Minutes of the July 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 (by phone), David Kalafa, Lee Dunbar, Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Charles Vidich, and Matthew Reiser.
ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Executive Director), Paul Aresta (Environmental Analyst), Eric Weiner, Susan Miller, Jeff Wilcox, Diane Hoffman, Tom Corell, Eric Hammerling, Matthew Pafford, and Mary Hogue.
At 9:37 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting and noted that there was a quorum of Council members present. Members of the Council and staff introduced themselves.
2. Approval of Agenda
Chair Merrow began the meeting by asking if there are any additions or modifications to the agenda. Dunbar made a motion to approve the agenda as written; seconded by Kalafa. The motion was approved unanimously.
3. Approval of Minutes of June 26, 2019
Reiser said he found a typo of no contextual significance. Dunbar made a motion to approve the corrected draft meeting minutes of June 26, 2019; seconded by Kolesinskas. The motion was approved with Vidich abstaining, having been absent at that meeting.
4. Chair’s Report
Chair Merrow said she would like to proceed directly to the citizen comment period, because of the number of items on the agenda and the many citizens who came to speak.
5. Citizen Comment Period
Chair Merrow noted that four individuals were present who wished to make comments regarding the vegetative management (VM) practices of United Illuminating (UI). Mary Hogue of Fairfield alleged that UI is not performing routine trimming and removal of trees within the Utility Protection Zone (UPZ). She said that, as an alternative, UI proposes to primarily undertake what it terms "Targeted Risk Management" (TRM) and only prune or remove trees that are in direct contact with the conductors or have visible signs of burning. She is concerned that this approach may not be adequate to protect public safety and the environment. By invoking C.G.S. Sec 16-234(e), UI is able to conduct TRM without input from the Fairfield Tree Warden. Diane Hoffman, from Hamden, reported that in her town UI is performing normal UPZ maintenance and is working in conjunction with the Tree Warden. She expressed a concern that if the policy being implemented in Fairfield is allowed to stand it will become a precedent for tree maintenance in other towns as well. The citizens expressed concern that Sec 16-234(e) is being used by UI in non-emergency situations to circumvent notice to abutters and tree warden consultations. Eric Hammerling, of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association expressed the opinion that there is a need to clarify whether a utility may reduce routine UPZ maintenance and substitute TRM and be in compliance with its responsibilities under C.G.S. 16-234(c).
There was general discussion regarding the submission of comments by the Council regarding UI’s VM plan to be considered by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) in Docket No. 19-01-25, PURA 2019 Biennial Report To The General Assembly Concerning Its Review Of Each Electric Distribution Company's Vegetation Management Practices. The Docket is open until July 29, 2019.
Kalafa suggested identifying the issues and asking PURA to look into the spirit of the law even if UI is following the letter of the law. Kolesinskas commented on the imprudence of decreasing tree trimming at a time when tree mortality is increasing due to gypsy moth infestations and to climate warming. Ainsworth noted that the Council could provide comments regarding the draft decision in the docket and also request additional time for citizen comments. Dunbar made a motion, which was seconded by Kalafa, to draft and submit a letter to PURA requesting additional time for public comments and for PURA to review UI’s VM Plan for consistency with the spirit of C.G.S. Sec 16-234(c). The motion was approved unanimously. Chair Merrow thanked those who came to speak about the trimming issue.
Eric Weiner and Susan Miller provided an update on the release of at least 30,000 gallons of firefighting foam and water from Bradley International Airport that contained PFAS chemicals. Mr. Weiner indicated that the Governor has established a task force to examine the issues related to the PFAS release and cleanup efforts. Mr. Weiner indicated that a community group from Windsor continues to press local and state officials for information regarding the proper use and containment of PFAS chemicals and for the test results of water and fish samples. He expressed additional concerns regarding the use of water from the Farmington River for irrigation at nearby farms. Ms. Miller said this might become a threat to nearby wells and to the crops, so irrigated. Reiser said that Massachusetts has begun an aggressive program of looking at levels in residential wells.
Mr. Weiner said his group wants to be sure that this doesn’t happen elsewhere so is interested in learning what spill containment plans are in place at other airports. Reiser said that the Federal requirement for spill containment plans applies to oil spills and not to firefighting foams. Mr. Weiner also said that the sludge from the sewer plant that received the spill was incinerated, possibly sending the pollutant airborne. He said he would like to see a requirement that sludge be tested for such contaminants prior to a decision on whether it should be incinerated. He said this is done in Wisconsin.
Hearn provided an update on the details of a community information meeting that was held in Windsor on July 2, 2019. Hearn also indicated that he anticipates receiving a timeline of DEEP’s response to the PFAS release that could be made available to the public, if requested. Merrow thanked Mr. Weiner and Ms. Miller for updating the Council on events regarding the spill.
Hearn said that the Council had also received a complaint from residents in Stamford regarding fugitive dust, odors, and other environmental issues at Harbor Point, a brownfield redevelopment site in Stamford. Hearn indicated that Council staff reviewed the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (DEEP) files for some of the properties in the Harbor Point area of Stamford and met with a small group of Stamford residents in Hartford on July 15, 2019 to discuss their concerns. Hearn noted that the Stamford residents also met with representatives of DEEP on the same day, and have had ongoing communications with DEEP staff regarding their concerns. Hearn noted that Jeff Wilcox in the remediation section at DEEP has been very helpful in providing information and addressing some of the Stamford resident’s concerns. Hearn noted that DEEP has required the contractors on the site(s) to be more diligent about covering the piles of dirt and other measures to minimize odors and fugitive dust. Hearn noted that he also contacted the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) to determine if their grants and loans for the proposed brownfield remediation activities and site redevelopment included provisions for compliance with environmental permits. Kalafa questioned whether DECD was required to do an Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) for the proposed project. Hearn stated that DECD indicated that an EIE was not required. Dunbar said that because it will be a residential development, it will have to meet the most stringent of remediation standards. Hearn indicated that he will continue to monitor DEEP’s response to the Stamford resident’s complaints.
6. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries Received
Hearn said he had received and responded to inquiries regarding a school construction project in Mansfield, gravel mining operations in Thompson, a pilot Bokashi facility in Torrington, running bamboo, and the recently adopted law requiring a deposit on plastic bags.
7. Report on Staff Activities
Hearn reported that in addition to addressing the numerous complaints and inquiries from the public over the past month, Council staff also attended meetings regarding the Department of Administrative Services’ (DAS) plan to consolidate agencies’ administrative functions; DEEP’s proposed revised Remediation Standard Regulations (RSR); and DEEP’s plans to expand online document retrieval.
Hearn said that staff had also been analyzing data regarding the impact of climate change on certain species and prepared a draft press release and webpage with the key findings. Aresta indicated that warm-adapted species for certain songbirds and fish have increased from 1984 to present, while cold-adapted species’ populations have either increased at a much slower rate comparatively or declined since 1984. Vidich suggested reviewing the data on the temperature increase in Connecticut to confirm the methodology used in the climate analysis. There was general discussion regarding the draft press release. It was agreed that it is a good idea to keep Connecticut’s residents informed regarding topical environmental issues with such releases.
8. State Agency Actions
a. DEEP Commissioner’s “20BY20” Goals
Hearn referred the Council to the draft comments, sent to them prior to the meeting, on Commissioner Dykes’ “20BY20” initiative to improve both efficiency and transparency for some of DEEP’s most important functions. The comments, drafted in response to the Commissioner’s request for public input, are generally supportive of the identified goals. They included recommendations for improving efficiency, compliance, transparency and public understanding of process. Dunbar noted that permit renewals for activities that are unchanged may need to be reviewed if the standard for the activity changes. He also noted that general permits should only be for activities that are very low risk to the environment if the general permit requirements are not complied with. Hearn said that while permits generally require reporting, “permit by rule” generally requires only record keeping. Consequently a compliance mechanisms is an essential component of any planned liberalization of the permit process. Hilding suggested including additional language on the need for more staff resources to implement the provisions of the 20BY20 Initiative, increase inspections, and ensure compliance with environmental laws. There was consensus that the draft comments should be sent with the inclusion of the suggestions of Dunbar and Hilding.
b. Availability of proposed new Remediation Standards Regulations (RSR)
Hearn indicated that DEEP has published a revised RSRs draft and has asked interested stakeholders to provide comments. Hearn noted that Council staff will be reviewing the draft and will develop comments, if warranted, for Council review prior to the October 7, 2019 filing deadline.
c. Status Updates: Tylerville water, Farmington River PFAS Spill, Bokashi Facility in Torrington.
Hearn reported that residents of Tylerville are still receiving potable water that is paid for out of the State’s superfund money. Chair Merrow noted that water mains are currently being installed in the area.
Hearn noted that the Farmington River PFAS release and the pilot Bokashi facility in Torrington were discussed earlier in the meeting.
9. Other Business
Hearn noted that the Regulations Review Committee had not voted to approve DEEP’s proposed CEPA Regulations. The key issue was reported to be the requirement that old Environmental Impact Evaluations (EIE) be reviewed and updated, if needed, for long-delayed projects. The Council had historically supported the requirement of a review to assess whether EIEs completed in the distant past will adequately protect the environment, or whether there are changed conditions that need to be addressed.
Having no further business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. Dunbar made a motion to adjourn; seconded by Kalafa. The motion passed unanimously. The meeting adjourned at 12:15 PM.