Minutes of the July 27, 2016 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 (by phone), Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Matt Reiser, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
At 9:34 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum.
Chair Merrow asked for approval of the agenda. Hilding made a motion to approve that was seconded by Dunbar and approved unanimously.
Chair Merrow asked if there were any revisions to the minutes of June 22, 2016. Charamut said the summary of a comment she made about the Integrated Water Resource Management stream-selection process did not accurately reflect her actual words and she asked that the sentence be stricken. She said that prior to recusing herself from the voting regarding the New Britain Water Department issue, she had said that she would have preferred to see a Request for Proposals (RFP) or Request for Qualifications (RFQ) process be completed to select a consultant; she asked that those comments be added to the minutes. Dunbar made a motion to approve the minutes with those two changes. It was seconded by Reiser and approved unanimously, with Brooks abstaining because she had not been present at the June 22 meeting.
Citizen Comment Period
Ms. Ladonnah Cardin, of Griswold, spoke about the proposed State Police Firearms Training Facility which has been proposed for her town. She said it would be located in an area identified in Griswold’s Plan of Conservation and Development as suitable for open space and agriculture. It is currently being farmed and is zoned for agriculture. She said that the state’s Department of Administrative Services (DAS) has made an offer to lease the property, after the landowner rejected a purchase offer.
Wagener said the Council has received communications from other Griswold residents regarding the project, and he has told them that the Council will look closely at the Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) when one is prepared. Hall questioned the appropriateness of an EIE when the land which is its subject is not yet controlled by the state; Wagener said that he did not know if the law addresses that point, but thought that the Department of Transportation had conducted EIEs for major roads prior to the securing of all the property that would be needed for completion. Dunbar questioned the quality of data for a scoping if there is not access to the property. Hilding asked if local zoning is in force where a property is leased by the state as distinct from being owned by the state. Hall asked if the ammunition used at a firing range would present an environmental hazard that needs to be analyzed. It was agreed that Council staff would continue to monitor the proposal and try to answer some of the questions that were raised in the discussion.
Ms. Cardin thanked the Council for its time and Chair Merrow thanked Ms. Cardin for bringing the issue to the Council.
Chair Merrow noted the passing of Louis and Judith Friedman, who had contributed greatly to the Connecticut environmental movement and who will be greatly missed. She asked that they be held in the Council’s thoughts.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener said the Annual Report was updated online to reflect the updated data and new indicators as approved by the Council in June. He said he was not aware of any print coverage, but it did lead to two radio interviews. He said that some organizations expressed approval of the new greenhouse gas indicator.
Using the internet connection, Wagener showed revisions to the state website and how it is now easier to find the Council’s news releases. He also showed the new on-line calendar of state meetings on the Secretary of the State’s website where the public has convenient access to meeting notices, agendas and minutes.
He said the budget reduction plan of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) that was sent to the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) for approval will result in cutbacks to park services, fish hatcheries, inspections and some other services. DEEP held a briefing for legislators and reporters and some legislators were critical of the cuts that were planned for the parks. Chair Merrow added that travel by DEEP employees upon whom municipalities often depend will be curtailed and that has caused concern at the local level.
Wagener passed around the summary from the Blue-Ribbon Panel on Sustaining and Restoring Fish and Wildlife Resources, sponsored by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, in which Connecticut DEEP staff played an important role. He said the conclusions and recommendations have received wide bipartisan support, as well as the support of many industry and advocacy groups; if the recommendations are adopted by the Congress, states could receive substantial funds for wildlife restoration.
He said that DEEP had just released its new Materials Management Plan (formerly Solid Waste Plan). It has an ambitious goal of diverting 60 percent of the state’s waste from the waste stream.
Wagener reminded the Council that DEEP had announced in 2014 that it would look into the idea of restricting wood burning on days with unhealthful air quality. Not having heard anything, he had recently asked DEEP for an update. DEEP staff reported that DEEP had declined to adopt a ban on wood burning on bad air days. In response to a question from Hall, he said that one reason cited is that the primary pollutant from wood burning is particles, and Connecticut does not have a statewide particle pollution problem. Localized problems can be handled as public health nuisances by local health officials. Hall asked if any woodburning furnaces had been shut down.
Review of State Agency Actions
a. Siting Council consultation regarding the proposed telecommunications tower in Brookfield. Wagener said staff recommended no comments.
b. State Energy Policies that lead to loss of agricultural land and core forest. Wagener summarized the result of initial research into the trend to site renewable energy projects on farmland and forest land.
Wagener used a solar project in Pomfret as a case study, The Commissioner of Agriculture had submitted a letter expressing strong concern regarding its potential negative impacts on agriculture. The Siting Council approved the project unanimously. Wagener noted that the Siting Council’s hearings are highly formal and evidence-based, and members discussed the question of who could possibly submit expert evidence and testimony on soil health, which was in dispute. Wagener reported that the petitioner’s attorney argued that the Siting Council might not be authorized to consider impacts to farmland. Furthermore, Wagener said, the petition itself averred that the project, which was to be built on more than 100 acres of prime and important farmland, would be beneficial for farmland preservation. Wagener said that if the petitioner’s attorney is correct, then Connecticut is wholly unprepared to deal with the siting of solar energy facilities.
Wagener displayed a statement that said that it would be far more environmentally harmful to site a solar farm on forest land than on farmland; that statement was from the attorney of the petitioner who proposed to use farmland. Wagener showed the number and acreage of projects approved for development on farmland or forest land thus far, as well as the number of potential future projects that are known.
Wagener added that there is a chronic problem with the wildlife analyses in these petitions. The Pomfret application cited the Atlas of Breeding Birds as a primary source; that atlas is based on data collected by volunteers 30 to 35 years ago on unknown parcels of land, probably not the parcel in question. He said that the petition relied on old published data because the field survey was conducted in December.
Wagener said that the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) is interested in attracting renewable energy projects to brownfields. Wagener suggested pursuing discussions with the DECD, Siting Council and other agencies. He said each agency is guided by specific statutes that might be deficient. Dunbar asked if staff could create a flow chart of the siting process from bidding and acceptance to final siting approval, including the decision. Hall concurred. After discussion, Chair Merrow summarized what Dunbar and Hall requested and there was consensus that staff should create such a flow chart for discussion in August and meet with staff of the three agencies.
c. Disposition of Southbury Training School Land and Development of Affordable-Elderly Housing, EIE. Wagener said that this project, though a land transfer, appears in the Environmental Monitor as an environmental impact evaluation (EIE). The departure from the usual land transfer process is a consequence of the law that authorized this transfer, which requires an EIE. Because it is not following the usual land transfer process, it is in the EIE section of the Environmental Monitor at the request of the sponsoring agency.
Environmental Study of Change of Use of Watershed Lands in New Britain
Chair Merrow asked Wagener to summarize the status of the project. Wagener referred the Council to a draft letter addressed to the New Britain Water Department and distributed to the members in advance of the meeting; the letter offered recommendations for improving the proposed scope of the study. The letter stated it might be helpful to outline what the Council will be looking for when it reviews the completed study pursuant to P.A. 16-61.
At this point Brooks’s phone connection disconnected and could not be re-established. Brooks did not participate in the remainder of the meeting.
Chair Merrow noted that a number of people were present who wished to address this topic. Chair Merrow called upon State Senator Terry Gerratana. The senator reviewed the history of proposals for development on city reservoir lands. Said she had introduced the legislation, after public input, for a number of reasons. It repealed the prior legislation that authorized a golf course on the city reservoir property without an environmental evaluation. She chairs the Public Health Committee and is acutely aware of the necessity to protect the integrity of the water supply and to preserve any unique ecological aspects of the site. In the weeks since the bill, she has learned even more about the uniqueness of the property and the public’s interest in seeing it preserved. She said she is also concerned about the precedent that development on the reservoir property would set. She urged the Council to consider the environmental impacts of the proposal very carefully including the question of whether there is a need for additional water supply in the city. She thanked the Council for allowing her to speak on the matter. Chair Merrow, on behalf of the Council, thanked Senator Gerratana for taking the time from her busy schedule to inform the Council about the bill and its history.
Paul Zagorsky was next to speak. He criticized the process that had been followed by the City of New Britain in awarding the contract for the study. He said the study, as outlined in the proposal, which New Britain had in its possession before the Council decided on the acceptability of the consultant, is not an environmental study. He described it as a feasibility plan for a quarry. He said that because of the historically close relationship between the consultant and the city of New Britain, the consultant should not be considered to be an “independent third party.” He urged the Council to rescind its determination that the consultant is “acceptable.” He added that the state has 120,000 acres of watershed lands and if this property cannot be protected from a quarrying operation, all are at risk.
Dr. Martin Dinep spoke next. He said he was involved in 2007 and 2008 when a similar threat to the reservoir property was raised. He said that water supply needs are not the motivation and that the city just wants the money from the mining. He said that it is an industrial project that doesn’t belong in a Class I reservoir property.
Wagener asked Senator Gerratana to clarify for the audience that the use of the watershed land for quarrying and industrial purposes would require additional legislation. Senator Gerratana confirmed that the current act only authorizes a study, and that no action could occur without legislation.
Hilding and Hall expressed concern of the precedent that would be set by development on Class I and Class II watershed land.
Dr. Dinep said that the law does not require, as many mistakenly believe, that the study be completed in six months. Such a study could not be completed in six months. The law requires it be commenced in six months.
Margaret Miner of the Rivers Alliance spoke next. She, too, is concerned about the precedent the project would create. She said that when the bill was being drafted Senator Gerratana had insisted on the consultant being independent. Ms. Miner questioned whether the consultant that was chosen can be considered independent. She said the project envisioned will result in the total destruction of all existing flora, fauna and geology. She said the impacts on the water supply after the 30-year mining is complete are uncertain. She added thanks to the Council for considering the draft letter outlining the deficiencies in the proposed scope of work for the study.
Charamut made a motion that the Council rescind its determination that the consultant chosen by New Britain is “acceptable” to the Council for the reason that the Council did not have all of the relevant and available information prior to its vote. Hilding seconded the motion. Much discussion followed. Members discussed the proposal from Lenard Engineering that was submitted to the City of New Britain, dated June 17, that the Council did not have on June 22 when it voted on the acceptability of the consultants on the list.
Dunbar questioned whether a proposed scope of study that is deficient in the judgment of the Council would make the consultant unacceptable, and this was discussed.
Additional discussion involved the question of what constituted an “independent third party.” Chair Merrow said there were two questions being discussed: the first is whether to rescind last month’s determination of acceptability, and the second is what should transpire subsequently. She asked Charamut to restate the motion under discussion. Charamut said the motion is
to rescind the Council’s June 22 determination that the consultant is acceptable to the Council, based on the fact that information that was available at the time, including the proposed scope of study, had not been provided to the Council prior to the vote; had it been available to the Council members, their conclusions and decisions might have been different.
The motion carried with Hilding, Hall, Charamut and Chair Merrow voting in favor. Dunbar and Reiser voted no.
Charamut made a second motion that would provide clarification and guidance to the city of New Britain and the Water Planning Council (WPC). Specifically, the motion said that
the Council should recommend to the WPC that it recommend to New Britain that the independent third party should be selected through a RFP, and that the scope of study should align with P.A. 16-61 and the consultant’s qualifications should align with the scope; in addition, the RFP should specify the qualifications necessary to qualify as an independent third party.
The motion was seconded by Hilding and adopted unanimously.
Several members said that these motions should not be interpreted to mean that that the consultants on the original list were considered to be unqualified by the Council.
Charamut made a motion to
approve the draft letter to the New Britain Water Department prepared by staff and circulated in advance of the meeting, subject to editorial changes that reflected the actions taken today, and that the Chair was authorized to make such changes and sign the letter.
Dunbar seconded the motion. Hall suggested amending the letter to clarify that the questions raised about the deficiencies in the scope of study should not be considered exhaustive. Members concurred with that amendment, and approved the motion by consensus.
Citizen Complaints and Other Business
Chair Merrow suggested postponing the discussion of cultural resources on state lands until the August meeting. Members concurred.
Wagener gave very brief updates on some citizen complaints. He said that the application to build residential housing near a former dump site in Cheshire had been withdrawn. He said that DEEP has made recommendations in support of LED lighting but cautioned about the light spectrum output and this could be discussed further at a subsequent meeting. Wagener noted that staff had heard from residents of Killingly where a power plant is proposed, and that not only renewable generating facilities are sited on farm and forest land. Staff was also following an enforcement case in Glastonbury.
There being no further business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn; Dunbar made the motion which Charamut seconded and the meeting adjourned at 12:15 PM.