Minutes of the November 20, 2019 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality (Council) held in the Holcombe Room on the fifth floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.
MEMBERS PRESENT: Susan Merrow (Chair), Keith Ainsworth, David Kalafa, Charles Vidich, Alicea Charamut, Kip Kolesinskas, and Matthew Reiser
ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Executive Director), Paul Aresta (Environmental Analyst), Daniel Morley (OPM), Commissioner Katie Dykes, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), Betsey Wingfield (DEEP), Nicole Lugli (DEEP), and Fred Riese (DEEP).
1. Call to Order: Establishment of a Quorum
At 9:30 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting and noted that there was a quorum of Council members present.
2. Approval of Agenda
Chair Merrow began the meeting by requesting that one new item be added to the agenda. Connecticut Siting Council (CSC) Petition 1388 would be discussed under “State Agency Actions”. Ainsworth made a motion to approve the agenda as revised; seconded by Charamut. The motion was approved unanimously.
3. Chair’s Report
Chair Merrow said she had participated by phone in a meeting called by Commissioner Dykes to update the public on the “final four” additions to the “20BY20” initiative.
She reported that a Forum on the “Climate Crisis” will be held at the Bushnell on November 22 and an Environmental Summit has been scheduled for January 17 at Trinity University.
4. Approval of Minutes of October 23, 2019
There were no suggested changes to the draft minutes of the October 23, 2019 meeting. Kalafa made a motion to approve the draft meeting minutes of October 23, 2019; seconded by Vidich. The motion was approved with Kolesinskas abstaining.
5. Citizen Comment Period
There were no comments by the citizens present.
7. Update on prior Citizen Complaints and Inquiries Received
a. Proposed Bokashi Facility in Torrington
Hearn mentioned that staff continues to monitor the resident’s concerns and issues related to the proposed Bokashi facility in Torrington. Hearn noted that DEEP responded to the citizen who has objected to the project by stating it is reviewing the information that he provided to DEEP and will take his concerns into consideration about the scale of the project. DEEP’s response asserted that the citizen’s concern about the location of the proposed facility are the purview of the city’s zoning authority. He said staff will continue to follow this.
b. Update on Harbor Point Complaint from Stamford.
Hearn said concerned citizens in the Harbor Point area of Stamford requested information regarding the type and amount of financial assistance that was provided by the State in support of the Harbor Point development. He referred the request to the correct person at the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).
8. Report on Staff Activities
- Residential Heating Fuel Oil Report
Hearn reviewed the draft report that focuses on the past releases of heating fuel oil at residential properties in Connecticut and recommendations to minimize the number and quantity of fuel oil releases to the environment in the future. Vidich questioned the statement that the prevalence of releases in southwest Connecticut was “most probably a function of population density and age of housing stock”. Vidich suggested that staff assess Census data to determine if there are some other factors that are responsible for the relatively higher number of releases in certain towns in southwest Connecticut.
At that point Commissioner Katie Dykes arrived and the meeting moved to agenda item 6.
6. Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
Chairman Merrow introduced and welcomed Commissioner Dykes and provided a brief summary of the Council’s activities. Commissioner Dykes summarized her experience with the National Council on Environmental Quality and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the importance of transparency and public participation in the environmental review process. Commissioner Dykes discussed the “20BY20” initiative to increase predictability, efficiency, and transparency in DEEP’s processes given the reduction of agency staff resources that has and will likely continue in the near term.
Betsey Wingfield responded to the Council’s inquiry regarding appropriate training for inland wetland officials in the state and noted that the agency has been coordinating with the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium to improve the online training content for the regulation of inland wetlands and it is expected that the new materials will be available to the public in early 2020. Vidich asked to what degree is the online training interactive. Kalafa questioned whether there were additional resources to address specific questions related to the regulation of inland wetlands. Betsey Wingfield noted that the online training consists of pre-recorded training modules and that public officials can still contact DEEP staff to answer any unresolved questions.
Commissioner Dykes discussed permits and compliance and explained that the reductions in staff have necessitated more general permits and processes that do not rely on as many staff resources. Commissioner Dykes went on to address one of the Council’s suggestions that monitoring for permit compliance could be better implemented through database tracking and analytics. Commissioner Dykes indicated that the agency, including the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), has a number of information technology (IT) projects that are being implemented and that new IT projects would be deferred at this time. The Commissioner needed to leave for another obligation and said that staff who accompanied her will remain to answer additional questions.
Betsey Wingfield continued the discussion of needed efficiencies by noting that currently there are some programs that use online registration or permit application/renewal and that other programs that could benefit from online access would be evaluated. Chair Merrow asked about public input into the general permit process. Betsey Wingfield responded that the transition to general permits for some programs, such as pesticides, will be publicly noticed (including in the Environmental Monitor) and the public would have an opportunity to comment.
Kalafa raised the issue of DEEP’s policy regarding the review of private infrastructure projects as it pertains to projects that rely on previous public investments. There was general discussion regarding the use of both the State Plan of Conservation and Development and local Plans of Conservation and Development to provide guidance for where and when to expand the use of sewers, which may have the unintended consequence of increased development pressure in rural areas.
Hearn said the Council is concerned about the reduction in staff resources to effectively implement DEEP’s programs and the proposed shift to using private entities in lieu of government, such as licensed environmental professionals (LEPs), to collect public comments and for businesses to retain reports that formerly were submitted to DEEP.
Nicole Lugli said that tools like financial assurance for some permits can assist with compliance. Nicole Lugli added that notices of violation (NOVs) are often not effective in assuring compliance. She said that pursuing more substantial penalties for non-compliance requires significant staff resources. Hearn noted that both Vermont and New York have mechanisms to issue fines for non-compliance with permit conditions and environmental regulations. Nicole Lugli said that Vermont now has a track record that would allow an assessment of the effectiveness of its environmental enforcement. She said DEEP publishes a summary of NOVs issued each year and also provides details regarding enforcement actions. Reiser suggested that the regulated community should be made aware of specifically focused enforcement efforts. Daniel Morley suggested that DEEP should undertake a post-scoping notice regarding the cancellation of the Coventry sewer project. He said it is important that the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) process not be perceived as a mechanism to cancel projects.
8. – continued - Residential Heating Fuel Oil Report
Hearn continued the review of the draft special report on residential heating fuel oil releases. There was general discussion regarding the draft report. Vidich suggested that: 1) the percentage of DEEP’s responses to releases be changed from 25.77 percent to 26 percent, 2) that heating fuel oil delivery personnel keep spill containment and response measures with them at the point of fill, and 3) that Council staff assess if Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasures (SPCC) Plan requirements are applicable for residential fuel oil storage tanks. Vidich added that in his experience, microbial action and moisture content are largely responsible for the deterioration of fuel oil storage tanks. Reiser suggested that residents should replace their single-walled fuel oil storage tanks with double-walled tanks or ensure that the fuel oil storage tank has secondary containment. Ainsworth made a motion to approve distribution of the special report subject to confirmation of certain data and revisions as noted during the discussion; seconded by Kalafa. The motion passed unanimously.
- CEPA Training and Review of the Office of Policy and Management’s (OPM) CEPA Manual
Hearn noted that Council staff presented information regarding the use of templates for the development of public notices for the Environmental Monitor at a training meeting held at OPM’s office on Monday, November 18, 2019. Hearn also noted that OPM, DEEP, and the Council staff are coordinating in the development of a CEPA manual for use by state agencies that reflect the recent changes in the CEPA process.
- Watershed Conservation Network Presentation
Hearn noted that he presented at the Connecticut Watershed Conservation Network Conference on Wednesday, October 30, 2019 regarding the Council’s special report on solar energy projects in the state and highlighted the capacity and number of solar energy projects proposed to the Siting Council both before and after the enactment of recent legislation.
- Website Migration Update
Hearn noted that both he and Aresta have been working with BEST and Connecticut Interactive to migrate the existing Council website to the new format for State websites. Hearn noted that the migration of the Council’s existing website will begin on November 21, 2019 and should be completed by the end of January 2020.
9. State Agency Actions
a. Consideration of Comments for Connecticut Siting Council (CSC):
Petition #1387 - Aresta indicated that Council staff reviewed this Petition for Declaratory Ruling (Petition) for the proposed construction, maintenance and operation of 10-megawatt AC fuel cell electric generating facility in Colchester. Aresta noted that draft comments had been prepared and distributed to Council members recommending that: 1) the Petitioner provide information regarding the presence of any state-listed species, 2) protection of vernal pool habitat, 3) assessment of potential impacts on a well-used recreational trail that is located immediately adjacent to the proposed site and connects with the Air Line Trail , 4) assessment of water use and the impact of natural gas expansion, and 5) the planting of pollinator-friendly plants within the fenced compound. Kolesinskas suggested adding native and non-invasive species for the type of plantings recommended by the Council.
Petition #1388 - Aresta indicated that Council staff reviewed this Petition for the proposed expansion of an existing telecommunications facility in Old Lyme. Aresta noted that draft comments had been prepared and distributed to Council members recommending that the Petitioner confirm the results of visibility analysis for the proposed tower extension.
It was the consensus of the Council members to authorize the Council’s staff to submit the comments regarding Petition 1387 and 1388 to the Siting Council.
- DEEP decision regarding the proposed Coventry sewer extension
Hearn noted that DEEP submitted a letter to Daniel Morley at OPM indicating that the Agency would be cancelling the proposed sewer expansion project in Coventry.
- PFAS Draft Action Plan
Aresta reviewed the significant changes between the draft and final PFAS Action Plan that was developed jointly by DEEP and the Department of Public Health and released on November 1, 2019.
9. Other Business
Hearn presented the draft meeting schedule for 2020 and noted that all the meetings are held on the fourth Wednesday of each month with the exception of November and December 2020, which will be on the third Wednesday of those months, to avoid conflicts with holidays. Charamut made a motion to accept the proposed Council meeting dates for 2020; seconded by Kalafa. The motion passed unanimously.
Chair Merrow reminded the Council that the next meeting would be on December 18 followed by a holiday gathering.
Hearn noted that there will be an event on December 15 formally recognizing the contributions of Margaret Miner. Details are on the Rivers Alliance Website.
Having no further business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. Vidich made a motion to adjourn; seconded by Charamut. The motion passed unanimously. The meeting adjourned at 12:12 P.M.