Minutes of the October 21, 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, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst) Daniel Pidgeon (Intern).
At 9:37 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting the presence of a quorum.
Chair Merrow asked if there were any questions or suggestions about the meeting’s agenda. There was none. Dunbar made a motion to approve the agenda as published. This was seconded by Brooks and approved unanimously.
Chair Merrow asked if there were any corrections to the minutes of the October 7, 2015 meeting. There were no corrections. Dunbar made a motion to approve the minutes. This was seconded by Hilding and approved unanimously
Chair Merrow introduced Daniel Pidgeon, the Council’s intern from Trinity College.
She reported that, in accord with the Council’s motion at the October 7 meeting, a letter had been sent to Robert Klee, Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), citing potential problems with the use of an old Environmental Impact Evaluation of Silver Sands State Park for contemporary construction as an example of why new regulations for implementing the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act are needed.
Chair Merrow noted that there will be quorum problems for the scheduled November 18 Council meeting. Discussion followed on what date would be a suitable alternative. It was decided that November 12 at 1:00 PM would be acceptable to all.
She said there are no new appointees to the Council.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener reported that he had submitted to the Office of Policy and Management a five-percent budget reduction option for the next fiscal year, as required of all agencies. In response to a question from Hall, he said that the reduction could not occur without a staff reduction since the non-personnel expenses were less than five percent of the Council’s total budget.
In follow-up to a question raised by Dunbar at a prior meeting he said that DEEP is working on the state’s “Green Plan” and is required by statute to consult with the Council. Dunbar said that if the Council is to be involved, it should do so early in the process. He would like to see it as an agenda item soon.
Dunbar emphasized the important role that must be played by private land holders if the 21-percent preservation goal for state open space is to be achieved. The new Green Plan appears to have an excellent framework for identifying and preserving lands of high recreational and ecological value. That is not enough to reach the goal. He said that there are many landowners interested in preserving all or part of their properties, but towns, the state and land trusts cannot always accept the gifts due to the associated costs. He said that many potential donors are also unwilling to assume those costs. There is a need, he believes, to create a conveyance tool analogous to a general permit process, in which a landowner can sign on to a list of agreed upon restrictions. There was discussion of the frequency with which parcels get divided into smaller parcels, and Hilding noted the increase in “For Sale” signs on previously-undeveloped properties near the future sewer and water lines in Mansfield.
Wagener said that the Council staff has requested a meeting with staff at the State Historic Preservation Office and is awaiting a response. The meeting is to discuss recommendations for permit conditions relating to historic and archaeological sites.
Discussion of Annual Report Topics
Wagener displayed a chart showing the average parcel size of lands that are classified under Public Act 490 as farm, forest, and open space. He said the small average parcel sizes in each category substantiates Dunbar’s point that meeting the state’s open space preservation objective can only be accomplished by the active participation of numerous small land holders. Dunbar pointed out that people want to be near open space and that increasing preservation increases property values on the preserved parcel and its neighbors. Chair Merrow reminded the Council that registering property under PA 490 does not preserve it; it only keeps it off the market for a limited time. Wagener concurred, saying that the data were useful to determine the average size of undeveloped parcels out there. He said that approximately one-third of the state is classified under PA 490. Dunbar said that is evidence that many landowners will preserve their land if it makes economic sense; in this case it is temporary preservation for reduced property taxes.
Wagener said it had long been a goal to report on impervious surfaces in the annual report. He said that data are now available at the town level, and said that Daniel Pidgeon, the intern for this semester, has pulled together some of it for a presentation to the Council. Brooks asked if before it starts she could ask when the next draft of the stormwater report is expected to be finished. Wagener said he expects a draft by the November meeting. Wagener excused himself to attend to an unavoidable conflict.
Using Power Point, Pidgeon explained that he had been researching a new possible indicator for the annual report that will correlate population density by town with its percentage of impervious surfaces. He said it was the expectation at the beginning of the study to find a bell curve with rural areas and cities at the extremes. He showed two charts that illustrated a distribution similar to what was expected. Suburban towns have the highest percentage of impervious surfaces on a per capita scale. This has implications for how development patterns will affect water quality, since watersheds where impervious surfaces exceed 12% usually have impaired streams. Dunbar suggested re-working the charts to eliminate the outliers and to focus on the means. Brooks agreed. Hilding said it would be interesting to add in a correlation to per capita income or to education. Pidgeon said he looked at nine definitions of rural, suburban and urban before coming up with one that is appropriate for Connecticut’s municipalities. Dunbar said that he suspects that any other boundaries, such a water sheds or census tracts would produce similar conclusions. Hilding said the colors in the bottom chart should be matched to the corresponding category colors in the top graph so the association between the two charts would be more readily evident.
In response to a question from Brooks as to whether all impervious surfaces are bad, Dunbar said that not all is the same, and that satellite imagery might not be able to distinguish between traditional impervious areas and newer low impact designs that incorporate low-impact development techniques.
Discussion of Mining and Stormwater Issues
Hearn said that he had prepared a few slides to illustrate the challenges faced by DEEP in achieving compliance with provisions of the stormwater general permit. He showed the number of sites inspected in fiscal year 2015 and the violation rate at the inspected facilities. He also noted that though DEEP had been mandated to audit the certifications made by the professionals who submitted the stormwater plans with the stormwater permit registrations and report to the legislature, this was not done. The reason for the small inspection rate and the failure to do the audits is simply insufficient staff, he was told. He said that the importance of the inspections and audits is that the general permit system is a self-policing system, making periodic reviews of selected sites the best way to assess its success in achieving the desired behaviors on the part of the permit registrants. Dunbar said that if the inspections are a consequence of complaints that would skew the sample data implying a higher percentage of violations in the whole than actually exist. Brooks said that she was always impressed with the responsiveness of the stormwater staff to complaints she passed to them. Hilding said that the chart should make it clearer that the five violations were at five separate sites. Hall pointed out that the professionals who submit the stormwater management plans are usually members of self-policing professional associations that could have a role in mandating ethical behavior even in case where pursuit of complaints in a court of law would not be the best use of DEEP resources. She asked when the statute mandating an audit of certifications was passed; Hearn said he would get her that date.
Hearn said the staff had answered inquiries, but had received no new major complaints from citizens.
Review of State Agency Actions
Chair Merrow asked about two Environmental Impact Analyses that had been published in the Environmental Monitor. Hearn said that they had been reviewed by staff. The Old Lyme Waste Water Management Plan was providing sewer service to areas already serviced by failing onsite treatment systems. The Norwich project was part of a commitment to 100 percent separation of storm and sanitary sewers in that town and would be implemented in stages, beginning with the section most in need of the separation. He said staff did not recommend comments for either EIE.
Hilding asked when the EIE could be expected for the state police firearms training facility that had been proposed for Willington and brought to the Council’s attention by residents at the October 7 meeting. Hearn said he was told by staff of the sponsoring agencies that funding has not yet been made available to produce it.
Hilding related conversations with citizens who appeared uninformed about environmental issues like sewer expansion and stormwater that will impact their daily lives in the future. She said she would like to see more educational outreach by the Council. Chair Merrow suggested social media and said it is a good topic for a future meeting.
There being no further business, Chair Merrow asked for an adjournment motion, which was made by Dunbar. Hall seconded and the meeting adjourned at 11:10AM.