Minutes of the May 22, 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), David Kalafa, Lee Dunbar, Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Charles Vidich, and Matthew Reiser.
ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Executive Director), Paul Aresta (Environmental Analyst), Nathan Frohling (The Nature Conservancy), David Blatt (DEEP), Mary-beth Hart (DEEP), and Emily Hall (NOAA Coastal Fellow).
At 9:32 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting that there was a quorum of Council members present.
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 Reiser. The motion was approved unanimously.
3. Approval of Minutes of April 24, 2019
Vidich made a motion to approve the draft meeting minutes of April 24, 2019; seconded by Dunbar. The motion was approved. Not having been at the April 24th meeting, both Reiser and Kalafa abstained.
4. Chair’s Report
Chair Merrow welcomed David Kalafa, a newly appointed member to the Council. Kalafa introduced himself and provided a brief summary of his experience. Chair Merrow then introduced the new Environmental Analyst, Paul Aresta. Aresta also introduced himself and provided a brief summary of his experience and interests. Hearn noted that there would be no environmental intern this summer.
5. Citizen Comment Period
Chair Merrow said that no one from the public has come to speak.
6. Long Island Sound Blue Plan Presentation
Chairman Merrow introduced Nathan Frohling. Hearn asked that the staff in attendance from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) introduce themselves as well. Using video and Power Point, Frohling explained that the intent of the Long Island Sound Blue Plan is to identify and map the areas of the Sound (beyond ten feet in depth) that are ecologically significant and also the areas that experience significant human use. The purpose of the endeavor is to provide planners of new uses with the knowledge that will allow them to avoid disruption of the areas with unique ecological value or high human importance. He said it is important to understand that the Plan has no regulatory authority.
Frohling said that though the Plan is 400 pages, the policy portion is only fifteen pages that are easily read. He said it can be found on DEEP’s website or by simply googling Long Island Sound Blue Plan. David Blatt of DEEP said the Plan is advisory and that there are no “no go” areas. Vidich asked how coastal towns can affect the Plan. Frohling said there had been town representation in the Plan’s development and that towns can submit comments. He said the deadline for comments is June 21st. Mary Beth Hart of DEEP said that the plan is to be revised every five years, so there is opportunity for changes if new conditions are discovered.
There was general discussion regarding the draft Plan and how it can be used. In response to a question, Frohling said that no State funding was used to create the Plan. Reiser said that it is an excellent resource and that he wishes it had been available years prior when he was working on a project that involved Long Island Sound. Merrow asked what happens after the comment deadline. Frohling said there will be revisions and then it will be sent to the legislature for adoption. Kalafa made the point that even if it were not adopted, the knowledge is out there to be used. Chair Merrow thanked Nathan Frohling for his presentation.
Chair Merrow said that since comments on the Plan are due prior to the next Council meeting, draft comments on it will need to be prepared and sent to the members for approval or modification. There was general agreement that comments should be supportive of the Plan and its goals.
7. Annual Report – Preview and Approval
Hearn provided a summary of the major changes to the draft 2018 Annual Report and noted four key points:
1) There has been significant improvement over time in many indicators of environmental quality;
2) Much of what has been accomplished can be undone by a continually warming climate;
3) Conservation measures for land and animals need improving; and
4) The behaviors of residents and businesses have environmental consequences. Those behaviors are driven largely by economic choices.
Dunbar suggested that the report’s summary be more explicit with regard to the urgency of adopting climate resiliency measures, mitigating and adapting to the changes. He said the importance of the concept that there is “public trust” should be prominent in the report. There was general agreement that these point should be stressed in the summary as well as in the letter to the Governor and subsequent press release.
In response to a question from Hilding, there was a general discussion of the Connecticut Water Plan which must be adopted by the legislature or Governor Lamont before January 2020.
Returning to the Annual Report topic, Hearn said the tentative schedule for presentation of the Report to Governor Lamont and public release of the Report is Wednesday, May 29, 2019. It was suggested that any questions or comments to the draft Report be submitted to Chair Merrow and Peter Hearn by Friday, May 24, 2019. It was the consensus of the Council members present that the draft Report be finalized, presented to Governor Lamont, and then released to the press and public as suggested.
There was also discussion about presenting a summary of the Council’s Report to environmental groups over the next few months to increase awareness of the Council’s work and the status of Connecticut’s environment.
8. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries
Hearn noted that the Council routinely receives complaints/inquiries that need only to be referred to the appropriate agency. Hearn said one inquiry came from a citizen who was interested in learning what had happened to a project for which a Scoping Notice had appeared in the Environmental Monitor. Hearn said this points out the need for follow-up notices when a project is cancelled or delayed. Otherwise, the public cannot easily determine a project’s status.
9. Staff Report
a. Legislative update, CT Water Company Merger, CEPA Regulations, and the Connecticut Water Plan
Chair Merrow noted a few proposed legislative Bills that had been reported out of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Environment Committee. Hearn noted that a compromise was reached to preserve the historic Nathan Hale Hotel but allow the razing of the decrepit Hooker Hotel. The town of Windham, the Department of Economic and Community Development, and the State’s Historic Preservation Council have approved the proposal. Chair Merrow said this will mean that there is no need for a special exemption from the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act that had been proposed to allow the project to move forward. No new information was available regarding the status of the Connecticut Water Company merger.
Hearn said that a determination by the Office of Legislative Council has not been made about the “shelf life” provision in the proposed CEPA regulations.
b. Statewide HR Consolidation proposal
Hearn said he attended a meeting for small state agencies regarding a proposal to consolidate human resource functions under one administrative unit. Hearn said he reported that the support the Council staff receives from DEEP’s Human Resources unit has been adequate.
10. State Agency Actions
a. Siting Council Petition # 1369 and 1370 and Docket 485
Hearn reported that the proposals were for a fuel cell, a transmission line and a cell tower. None appeared to have obvious environmental concerns.
11. Other Business
There was general discussion regarding outreach for the Council’s Report. It was agreed that there is insufficient time to arrange a press conference. Email notices would be sent to the press and legislators. Chair Merrow said she would contact the Governor’s office to alert them to its arrival next Wednesday.
Having no further business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. Hilding made a motion to adjourn; seconded by Kalafa. The motion passed unanimously. The meeting adjourned at 12:14 PM.