Minutes of the June 22, 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), Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, 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. Hall made a motion to approve that was seconded by Charamut and approved unanimously.
Chair Merrow asked if there were any revisions to the minutes of May 25, 2016. Hall said she had heard many concerns regarding the adequacy of the traffic analysis for the environmental impact evaluation (EIE) for the Union Station Parking Garage in New Haven, which was mentioned in the minutes. Chair Merrow said this issue could be taken up later under “other business”. Dunbar made a motion to approve the minutes. It was seconded by Kolesinskas and approved unanimously.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener stated that the state’s FY 2017 budget had finally been settled. He said that the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) had assigned further reductions in expenditures, often referred to as “holdbacks,” to each agency to achieve the reductions targeted in the budget. For the Council, this will necessitate a slight reduction in Wagener’s hours. He does not know yet how the holdbacks will affect the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
Following up on the previous month’s discussion of the new ground-level ozone standard, he said that under the new standard there have been nine days in exceedance of that standard in Connecticut this year; there would have been five exceedance days under the old standard.
Wagener said that it had been a busy month and he would present more information throughout the agenda.
Review of State Agency Actions
a. Integrated Water Resource Management, Preliminary Areas for Plan Development, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection – Wagener said that this item was brought to the Council’s attention in May by Chair Merrow, and that Hearn had attended DEEP’s first informational meeting on the plan on Tuesday. He said the plan is based on a new federal approach that allows states latitude in developing strategies to meet the “total maximum daily loads” (TMDL) for stream segments. He said the first round of stream segment plans are to be completed by 2022. Some have criticized this as too far in the future. Dunbar had also attended the informational meeting; he said that social, ecological and recreational factors are used to select the stream segments. Dunbar said that the factors can be assigned weights reflecting their importance. He also has heard criticisms that the methodology by which the initial segments were chosen is not clear. It differs from the traditional emphasis on the Section 303D list of impaired water bodies for which the USEPA sought to see improvements in quality. The new approach allows selection of priorities that will focus on preserving healthy segments and restoring impaired segments where likely to be successful.
Hall expressed concern about the screening criteria and whether it is possible to determine which criteria were used, whether they are the correct ones and whether they can be tweaked inappropriately by vested interests. Dunbar, said that, in his opinion, the algorithm can be tweaked to achieve a desired outcome. Chair Merrow said she found it puzzling that the Eight Mile River Watershed, which is managed as a single unit, only had the west branch of the river included. Discussion followed on the fact that the presence of advocacy groups in a watershed will boost a segment’s standing, which could put some communities at a disadvantage; how implementation could affect allocation of staff and other resources by DEEP; and whether the management plan could affect existing TMDL. Chair Merrow summarized the sense of the Council by stating that there appears to be agreement that this is a commendable effort and if there is uncertainty it is based on a need to better understand the criteria being used to designate included segments. She said that there does not appear, at this time, to be a desire to submit comments, but that the Council will follow this.
b. State energy policies that lead to loss of agricultural land and core forest
Chair Merrow asked Wagener to update the Council on what had occurred with regard to this topic since the May Council meeting. Wagener said that additional petitions for solar farms on forest land had been acted on by the Connecticut Siting Council (CSC). He said that Susan Masino had requested to appear before the Council to speak about the need for differential incentives for utility companies to encourage optimal locating of these facilities, but had to cancel at the last minute. Wagener summarized the written comments from Ms. Masino, which included problems associated with the siting of solar and wind facilities. He said that he had submitted brief comments on DEEP’s scoping for the update to the Comprehensive Energy Strategy to let DEEP know that the Council is investigating this issue. He said more information could be presented in July.
Selection of environmental consultant to evaluate impacts of change of use of watershed lands in New Britain
Wagener said that Senate Bill 300 had become law (P.A. 16-61). It requires an independent consultant, acceptable to the Council, to evaluate the proposal to allow mining on the watershed of the New Britain Water Company with an eventual expansion of the reservoir capacity.
Chair Merrow asked whether the Council should made a determination of acceptability until requested to do so by the Water Planning Council (WPC). Wagener said that the city had requested action on a consultant and then withdrew that consultant. Subsequently, the City wrote to the WPC to ask for its approval of four firms, and sent a copy of the request to the CEQ. Subsequent to that, the New Britain Water Company e-mailed Wagener to clarify that one preferred consultant, Lenard Engineering, would include a team of subconsultants. All of the letters had been forwarded to CEQ members in advance of the meeting. In the audience was Mr. Nick Neeley of the Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA); he rose to say that it is the expectation of the WPC that the matter will be taken up by the CEQ today, and a decision reached on acceptability of the proposed consultants. Charamut said that the consultant should be selected through a Request for Proposal/Request for Qualifications process, and that she would have to recuse herself from further discussion due to the potential of an appearance of a future conflict of interest. Discussion followed on what factors would make a consultant unacceptable. Wagener suggested several factors that could rule out a consultant. Discussion followed, with consensus that lack of expertise in the disciplines needed to fulfil the legislative mandate for the study would disqualify a firm.
Dunbar made the point that approving a consultant does not imply endorsement of the final work product. Hilding said there is a legislative mandate for what the study should consider. She urged the Council assert a true consultative role and stipulate what would be minimally acceptable credentials needed by the consultant to fulfil the requirements for those analyses. Kolesinskas concurred, stressing the importance of an analysis of the ecological and habitat impacts of the proposal. After further discussion, the importance of an analysis of the need for the project also was determined to be crucial, since it is also listed in the public act as a factor to be assessed. Merrow summarized the consensus of the Council: The Council finds the proposed consultants to be acceptable and, in the spirit of consultation, as required by P.A. 16-61, the Council urges: Inclusion of a thorough analysis of the actual need for additional water supply, as described in Subsection (b)2 of the Public Act; the City and the project team should bring in additional team members with specialized expertise, if needed, to analyze impacts on hydrology, forest ecology, land resources and habitats. It was agreed that the Council will pay particular attention to the final report’s analysis of need and ecological impacts. Chair Merrow asked for a motion authorizing Wagener to draft a letter to that effect with final approval by the Chair. Dunbar made such motion which Reiser seconded. Charamut reiterated that she would abstain. The motion was approved unanimously, with Hall and Charamut abstaining. Chair Merrow asked Wagener to send a copy of the letter to all members that afternoon, and asked members to contact Wagener if they saw any need for corrections.
a. Review and protection of cultural resources on state lands
Chair Merrow invited Mr. Doug Schwartz to the table. He said he is the Vice President of the New England Antiquities Research Association. He referenced a number of unfortunate examples where public resources had been misallocated and said his intent is to prevent the loss of archaeologically important Native American stone structures to forestry and wildlife management operations. He referred to a number of statutes requiring agencies to protect archaeological sites. Then he described the practical constraints to accomplishing this, including resistance by the professional archaeological community to accepting above-ground stone structures, and ignorance of their significance by many foresters and others who work in areas where they exist. He described instances where preservation was successful in thanks to the interest and cooperation of DEEP foresters.
In response to questions from the Council, he said that these structures are not easily identified. Sometimes their location is kept secret out of concern that publicity will lead to scavengers looking for Native American artifacts. He passed around photos of examples of the structures. In general, when educated about what the structures are and how they can be identified, foresters and the public will cooperate in their protection. However, such an ad hoc approach will not result in their protection and what is needed is a clear plan by DEEP to avoid forestry and habitat restoration projects operations that could damage or destroy the sites. He said that public notice of forestry operations would be of value in alerting people who might be aware of such structures. Wagener said that the issue relates to the archaeological preservation concerns that were raised in the Council’s draft report on stormwater and mining operations. Chair Merrow asked Wagener to report back to the Council with an outline of how this problem could be addressed. Kolesinskas noted the significant training that would be required for people in the field to identify and protect these sites, and added that public notice of all forestry operations could pose a significant burden; he said DEEP should be consulted regarding what protocols are in place and what it would recommend. Members concurred.
Chair Merrow thanked Mr. Schwartz for bringing the matter to the Council’s attention.
b. Utility marking paint – Following up on discussion from the May 25 meeting, Wagener said that the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) had responded to his request for information about the use of solvent-based marking paint to designate the location of pipes during construction projects. It had been the subject of a citizen complaint. He was informed that the MDC had experimented with water-based markers and found them to be unsatisfactory because they did not last long enough to be of value. He was told that it has embarked on a pilot program for a new non-toxic marker paint which it hopes will work for a number of reasons, including the fact that MDC has disposal costs for the paints currently used. Council members recommended a letter to the MDC acknowledging its move in the correct direction and asking to be informed of the results of the pilot program.
Other Complaints – Wagener said staff had received inquiries about the environmental process to be undertaken with regard to plans for Seaside State Park. He said DEEP will follow the process that is mandated in the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) which will include a scoping notice and, possibly, an environmental impact evaluation (EIE). These will provide opportunity for public input beyond what DEEP has already received.
Wagener asked Hearn to summarize a recent complaint regarding a planned residential development near a former illegal dump in Cheshire. Hearn reported that the site in question had an enforcement history going back to 1968 when complaints by neighbors led to an order for the cessation of dumping there. In 1991 an environmental survey of the site was commissioned by the Trust for Public Land out of concern that there might be consequent contamination of a neighboring property that was being considered for preservation. DEEP (then called DEP) initiated a negotiation with the owner for a proper closure; unfortunately, that terminated with the death of the owner. Now the estate of the former owner has entered in to an agreement to retain 6 acres around the dump site and sell the remaining acres for the construction of 21 homes. Neighbors, concerned about the plan, have requested a proper environmental review. A consulting firm hired by the estate has performed an initial survey and DEEP has visited the site, and DEEP has informed the estate of the necessity for a proper site closure or for removal and remediation. The estate has expressed willingness to cooperate and the process is currently at the stage where DEEP and the estate are in communication. DEEP would have to approve any plan by the estate. Chair Merrow said the Council’s role is to make sure DEEP continues to respond appropriately.
Wagener said that the office had received inquiries from eastern Connecticut about the proposal for a state police firearms training facility, which now was focused on a single site in Griswold.
Wagener summarized correspondence sent from Mr. Leo Smith regarding potential health effects of certain LED outdoor lights, as described by the American Medical Association. Members said they had seen or heard news stories.
Update to Annual Report
Wagener reviewed five updates to the annual Report that were possible now that the final necessary data were available. He showed proposed updated charts for Dissolved Nitrogen in LI Sound, Daily Vehicle Miles Traveled, Compliance (two charts) and a wholly new chart for Per Capita Consumption of Motor Fuels.
After discussion it was decided to eliminate the chart that showed the percent of inspected facilities found to be in compliance, as the true compliance rate could only be determined through random sampling of regulated facilities, and that does not occur. Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the update to the annual report. Dunbar made that motion which was seconded by Hilding and unanimously approved.
Hall said that she has heard concerns that the traffic analysis in the EIE for Union Station in New Haven was inadequate from the aspect of congestion and consideration of alternatives. Wagener said that the comment deadline had been extended by the Department of Transportation to allow for submission of such concerns. Hall asked if staff could review the EIE with regard to those concerns. Hearn said the new deadline is July 5th. Wagener said that if the Council cannot submit comments, it can review the final record of to determine the adequacy of responses to those concerns that have been submitted.
Dunbar asked for future consideration of the pace of stream flow classification, which seems to have slowed to a halt. He said he does not believe a statewide water plan can be developed properly until minimum flow classifications are in place, and he and Hilding also expressed a concern about the Water Utility Coordinating Committee process that is underway. Members agreed that these might be appropriate topics for an upcoming meeting.
There being no further business, at 12:09 PM Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn which was made by Charamut, seconded by Hilding and approved unanimously.