Minutes of the June 21, 2017 special 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 (by phone and then in person), Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall (by phone), Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Matt Reiser, Charles Vidich, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Jeff Hannan (Intern).
At 9:32 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum. Chair Merrow suggested that the agenda should be modified to expand agenda item eight to include discussion of additional updates to the annual report for possible approval. Dunbar made a motion to approve the agenda with that change, with Vidich seconding. The motion was approved unanimously.
Dunbar made a motion to approve the minutes of May 24, 2017, which was seconded by Vidich. The motion was approved by all present. (Hilding was still in transit to the meeting.)
Chair Merrow began by saying that she wished to express her sadness at the recent death of Sandy Breslin, who had spoken to and worked with the Council on many occasions. She noted Sandy’s many contributions to the causes of bird conservation and protection of Long Island Sound.
Chair Merrow introduced the Council’s intern, Jeff Hannan, a senior at Washington University majoring in Environmental Policy.
Environmental study of change of use of watershed lands in New Britain
James Ericson, Vice President of Lenard Engineering came to the table, accompanied by Mr. Ray Esponda, PE, New Britain’s Deputy Director of Public Works - Utilities and by Mr. Michael Klein of Environmental Planning Services.
Mr. Ericson described the additions that had been made to the scope of study as a consequence of suggestions from the Council and from the Water Planning Council (WPC). He listed the study’s constituent components and offered an approximation of the percentage that had been completed and what remained. He described the process being used, saying that the tasks had been divided among the participating consulting firms and gave an approximate time table as to when the components will be complete.
He introduced Mr. Klein, who briefly recounted his qualifications and those of the staff who are working on the environmental portion of the study. Mr. Klein summarized the work that had been done since the last published update with regard to amphibians and reptiles, birds, vegetation and trail-mapping. Kolesinskas asked if migratory birds were being studied and, if not, could that be added. Mr. Klein answered that it was not in the scope of study, but clarified that incidental sightings of migratory birds passing through during the breeding-bird survey would be recorded. Vidich asked if there was much difference between federal and state wetland delineations on the site; Mr. Klein said there was little difference on this site. Dunbar asked if there would be interim reports, and when the final report could be expected. Mr. Ericson said the individual reports would be assembled into one document that would be presented to New Britain. He said it is expected that the individual reports will be completed late this summer or in the early fall. Mr. Ericson responded that the raw data will be available to the Council. He said the report will be submitted to New Britain before being made public and comments sought. Hilding asked if the Council will be able to see New Britain’s comments on it. Mr. Esponda said he could not commit to that at this time; Mr. Ericson said the consultants’ data would be available and would not be revised by the city. Hilding asked if Lenard Engineering will have a chance to respond to comments made about the report after it is made public; Mr. Ericson said that would be up to the city. Mr. Martin Dinep, speaking from the audience, asked if he could ask a question. He wanted to know if off-site environmental consequences were being considered, noting the hundreds of undeveloped acres surrounding the 135 acre site. Dr. Richard Judd, also from the audience said he has the same concern. Wagener said another way to think of this proposition is to consider how the surrounding area would be affected if the 135 acres of habitat were removed. Mr. Klein said the report will consider “landscape scale” (which is about 1,000 acres), and indirect impacts. Mr. Klein also said that the 135 acres were the focus of the study, and noted that the team does not necessarily have access to all of the surrounding properties. Vidich said the “wetlands functions and values” section of the report is where that should be addressed; Mr. Klein agreed.
Mr. Paul Zagorski, an attorney from New Britain, asked to speak. He displayed a large aerial view of the proposed project area, noting that the vast majority has public access and much of what is not public belongs to Tilcon, which could be expected to grant access. Mr. Zagorski then asked if any endangered species had been found on the site; Mr. Ericson explained that he and his team would not be discussing the data collected or results of any studies today. In response to questions about the public review process, Mr. Ericson read the time line provided in the statute with regard to public comment. He said the law allows for a 90 day review period before the Council submits its comments to New Britain. Mr. Ericson said the city of New Britain is required to hold a hearing after receipt of the Council’s comments. Chair Merrow and Dunbar said it would be appropriate for the Council to solicit public comment before it submits its comments. Margaret Miner spoke from the audience to make the point that the law with regard to redacting information about reservoirs has just been changed and redactions must be explained and justified. Mr. Zagorski asked why the percentages of work completed on the report has decreased since October 2016 in the progress reports submitted to the WPC. Mr. Ericson replied that the scope of work has increased since the October report; now that it is a study that spans four seasons, it requires more observations. Dunbar noted that the proposed project would require permits that will require additional studies and provide opportunities for public participation. Mr. Klein said that if the Council finds other issues of concern, those can be included in its recommendations to the legislature. Mr. Esponda emphasized the need to allow the consultants to move forward with their work. Chair Merrow thanked the consultants and all who came to the meeting to discuss the topic. Mr. Ericson thanked the Council for its time.
Wagener said that he had received correspondence from the WPC, reminding the CEQ and its members that the WPC intends to have this topic on its agenda at every meeting, and members are always welcome to attend.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener said there was no news regarding the Council’s budget. He said it is uncertain by which mechanism, a continuing resolution or executive orders, the state government will continue if there is not an adopted budget by July 1.
He called the Council’s attention to the list of legislative actions he sent out before the meeting, which had been prepared by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (DEEP’s) legislative liaison; he noted that the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters maintains a comprehensive list of environment-related bills on its website. Wagener reviewed some of the major bills that passed and some that did not. He said he wished to focus specifically on the solar-siting bill, since he believes the Council’s report, “Energy Sprawl in Connecticut,” helped to provide the factual basis for the bill. Using PowerPoint, he explained the major provisions of the bill. One major change will be that the Connecticut Siting Council will have the authority to consider impacts to prime agricultural soils and core forests in its deliberations regarding location of some solar facilities, and it must consider the impact to agriculture in all its siting determinations. The bill also directs the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to weigh the impact on agricultural soils and core forests in its requests for proposals for renewable energy installations and to encourage beneficial placements.
Discussion of updated compliance data in the Annual Report
Wagener said that the Council now had all the missing data to bring current the three charts the Annual Report that had not been available in April: woodland birds, bats, and vehicle miles traveled.
Wagner said that staff, especially Hannan, had dug deeper into the data that had been reported initially in the April report regarding pesticide enforcement. Hannan reviewed the two charts being displayed and described the calculations. Discussion ensued on how changes in enforcement strategies subsequent to staff declines could muddy conclusions about the relationship between the two.
Hilding suggested consistency in colors for enforcement, if the two charts are shown together. Margaret Miner, from the audience, said that Connecticut ranks low, nationally, in enforcement. She said a key question that should be asked is whether any application [for aquatic use of pesticides] is ever turned down. Brooks said that the overwhelming majority of pesticide applications require no permit, aquatic applications being one of the few exceptions. She described the muddied state-local jurisdictional questions. She said that the largest number of violations are failure to be licensed or failure to supervise the applicator, in her experience. Hearn confirmed Brooks’ experience, based on his review of a few years of violations. Ms. Miner said that field inspectors should observe whether applications are being done correctly; she suggested that the program should enlist the local wetlands commissions for assistance. Dunbar said a recommendation that there should be more staff will accomplish nothing, since that is highly unlikely in this fiscal climate. He said the Council should consider how to make the program work with existing resources and look at targeted enforcement, scheduling of inspections, and make recommendations to DEEP.
Chair Merrow said there were two questions on the table. The first question was whether to approve the addition to the annual report of the updated charts for woodland birds, bats and vehicle miles traveled as well as the pesticide enforcement chart to the compliance page. A motion to make all those additions was made by Dunbar and seconded by Brooks. All voted in favor. Hilding said that, with the addition of the pesticide chart, a sentence on how the public can file a complaint regarding misuse of pesticides would be a useful addition to the report. Wagener said that he will draft a press release on the updated changes and circulate it for quick review by the members, with the Chair making the final decisions if any questions arise; all concurred.
Chair Merrow said the second question is whether the Council wished to continue to dig deeper on the pesticide data for eventual publication as a special report; the consensus was to proceed.
Review of State Agency Actions
Wagener said that DEEP had posted a scoping notice for extending a drinking water main to the Tylerville section of Haddam, DEEP’s preferred solution to the longstanding problem that the Council has followed and worked on for years. He said the project is not a certainty since DEEP will have to obtain additional bond allocations to make it a reality. Eric McPhee, of the Drinking Water Section of the Department of Public Health, was in the audience and agreed to answer some questions. He explained the stages the project will have to go through and the total expected cost. He said that state funding is, at the moment, limited to a line sufficient to provide drinking water and that additional capacity for fire hydrants will have to be provided by the town. Dunbar suggested that there is no need to comment on this project at the scoping stage. He suggested that if bonding is required to bring it to fruition, the Council could write a letter to the governor in the future urging its inclusion on the agenda for the Bond Commission.
Wagener said DEEP had posted a notice of an EIE for Seaside State Park. He said the comment period is open until August, so any discussion could be postponed to the July meeting.
There being no further business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. Hilding made a motion to adjourn which was seconded by Charamut and unanimously approved. The meeting was adjourned at 12:10 PM.