Minutes of the meeting of the April 24, 2019 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Room on the fifth floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.
MEMBERS PRESENT: Susan Merrow (Chair), Keith Ainsworth, Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Charles Vidich
ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Executive Director), Colbie Cook (Environmental Intern), Jackson Ruprecht (Environmental Intern).
At 9:32 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum.
2. Approval of Agenda
Chair Merrow began the meeting by asking if there are any additions or modifications to the Agenda. Ainsworth made a motion to approve the agenda as written. It was seconded by Vidich and approved by all.
3. Approval of Minutes of March 27, 2019
Chair Merrow said she had noted two wording changes she would like to see made and would pass them on to Hearn. Neither is substantive. No other changes were suggested.
Dunbar moved to approve the corrected minutes. This was seconded by Vidich and approved by all voting members. Hilding was just arriving, so did not vote. Kolesinskas did not vote, since he was not present at the March meeting.
4. Chair’s Report
Chair Merrow said that the new Environmental Analyst, Paul Aresta, will begin work on Friday. Hearn said his background in communications will make him a welcome addition. He came in for a couple of hours already and quickly grasped how to use the website.
She said she had no news on an appointment to fill the Council’s one remaining vacancy.
She announced that Council Member, Alicea Charamut, will be taking on the role as Executive Director at the Rivers Alliance. Charamut said that replacing Margaret Miner is impossible, but she would do her best to do as well as Miner had.
Chair Merrow remarked that this the last meeting at which intern Jackson Ruprecht will be present, since he will be leaving to prepare for exams and graduation. She said the same is true for the Council’s other intern Colbie Cook. Chair Merrow noted that both contributed greatly to the Council.
Chair Merrow said that the State Police Training Facility that had been planned for Griswold had been cancelled by Governor Lamont. Kolesinskas said the question now is what will be proposed as an alternative. He said it will be a mistake to replicate the same forest-destroying concept in another location, when there are alternatives elsewhere including indoor options.
5. Citizen Comment Period
Chair Merrow said that no one from the public has come to speak.
6. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries
Hearn said that the only substantive complaints received had to do with the eAlert announcing the publication of the Environmental Monitor. It was scheduled to be sent at 12:01 AM last Wednesday, but never went. Staff in IT were able to release it but it became corrupted, prompting many emails to the office asking for an interpretation. The IT staff repaired the problem and the correct eAlert was sent. Sue observed that there appear to be many problems with the State website. Dunbar said that some of it is rooted in the desire of each agency to have a unique design and that Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) still utilizes databases that are virtually obsolete and no longer supported.
7. Annual Report – Preview and Approval
Hearn began his review of the 2018 Annual Report Draft by showing the Acknowledgement page, which contained an announcement of the retirement of former Executive Director Karl Wagener. Some wording changes were suggested. Hearn showed how a summary box on each page can provide more information than the colored circles that now show only the status of the most recent year. All agreed. It was suggested to change the wording to “improved” from “better” in those boxes. Rewording the interpretation “key” for the boxes was also recommended. Hearn said he would make those improvements. Ainsworth said that there would be value to showing data trends going further back than 10 years. Hearn agreed and said that for the 2019 Annual Report he would like to reference each indicator’s value when it was at its worst historical level.
Hearn said that for 2019 the focus of the chart on domestic photovoltaic installations should shift to represent the annual installations instead of the cumulative installations now shown. A discussion followed about the charts that depict electricity use. As each was shown, suggestions were made for additional data on trends and usage patterns that could be included in the charts or in the text. Chair Merrow pointed out the importance of energy efficiency as a strategy to reduce emissions.
Hearn showed a list of indicators for which data had just been received and were not yet graphed and for those that are still awaiting the 2018 data. Hearn said a decision will need to be made on whether to discontinue the recycling chart and substitute a measure of the success of waste diversion efforts. He said it will depend on what data are available. A discussion followed on recycling in the State. Chair Merrow offered to invite an expert on Connecticut’s solid waste programs to a Council meeting in June or later. It was agreed that this is a good idea and that a representative from DEEP should also be invited.
Ruprecht showed a summary PowerPoint he created of all the completed indicator charts. There were suggestions for improvements to some of the indicators. Hilding asked about adding the number of violations along with inspection numbers. Hearn said that there will be a chart from the Council’s 2017 report on pesticides that will show the relationship between the two. Dunbar said that the data from 2018 could leave the impression that DEEP is doing better, even with fewer staff. Hearn said that the same report on pesticides showed a decline in inspections as staff declined, and that can be referenced to dispel any false conclusions that are based on a single year. With regard to invasive species, like the Asian tiger mosquito, Dunbar said the important point is not that they are increasing but that they are here now and they used to not be here.
8. Staff Report
a. Legislative update
Chair Merrow said that House Bill 5999 is on the calendar with a number. She expects it will need a champion and will inquire of environmental groups to learn if any are prioritizing it.
b. Blue Plan
Hearn reported that Nathan Frohling of the Nature Conservancy has offered to present information about the Blue Plan at the Council’s August meeting and is looking to adjust his schedule to be able to appear at the May meeting instead.
c. CT water Company Merger and Connecticut Water Plan
Charamut announced that the revised merger proposal for the Connecticut Water Company has a docket number at the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA). She said that there is uncertainty as to whether the legislature will act on the Connecticut Water Plan. It will need to be approved by the four committees of cognizance in the matter. If there is no action it will go to the Governor for enactment.
d. Draft CEPA regulations
Hearn said that the draft regulations for the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) are still under consideration by the Regulation Review Committee.
e. Report on conference on solar farms and pollinator habitat.
Hearn said that he and Ainsworth attended a program at Yale that was designed to promote the planting of pollinator-friendly vegetation at solar energy facilities. He said that if the Council does a follow-up report on solar energy this could be a recommendation, and could be a factor that would earn more points in a RFP selection process for renewable energy facilities. Kolesinskas cautioned that there can be an element of “greenwashing” in such claims, especially when they assert that this will leave the land suitable for future agricultural use. Ainsworth concurred.
9. State Agency Actions
a. Siting Council Petition # 470B
Hearn reported that this petition, which was discussed at the last meeting, is still before the Siting Council on a remand to reconsider its visual impact.
9. Workload Management
Interns and Annual Report Research
Hearn said that the effort put in by both Colbie Cook and Jackson Ruprecht to pull together the data for the Annual Report’s charts, and to create those charts has been most impressive and he wishes he could keep them on.
Charamut alerted the Council to a controversy brewing regarding the Colebrook Dam, which the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) wishes to abandon as a water supply reservoir, but retain “ownership” of the water. She said both DEEP and the Department of Public Health (DPH) will have a say in this and she will keep the Council apprised of developments.
With regard to forests, Dunbar said that it is the position within DEEP that a cleared forest can still be considered a “core forest” since it is making room for the young trees to mature. Kolesinskas encouraged all to take the online survey for the State’s Forest Action Plan. He also reported that the combination of Gypsy moth infestation and drought have created a crisis of standing dead trees along the State’s roads and trails.
There being no further business, Chair Merrow asked for an adjournment motion. It was made by Dunbar and seconded by Ainsworth and approved by all. The meeting adjourned at 12:06 PM.