Minutes of the July 22, 2015 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 P. Brooks (by phone), Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Julius Graefe (Intern)
At 9:32 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting that a quorum was present.
Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the agenda. Dunbar made a motion to approve the agenda with the addition of an agenda item to discuss and possibly act on the proposed permit for an alternative sewage treatment system in the town of Clinton, about which a memo had been sent to the members prior to the meeting. Second by Hall; approved unanimously.
Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the June 24, 2015 meeting. Hilding moved approval. Dunbar seconded, and they were approved unanimously.
Chair Merrow noted that at the June meeting there was discussion regarding what circumstances could lead members or staff to excuse themselves from a matter for reasons of potential appearance of bias. She said that the state ethics code addresses only financial conflicts of interest. She asked the Council members if they thought the Council should adopt a broader guideline to protect against the appearance of bias in Council deliberations. Hall answered that the term “bias” needs to be defined since all persons have biases. She said that bias cannot be determined unless a person has taken a public stand on a topic, and suggested that could be the test which could be applied. Brooks said that in the context of wetlands commissions the test is whether a person’s opinion is so rigid that his mind is closed to new or different data. Dunbar suggested that if a person is transparent about his or her prior involvement or position on an issue, or lives in the same town as a proposed project, and declares that fact, it would not be necessary to recuse oneself from a discussion since the perspective from which comments are made would be clear. Hilding pointed out that some excellent candidates for the Council will have bias as a consequence of their expertise in a field, and the Council would benefit from their perspective, which should not be barred from inclusion in discussions. Chair Merrow suggested a subcommittee to further discuss the question. Hall and Brooks volunteered and were appointed by the Chair. Wagener said that a subcommittee’s deliberations must be open to the public and there would need to be public notice. All agreed that this was an appropriate path forward, and asked that all members be notified of subcommittee meetings.
Use of Open Space in Newington – Chair Merrow introduced Mr. Ed Young of Newington who had requested time on the agenda to discuss problems he had observed with lack of adherence by the Town of Newington to provisions of its agreement with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) in connection with a grant from DEEP to acquire the property on Church Street. Mr. Young outlined the activities he had observed and the conditions that are apparent there today. Wagener added that staff at DEEP had addressed these concerns in a letter to the town, which had been distributed prior to the meeting. He said he was told that a site visit and meeting with town officials is expected. Chair Merrow and Hall asked that a copy of the town’s response be obtained; Wagener said he would obtain it from DEEP and circulate it to the Council. Questions followed for Mr. Young to help the members understand the complex acquisition and grant process which included a taking by eminent domain of the property, which had been in his family for decades. Chair Merrow said it would be of value to know what the state has done in the past in similar situations, if there had been any. Brooks said the Attorney General has been involved in proposals to alter preserved farmland. Dunbar said that violation of a grant agreement calls for action as strong as actions against encroachments such as those described in previous Council reports. Hall and Hilding asked staff to distribute copies of the grant agreement for review by the Council. Hilding asked about the potential of the activities to affect local drinking water supplies. It was the sense of the Council that if the situation is as described by Mr. Young, there exists a serious violation of the spirit and the letter of the terms of the land conservation grant. Discussion followed on the types of actions that might be available to DEEP. Mr. Young said that unless the state takes a strong stand, the attitude of farmers who might be considering participation in the state’s farmland preservation program is bound to be affected. Hilding made a motion to send a letter, to be approved and signed by Chair Merrow, to the DEEP Commissioner saying that if DEEP staff finds violations of the grant agreement, then DEEP should require, among other possible remedies, full restoration of the land to its condition at the time of the grant, and should investigate for possible contamination of the soil and groundwater, as warranted. Hall seconded the motion, which was approved unanimously. Chair Merrow thanked Mr. Young for making the trip to inform the Council and promised to keep him informed of developments.
Staff updates on various complaints – Wagener said he had received inquiries about the state police firearms training facility, which has been proposed for either East Windsor or Willington. He has answered questions about the CEPA process, which, as the Council knows, is poorly understood by residents who encounter it infrequently, if ever. In response to a question from Dunbar, Wagener said basic information about CEPA and scoping can be found on the Council’s Environmental Monitor website. Wagener said he would not expect to see an environmental impact evaluation this year.
Wagener said he had received a detailed complaint about a state grant for proposed renovations at the Nathan Hale Homestead. He explained that the CEPA process requires a “sign-off” by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). He investigated and found that SHPO staff has been communicating with the organization and the sponsoring agency (Department of Economic and Community Development, or DECD) and the process appears to be unfolding in accordance with CEPA, and that DECD and SHPO staff appear to be taking its oversight responsibilities seriously.
Wagener said that at the June meeting, the Council had asked Hearn to outline the regulatory approvals for the Glastonbury Boathouse and Boat-Launching, with the focus on what if anything could have been done differently to foresee and prevent the subsidence problem which has appeared at the site, and to outline what actions, if any, the Council might take.
Hearn said he reviewed the files at DEEP on the project. He said that the permits issued by DEEP did not include a review of the structural engineering for the boathouse and walkways. He said that such a review would have been beyond the scope of what is required for the permits from the Office of Long Island Sound Programs. DEEP performed reviews that were consistent with what was required for the specific permits applied for. Wagener said that when the emergency work is completed the town must apply for a regular permit to maintain the new rocks in the river. Discussion followed on whether there should be any additional analyses for permits in environmentally sensitive areas, as a safeguard from a repetition of this failure. Dunbar said it is most important that any additional burdens imposed for permits be the responsibility of the applicant and not of the state. Members agreed that the Council would follow the process and possibly comment during the comment period on the permit; one suggestion was that the Council could recommend mitigation in the form of commissioning a review of possible deficiencies in the review process and how they might be corrected.
Wagener gave brief updates on staff’s ongoing reviews of mining and stormwater programs.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener reported that the General Assembly held a special session and adopted a revised budget; the Council’s budget was reduced a small amount.
Wagener showed the ways that the CEQ can be found on the state’s new web portal. Also, on the topic of state spending, he showed the Comptroller’s “Open Connecticut” pages, where the relative size of agencies’ budgets can be seen readily.
He updated the Council on other legislative actions, including the amounts for conservation in the capital budget.
Wagener said he had attended the most recent meeting of the open space advisory board and learned that DEEP had been making great progress on the “Green Plan.”
He said that Hearn had attended the inaugural meeting of the Governor’s Council on Climate Change, and said he would forward the Council’s mission statement to the members.
Wagener reported that DEEP’s current easement template that is used by open space grant recipientshad been sent to Hall, as requested at the last meeting. Hall said it was not written as clearly as it could have been. Hilding asked if a copy could be sent to everyone. Wagener said he would do that.
Wagener recalled that he and Chair Merrow had attended the “turtle summit” at the capitol during the recent session, and reported that DEEP is working on new regulations to govern the take of snapping turtles.
Hilding asked if staff could provide updates on the statewide water plan. Wagener said the Water Planning Council has been meeting regularly, but that he had not attended to observe. Matthew Pafford of the Office of Policy and Management was in the audience and answered some questions from Hilding about the current management of the project.
Discussion of Annual Report Topics
Wagener said that staff had been researching the utility of an index of selected songbird populations in the state as a possible indicator of other environmental conditions. He said that an initial discussion of this had been introduced in the Council’s annual report two years ago. Julius Graefe, the Council’s summer intern, has been collecting data for such an effort. Graefe explained his sources for bird population data and the quantitative analysis that was performed to minimize the effect of short-term fluctuations in any species’ population. He also explained the criteria by which he selected appropriate forest species. Wagener said that some outside experts were reviewing the criteria and the species selected. Graefe displayed the trends for forest bird populations and also displayed trends in species that favor warmer or colder climates. Dunbar said the trends of species that inhabit early successional forests needs to be considered to complete a picture of birds and forests in Connecticut. Wagener said this is being done also. Chair Merrow announced that this will be the last meeting to be attended by Graefe and the Council is very appreciative of his hard work. All agreed that his contributions were extremely valuable and wished him well in his future pursuits.
Review of State Agency Actions
Wagener said that in a recent Environmental Monitor, the Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) included a scoping notice for a number of sites where possible obstructions to navigation would be removed and some navigation beacons installed. One of the sites identified to receive a beacon is the Bluff Point Coastal Reserve, where state statutes and regulations specifically prohibit erection of structures. He said that staff sent a comment to the CAA during the comment period. The Council decided to monitor this to see how it is resolved when the Environmental Impact Statement is released.
Wagener said that DEEP had posted a draft permit for an alternative sewage treatment system (ATS) for a commercial development in Clinton. He said CEQ staff learned of it after the agenda had been posted, but that a memo had been sent out before the meeting regarding the issue. The development had been operating without a permit for years, and the circumstances evoke the problems and solutions identified in the Council’s special report on ATS systems. After some discussion, Dunbar made a motion to strengthen the wording in the memo to recommend a permit period of not more than five years, and the memo should be converted to a letter from the Chair with a copy to the Deputy Commissioner in charge of this section at DEEP along with a copy of the Council’s report on ATS systems.
The motion was seconded by Hall and approved unanimously.
There being no additional business Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. Hilding made the motion which was seconded by Hall. The meeting adjourned at 11:57 AM.