Minutes of the May 25, 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, Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall (by telephone), 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. Brooks 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 April 27, 2016. Charamut identified a typo. Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the minutes with the change. It was so motioned by Brooks, seconded by Dunbar and approved unanimously.
Chair Merrow noted that Margaret Miner, who was in the audience, had received a lifetime achievement award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region I this month.
Chair Merrow said that the Council remained funded in the final budget that had been sent by the legislature to Governor Malloy for signing. She said that there were many citizens and organizations who, in addition to their own causes, advocated on behalf of the Council to make that possible. She noted her appreciation for those efforts.
No citizens were present for the citizen comment period so she asked Wagener to proceed with the executive director’s report.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener summarized the final outcome of several environment-related items in the budget. He said that the Soil and Water Conservation Districts received no appropriation. The Community Investment Act Fund had been reduced by one million dollars. Funds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative were diverted to the General Fund, and three million would be diverted in each future year, as Wagener understood the bills. Based on a summary prepared by the Office of Financial Accountability, he expected the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to suffer a loss of three people due to budget cuts along with reductions in seasonal staff and other expenses. There might be more reductions that are not immediately visible, if appropriations do not match the personnel count in the budget. He said that DEEP was also given responsibility for the Old State House in downtown Hartford.
Wagener said the bill requiring study of the proposal by the New Britain Water Company to allow quarrying on a portion of its water company land was modified to require that the Water Planning Council consult with the CEQ on selection of the consultant. Dunbar asked about the time frame specified for a decision. Wagener said that the city will have 180 days to hire a consultant to commence a study.
He said that the proposed constitutional amendment regarding public lands was modified to include the properties of all agencies, not just DEEP. It would require that any legislative conveyance of land be introduced as a separate bill, have a public hearing, and passed by a two-thirds vote of each chamber to go forward. The proposal passed the Senate by a two-thirds vote but in the House it received only majority approval. Because it did not receive support of two-thirds of both houses it must be re-introduced next year and if it passes both houses by a simple majority in the second year it would go to statewide referendum. He said the bill applies only to transfers of land by legislative action. Administrative transfers by agencies are already required to be posted in the Environmental Monitor for public review and comment. Hilding arrived at this point.
Bills that did not pass included the bill inspired by the proposal to bring a water bottling plant to Bloomfield failed. The bill that would have restricted the use of toxic flame retardant chemicals in children’s products and in furniture also failed. A bill that would have allowed the disclosure of some water supply information, not now available, did not pass. The proposal to eliminate commercial harvesting of snapping turtles failed as did the bill to establish a “shelf life” for Environmental Impact Evaluations.
Wagener said that some late-arriving data will make possible an update to the annual report. This will include new data on carbon dioxide levels in Connecticut. He said that a recent press release from the Acadia Center on the increased emissions in 2014 has generated news coverage. He said that the increase runs counter to data on gasoline consumption, which the Council had noted previously; he suspects a flaw in the national model when applied to Connecticut. Staff will investigate further. He said that the compliance data arrived 2015 had been received. DEEP performed fewer inspections than in any prior year for which the Council has records.
Following up on discussion of state land transfers, Wagener said that the question had arisen about the classification of lands that DEEP had acquired by transfer from other state agencies. Research shows that state agencies file a “deed of transfer of custody and control” in the town land records, and sometimes the transfer seems to be accomplished only with a letter from the Office of Policy and Management.
Wagener said that he had reviewed the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering study of the effect of deicing practices and products on Connecticut roads. It did not make recommendations for a change in current practices. He said that in conversations with DEEP staff he has learned that there seem to be increasing reports of salt contamination of drinking water wells. Dunbar noted that liability fears drive institutions such as schools and commercial centers to over-apply salt. Charamut said the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has reported significant increase in chloride in drinking water sources. Wagener said that DEEP is having discussions internally on the topic and Council staff will monitor it. Hilding asked if DEEP could come to a meeting to discuss the problem; Wagener said that DEEP staff could be invited.
Wagner reported that the office had received a copy of a resolution adopted by the Town Council of Sprague expressing opposition to the proposal for siting a state police firing range there. Since then, Griswold has been designated the preferred location.
Wagener reported DEEP had sponsored a presentation “Communicating Air Quality to the Public” in late April. He asked Hearn, who attended, to summarize it. Hearn said that lead pollution in air had reached such low levels that it would no longer be measured and reported on by EPA. He said that the Council had taken the same action a few years ago in its annual report. He said that as of January 2016 the standard for ozone pollution had been reduced from .075 ppm to .070 ppm. This will necessitate a recalculation of the historic values in the Council’s annual report, and will lead to a longer ozone season and more bad air days.
Wagener said the Journal Inquirer of Manchester had published an article this week summarizing the Council’s annual report. Highstead and Harvard Forest collaborated to produce a comprehensive report on spending for land conservation in all New England states. He said he had sent a link to the members before the meeting. Kolesinskas said the U.S. Department of Agriculture spends a large amount annually on land preservation and the report would have been better had it included those totals. Wagener showed some graphics from the report illustrating that Connecticut receives less funding per capita from the federal government for land conservation than do other New England states. He added that the Highstead/Harvard Forest report referenced the Council’s special report, Preserved But Maybe Not.
Review of State Agency Actions
Wagener said that staff proposed no comments on the two environmental impact evaluations on the agenda, one for a wildlife fence at the Groton-New London airport and one for a new parking garage at Union Station in New Haven.
State energy policies and loss of farmland and forest – Wagener said that he Council initially looked at the issue of photovoltaic (PV) installations on undeveloped land in 2011. At that time two properties were selected for favorable treatment for electricity sales. One was on farmland in Somers and the other was on prime agricultural soil in East Lyme that was not in active farming use. He said that in its decision-making DEEP has used environmental criteria in site selection, but the weight given those criteria was only 15 percent of the total scoring and was easily overwhelmed by other factors, namely the cost of the electricity supplied. He said that the state’s 2013 Comprehensive Energy Strategy calls for reviewing each renewable energy project in light of optimizing the way land is used, but he questioned the progress toward that goal. Wagener asked Hearn to summarize the projects approved to date by the Siting Council that involve farmland or forest. Hearn showed a spreadsheet with estimates of forest land and farm fields that had been displaced by PV facilities in the last four years. It showed over 500 acres lost to PV energy installations. Merrow asked about the view of farmers; Kolesinskas noted that many farmers cannot find the land needed to expand or to remain in business. He said that the claim that land used for these facilities can be reclaimed for farmland is not wholly true since these projects involve construction of roads, footings and drainage that could inhibit future agricultural use; also, sometimes the soil may be trucked away. He noted that he is gathering information about this matter for the Commissioner of Agriculture. Members directed staff to continue its research.
Discussion of Draft Comprehensive Open Space Acquisition Strategy
Wagener said that Council members had made suggestions for additions to the Council’s comments on the state’s Draft Comprehensive Open Space Acquisition Strategy (formerly referred to as the “Green Plan”).
Wagener said that Hilding had suggested, and other members agreed, in April that abandoned reservoirs and their surrounding lands should be identified in the state’s “Green Plan,” but that he had neglected to add that point and proposed to do so now. Members concurred with the suggested language, with minor changes. Kolesinskas also had suggested a number of changes to the comments, some of which had been added and some of which required discussion. Much discussion followed on the need for better stewardship of acquired lands and whether easements and modification to the requirement that state preserved land be accessible to the public, would lead to better stewardship, more preservation and/or or better quality acquisitions. After the discussion Merrow asked if it were the consensus that the DEEP commissioner and staff should be allowed greater flexibility with regard to public access; members said it was. The Council also agreed to add language asking DEEP to ask the open space advisory board to evaluate, on an ongoing basis, the matching grant formulas and the eligibility for community garden grants. Also, Kolesinskas pointed out that the grants originating from the USDA were greater than the traditional federal land-conservation funding sources, and therefore the USDA should be added as an important partner. Members concurred. Charamut added that the importance of the Silvio Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge should be stated, and Wagener mentioned the proposal to create a new national wildlife refuge across several states to enhance early-successional habitat, which is scarce. It was decided that a new draft with the agreed changes should be circulated to the Council; if any member saw any minor editorial problems, he or she should contact staff, and after any corrections have been made the Chair would sign and submit the letter. Merrow asked for a motion to that effect, which was made by Reiser and seconded by Charamut.
Margaret Miner rose from the audience to ask if she could make some comments since she had arrived after the “citizen comment” portion of the meeting. Hilding made a motion to re-open the comment period and Ms. Miner was invited to speak. She said that cuts in staffing at DEEP have had two effects that she observed recently. She said that the DEEP staff person who has been dealing with stormwater issues in Plainfield had stated (to a citizen reporting a problem) that she is responsible for 1500 sites. The award-winning Ms. Miner also said that a question on wetlands recently arose in Plainfield and she was at a loss about whom in DEEP would be available to answer it.
She said that the rejection of Bill #438, regarding transparency in land-use applications, had been unfortunate. Transparency regarding the true identity of future owners and future use of a site before a town board is important and is now up to individual town ordinance.
She urged the Council to consider a site visit when consulted about the quarrying project on water company lands in New Britain.
She said that the issue of salt intrusion into drinking water is serious. Members agreed to invite a representative of DEEP to discuss the issue. There was brief discussion of requiring testing of private wells at times of transfer.
Contamination in Tylerville – Wagener asked Hearn to update the Council on the latest developments regarding groundwater pollution in the Tylerville section of East Haddam. Hearn said that a brief history of the problem had been sent to the Council prior to the meeting. He said that the consultant for the owner of the site, believed to be the pollution source, had provided DEEP with a site characterization in January and a remedial action plan (RAP) in April. He said that the consultant proposes to commence remediation based on the plan in September. Robert Bell, DEEP’s Assistant Director of the Remediation Division, and Eric McPhee, Supervisor of the Drinking Water Section at the Connecticut Department of Public Health were in attendance. Mr. McPhee provided information about the safety of the drinking water wells in the area and Mr. Bell provided information about the sampling and testing protocols at the location. In response to questions by Hilding, Mr. McPhee elaborated on the potential of the Chester water supply to serve Tylerville and the funds that have been made available to assist the town. He said that service might have to be extended to some residences along the route that are also having water contamination issues. Mr. Bell described the filtration systems that are provided, depending on the pollutant and which pollutants would necessitate bottled drinking water. He said the last sampling in May of 2015 showed no unacceptable contaminant levels after the filters.
Wagener asked Mr. Bell about the DEEP process going forward. Bell said that the comments received regarding the RAP will eventually be transmitted to DEEP and that they will be taken into consideration when DEEP responds to the RAP. Though the town has requested a public meeting regarding the proposed plan he said that such a meeting might be most valuable after DEEP has offered its response to the characterization and to the RAP. He said DEEP expects to be able to respond in late June. Also, DEEP hopes to compile the three ongoing investigations by late summer. Discussion followed on the causes of the multi-decade delay of remediation at the site. Brooks compared the situation to a similar problem in Durham; Mr. McPhee said that acknowledgement of responsibility made the Durham situation easier to deal with, and it still took decades. Mr. Bell said that regulations (105h) adopted in the early 2000s prompted action where there had been none. Mr. Bell said the possible intrusion of TCE into the bedrock below the site greatly complicates a cleanup there.
Merrow thanked Mr. McPhee and Mr. Bell for taking the time to attend and provide valuable insights. There was additional discussion of the Council’s role in the case, and members agreed to monitor developments closely through the summer.
Other Complaints – Wagener briefly outlined complaints the Council had received for investigation: 1) Dumping of landscaping waste in West Hartford, 2) a proposal for housing near a reported former toxic waste disposal site in Cheshire, and 3) use of marking paints by utility companies that might not be environmentally friendly. Wagener said all would be investigated. Also, he said staff continued to monitor the data developed by Rivers Alliance for noncompliance at hazardous waste treatment centers; the first quarter of 2016 showed better-than-average compliance, and staff would continue monitoring this.
There being no further business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn which was made by Charamut and seconded by Dunbar. The meeting was adjourned at 12:12 PM. The length of the meeting led members to agree that the agenda should include a break.