Minutes of the August 23, 2017 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 phone), Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Matt Reiser, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
At 9:36 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum. She asked if there are any additions to the agenda. There was none. Brooks made a motion to approve the agenda as posted. The motion was seconded by Hilding and approved by all present.
Chair Merrow asked if there were any modifications to the minutes of the July 26, 2017 meeting. Brooks made a motion to approve, which was seconded by Kolesinskas. The motion was approved unanimously, with Charamut and Reiser abstaining for having been absent at the July meeting.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener provided the Council with an update on the state budget and the council’s website. He said that the annual report for the state’s Digest of Administrative Reports had been completed.
Wagener noted that the fall bird migration had begun, and pointed to the slide of directional arrows for migratory birds, which he said is on Dunbar’s property and accurately points the birds in the appropriate directions with distances listed to their winter homes
Discussion of Pesticide Compliance and Oversight
Wagener said staff was looking at data collected over 20 years on the presence of pesticides in Connecticut’s environment. Hearn said 20 years of sample results were recently obtained and were being compared to EPA benchmarks. Kolesinskas said the US Geological Survey (USGS) has sampling data that might be able to be included as well.
Draft 2017 Comprehensive Energy Strategy
Wagener used a PowerPoint presentation to summarize key elements of the state’s draft comprehensive energy strategy. He said the document is worth reading for its details on energy use, power generation and projections about the state’s energy future. Hilding said there must be emphasis on energy conservation; Wagener said there is much in the strategy aimed at improving efficiency. Hilding asked if it discusses increasing exposure to electromagnetic fields exposure as a consequence of ever-increasing electrification. She asked if there were an analysis of the environmental consequences of solar panel manufacturing and decommissioning; Wagener said he did not see that information in the strategy.
Hall said the strategy puts off to a future and unspecified time the decisions that should be in the strategy, like prioritizing solar facility siting.
Wagener said that the strategy aims to phase out biomass and landfill gas from the category of Class One renewable energy, and noted that most people probably are not aware that those two sources constitute the vast majority of Class One renewable energy in southern New England. There was discussion of biomass and silviculture. Wagener said the strategy includes increasing the supply of natural gas to assure ample supply during wintertime high demand periods. He said it assumes Millstone will remain in operation. He added that the strategy encourages a major shift towards an electrified transportation sector, currently the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Chair Merrow said the question is whether the Council should comment on the strategy. Considerable discussion followed. Chair Merrow asked staff to draft comments for discussion at the September meeting, to include points relating to reducing demand, including more information on the benefits of behind-the-meter solar and appropriate siting, incentives for appropriate siting, and more on solar thermal and geothermal. At this point Hall had to leave the meeting to tend to another commitment.
Review of State Agency Actions
a. Siting Council solicitations for comments on four projects
Chair Merrow acknowledged the many people in the audience who had come out of concern about proposed solar energy installations in New Milford and Simsbury. She asked Wagener to provide background on the projects. He said both the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the Department of Agriculture (DOA) have requested party status to the Connecticut Siting Council (CSC) proceedings for the projects that are located in New Milford and Simsbury; the CSC had not yet met to approve the requests. Wagener said he drafted the comments on the assumption that those two agencies would be participating as parties.
Chair Merrow invited those in attendance to offer their comments.
Solar Photovoltaic Facility in New Milford – The first person to speak was Ms. Lisa Ostrove of “Rescue Candlewood Mountain.” She pointed out that Public Law 17-218 requires that DEEP must certify that a solar farm proposal would have no adverse effect on core forest in order to qualify for the petition process. She said this project, which is Phase One, will displace 68 acres of core forest and 12 acres of active farmland. She added that there is no requirement to replant at its end of service. She said the 75,000 panels will be on nine-foot poles and slanted, and therefore will be quite visible. She said that she hoped the Council could request that a full environmental review be completed by the CSC. She also expressed concern about the possibility that the petitioner might offer a land exchange to DEEP.
The next person to speak was Mr. Carl Dunham. He said that he had lived on the property all his life. It had been a dairy farm but the economics of dairy farming no longer work. The property had been sold for a project that did not happen, thus the current proposal. He urged the Council to comment on the project. Both Chair Merrow and Wagener clarified that the Council is not a party in the CSC proceedings. Chair Merrow said the sense of the group appears that the Council’s comments should include a recommendation that the CSC consider all the environmental information it receives and consider the full range of potential environmental impacts. Members discussed the draft comments that Wagener had distributed in advance of the meeting. Dunbar said that some of the errors in the petitioner’s environmental analysis causes the reader to question the entire document. Hilding offered a number of text changes to clarify and strengthen the draft comments.
Kolesinskas asked Mr. Dunham if the fields were cleared of rocks, and was told they were. In that case, said Kolesinskas, there is a possibility that they are prime farmland soils yet the analysis says there are no prime soils on the site. He said the Council should include in its comments to the CSC a request that a field survey be done on the site to assess the presence of prime agricultural soils.
Dunbar made a motion to submit the draft comments to the CSC, with changes that include the remarks made by the Council about the petition’s environmental assessment, prime agricultural soils, post-project conditions, and to encourage the CSC to consider the full range of environmental impacts, with the final version to be approved by Chair Merrow before release. Charamut seconded the motion, which was approved by all.
Solar Photovoltaic Facility in Simsbury – Ms. Kris Barnett, a Simsbury resident, spoke about the proposed solar facility in her town. She objected to the 290 acre project because of its scale, its displacement of farmland and forest, its wildlife impacts and its expected aesthetic impacts. She is also concerned that it would sit atop the town’s second largest aquifer. She pointed out that the site was chosen by Massachusetts to fulfil its requirements for renewable energy generation, not by Connecticut, and ironically Massachusetts has more restrictive siting requirements. Mr. Joe Treacy, also of Simsbury, spoke next. He said it would be in the middle of a residential neighborhood that includes a scenic byway. He said that Connecticut will derive very little economic benefit and the renewable energy credits will go solely to Massachusetts.
Ms. Linda Lough of Simsbury was next. She expressed concern that the project, unprecedented in New England because of its location in a residential neighborhood, would be on former tobacco fields and asked about release of toxic residue from earlier applications of agricultural chemicals. She was also concerned about wildlife impacts. She pointed out that the project will completely surround an historic home. She hoped that the Council could become a party to the CSC proceedings.
Ms. Lis Shlansky, an abutter to the project, asked if the Council would become a party to the proceeding if DEEP is denied party status.
Dunbar noted that the CSC can consider impacts to water quality. The state has numerous reports that show that when 15 percent of a watershed is covered by impervious surfaces, water quality deteriorates; the petition should include such analysis. Reiser said that Simsbury is a town which, under its MS-4 Permit, must reduce runoff from impervious surfaces. Wagener said that the site will be required to register for the construction stormwater general permit. Members said that the CSC should be encouraged to adopt that permit’s non-enforceable restrictions on phasing the project into any approval and be responsible for enforcement, as it has done on occasion. There was considerable discussion of potential impacts to water quality during major rain events.
Wagener said the environmental analysis did include field surveys of the vegetation and wildlife, but did not discuss the consequences of the construction for the rich habitats on the site. Many species identified were of greatest conservation need. Kolesinskas said that the Connecticut River Flyway is immensely important to many migratory species, as is the Farmington valley, and that should be considered. Hilding offered some editorial suggestions to the draft text. Also on the subject of wildlife, members agreed to include concerns about the effect of the fence. Chair Merrow recapped the comments of the Council members. Dunbar made a motion to send the draft comments, with the additions suggested and agreed to by the Council, including the recommendation that the CSC consider the full range of potential environmental impacts, with the final version to be approved by Chair Merrow before submittal. Hilding seconded and it was unanimously approved.
Chair Merrow thanked all who came to speak.
Solar Photovoltaic Facility in Canterbury / Brooklyn – Wagener said he recommended no comments on this proposal.
Telecommunications Facility in Coventry – Wagener said staff was not recommending comments on this proposal.
b. Seaside State Park Master Plan Environmental Impact Evaluation
Wagener said staff had reviewed this EIE and found it to be thorough in its analysis of alternatives and their potential impacts. No comments were recommended.
Wagener said he had received a letter from Attorney Paul Zagorsky, who was concerned that the New Britain environmental study would not extend over four seasons, as had been specified. He had requested no specific action from the Council. Wagener said he would forward Mr. Zagorsky’s letter to all members. Wagener said that Mr. Zagorsky had attached excerpts from the August 1, 2017 Water Planning Council meeting, and Wagener noted that Mr. Ericson of LEI said that the study would be sent to the City of New Britain for review and comment prior to distribution, which was contrary to other recent correspondence; he would follow up on this.
Wagener said he had received a communication from someone concerned about artificial snow, and follow-up information the old-growth forest comments raised by Susan Masino at the July meeting.
He also had received correspondence from someone who objected to fuel cell technology on the basis of the hazardous waste it generates. He said the Siting Council is aware of the issue. Hazardous waste transport and disposal is governed by state law and a fuel cell facility will have to abide by the law for the waste type and quantity generated.
There being no further business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. Dunbar made the motion. It was seconded by Charamut and approved unanimously. The meeting adjourned at 12:17 PM.