilding’s concerns, said that it has been his experience that planning for water utilization rarely gives attention to the ecology of the streams and lakes that depend upon adequate flows. Members agreed that this would require close attention, as would the other changes discussed by Hilding.
Wagener then mentioned two bills of interest that did not pass, those concerning the “Blue Plan” and the designation of important bird areas on state lands.
Review of State Agency Actions
Wagener said the Council had received two Environmental Impact Evaluations (EIEs) concerning planned development at the University of Connecticut (UConn) in Storrs. One would eliminate 935 sq. ft. of wetlands and the other would be in a flood plain. Hearn said the corresponding EIEs identified the wetland in question as having no environmental significance and refuted the accuracy of the flood plain map, which was being redrawn. Wagener did not recommend comments on either project. Dunbar asked Jason Coite of UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy, who was in the audience, if copper roofs were being planned for either of the proposed buildings. Dunbar explained the significant toxicity that runoff from copper roofs has on aquatic life. Mr. Coite said he did not think that the proposed buildings would have copper roofs. In response to questions from Hilding, Mr. Coite described the heating and cooling systems that would be utilized in the buildings. He also answered her questions about the availability of water for the campus if the buildings were completed prior to the link to the new water supply that is also planned. He asserted that at peak use the existing water resources would meet the demand and that periodic withdrawals could be made from the Fenton wells without creating an adverse situation for the flow in the river. Treated and recovered wastewater would be used in the toilet systems.
Merrow asked Brooks to discuss her ideas for disseminating the information in the report. Brooks said it is a valuable information resource for study of Connecticut’s environment. She said thought should be given to ways to inform schools of its existence. She suggested encouraging science teachers to create scavenger hunts where students would have to find fun (not too nerdy) information in the report. Hearn said the Connecticut Community Foundation is using the report as the “text” for its upcoming environment programs for nonprofit leaders. Merrow asked if a “share” button could be added to the report, so readers could disseminate it easily to their friends. Wagener said that the Council’s summer intern, Allison Hall, who created the excellent Powerpoint presentations for the meeting, might be knowledgeable on such matters. Hall said she would investigate.
Dunbar asked what topics would be considered at future Council meetings. Merrow asked Hearn to provide a list of topics that had been put in the “bike rack” (deferred for future action). Wagener said two important topics near the top of the list are the DEEP Rules of Practice that govern public participations and the need for revisions to the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act regulations. Hall asked Wagener if he had received a response yet from DECD to the Council’s comments on the proposed Villages at Montville; he said he had not.
There being no additional business, Dunbar made a motion to adjourn. It was seconded by Klemens and adjournment was at 11:43 AM.