Minutes of the November 12, 2015 special meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Russell Conference Room on the third 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) Daniel Pidgeon (Intern).
At 1:22 PM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting that Brooks would be joining imminently, thereby creating a quorum.
Chair Merrow asked if there were any objections to a shift in the order of agenda items to accommodate Brooks’ schedule. All agreed. Brooks joined the meeting by conference call. Dunbar made a motion to approve the agenda as revised. This was seconded by Brooks and approved unanimously.
Chair Merrow asked if there were any corrections to the minutes of the October 21, 2015 meeting. There were no corrections. Hilding made a motion to approve the minutes. This was seconded by Brooks and approved unanimously.
Chair Merrow noted there were no citizens in attendance for public comments. She said she had no news regarding new appointees to the Council. A brief discussion followed on this.
Discussion of Mining and Stormwater Issues
Wagener reported that staff had met with a representative of the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to discuss the status of archaeological reviews that were conducted in connection with the general permits issued by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). He reported that she was in agreement that the best system might be to allow for a SHPO review of all. Hilding questioned whether SHPO has sufficient staff for that. Wagener said that they are understaffed but have an expectation of a small increase and that ultimately they aspire to having the archaeological equivalent of the DEEP’s Natural Diversity Data Base (NDDB) that would identify on digital maps the areas in the state most likely to have historic or archaeological significance. Hall said that there are sure to be objections on the basis that this will mean more delays in the permit process. Wagener responded that they currently review all applications for permits from DEEP’s Office of Long Island Sound Programs and for all telecommunications facilities, which are far greater in number. He said the SHPO representative also agreed that sand and gravel mines can have high potential as archaeological sites and therefore should be reviewed as are construction sites. Hall questioned the value of reviews for which there was no enforcement mechanism to protect resources that are identified in the reviews. Considerable discussion ensured.
The reason for the archaeological review in the stormwater permit was discussed next. Dunbar pointed out that the purpose of the permit was to protect the receiving waters. He said that most permits do not deal with what is on the site, but what leaves the site. Wagener said that the requirement is apparently a federal one under the Clean Water Act and that all stormwater programs, including those administered by other states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), have it. In addition, the legislature directed each state agency to conduct a review of their programs that could have an impact on historical and archaeological resources. This has not yet been done by DEEP. The representative from SHPO was not aware of any agency that has completed such a review.
Wagener said that if the Council is satisfied with the draft report, he would propose to circulate it to other agencies and organizations for comment and discussion. Council members made suggestions about whom should be included in the review process. Dunbar said the regulated community should be included, and a question should be added as to whether the general permit process has made a difference in behaviors and whether that difference has led to environmental improvements. Chair Merrow expressed support for inviting interested parties to discuss the draft. She said it might be eye-opening to many to learn that some programs do not function the way they are imagined to function.
Comments followed on the design of the report including where the recommendations belong and how the first page should appear. Chair Merrow noted that there is agreement on the substance of the report and that any suggestions on wording or layout should be sent to Wagener within a week. All agreed.
Meeting Schedule for 2016
Wagener distributed a draft schedule for the Council’s 2016 meetings. After a minor modification, Dunbar made a motion to adopt the schedule with the change; second by Hall. Approved unanimously.
Brooks left the meeting at this point.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener reported briefly on the new Long Island Sound Conservation and Management Plan, which he had not yet reviewed in detail. He said that some long-term goals appear to have been revised, which is significant for the Council because some of the indicators in the Council’s annual report use goals from that plan. He will make a report at a future Council meeting.
He noted that the Commission on Aging has posted to its website an interesting survey on walkable communities as part of its livable communities project, which revealed that while a large percentage of Connecticut residents would like to live in walkable communities, most do not live in one.
He said that there has been a trend to putting reports, like Environmental Impact Evaluations (EIEs), online, or circulating them on CD-ROMS. He said that an environmental assessment (for the Northeast Corridor rail improvements project) arrived on a “thumb drive’ for the first time. There was brief discussion of the project.
He handed out paper copies of Yale’s survey of woodland owners, which had been discussed at the last meeting.
Discussion of Annual Report Topics, Including Recommendations
Wagener displayed a chart showing the average parcel size of lands that are classified under Public Act 490 (PA 490) as farm, forest, and open space. He said the chart was updated since the last meeting because Pidgeon had been able to update it by calculating the parcels of state forest lands classified under PA 490 to arrive at a new average parcel size for privately-owned forest land in PA 490. Chair Merrow suggested that the challenge of acquiring enough open space to meet the state’s goals, given the small average parcel size, is an important topic and should be prominent in the Council’s annual report; members agreed.
Dunbar said there is a need for a “490 Forever” program that could accomplish preservation of open space without complicated and expensive easements or donations to land trusts. Chair Merrow said that would amount to putting the “ease” in easements. Discussion followed.
Wagener displayed the draft of the annual report’s page on forests and forest birds. He called attention to the directional arrows for trend information. The arrows were modified at the suggestion of ornithologist Chris Field who suggested the overlapping ends to avoid a suggestion that the point where the up and down arrows met (in the old format) was a quantitatively significant dividing line on the chart. He said he would like to carry this format over to other charts if the Council approved. All agreed it would be an improvement. On the substance of the charts, Wagener said that the statistics appear essentially sound but that some small changes are being considered.
Members discussed several items that should be on the Council’s list.
Cahir Merrow announced that the League of Conservation Voters’ Environmental Summit will be held this year on December 9, which is an excellent place to learn the priorities of various legislators and organizations.
There being no further business, Chair Merrow asked for an adjournment motion, which was made by Hilding. Dunbar seconded and the meeting adjourned at 3:06 PM.