Minutes of the April 22, 2020 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality (Council) held virtually, in compliance with Governor Lamont’s Executive Order 7B.
MEMBERS PRESENT: Susan Merrow (Chair), Keith Ainsworth, Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Alison Hilding, David Kalafa, Kip Kolesinskas, Matthew Reiser, and Charles Vidich.
ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Executive Director), Paul Aresta (Environmental Analyst), and Matt Pafford (OPM).
Call to Order: Establishment of a Quorum
At 9:30 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting and noted that the meeting is being recorded. She took attendance to confirm which Council members were present and then noted that there was a quorum of Council members present by phone and/or computer.
2. Approval of Agenda
Chair Merrow asked if there were any changes to the agenda. Hearing none, Kolesinskas made a motion to approve the agenda as presented; seconded by Hilding. The motion was approved unanimously.
3. Approval of Minutes of March 25, 2020
There were two suggested changes to the draft minutes. Hilding made a motion to approve the minutes of the March 25 meeting as revised; seconded by Vidich. The motion was approved unanimously.
4. Chair’s Report
Chair Merrow welcomed everyone to the meeting and wished all a “Happy Earth Day”. Chair Merrow recognized the contributions of everyone who has worked to improve the environment.
5. Citizen Comment Period
There were no comments by citizens.
6. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries Received
Hearn indicated that he had responded to an inquiry from State Representative Michel regarding the environmental conditions at the Harbor Point site in Stamford. Hearn noted that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) has assigned staff to inspect and monitor activities at the site and the developer has been required to install electronic air quality monitors at four locations around the Harbor Point site to measure particulate matter. Additionally, the developer is required to post the air monitoring results online so they are accessible to the public. He said that these measures are unusual, if not unique, and show a high degree of responsiveness by DEEP to the concerns and complaints of residents.
Hearn said he complied with two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The first FOIA request was for all emails regarding Connecticut Siting Council Petition 1395, Docket 470, Docket 470B, and the proposed revisions to the General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater and Dewatering Wastewaters from Construction Activities, which had been proposed by DEEP. He said that when writing comments to the Siting Council about projects under consideration, the hope is that the project developer will consider the recommendations, which are intended to improve environmental conditions at the site. In the case of the Petition 1395, DEEP’s Draft Permit was referenced as an example of best management practices because the developer had been subject to a cease and desist order due to stormwater control problems at another site.
The second FOIA request was from a Torrington resident concerned about the proximity of a farm-waste processing facility to his residence. The request was for the research paper and PowerPoint presentation that was developed by the Council’s intern, Colby Cook.
Hearn also noted that a citizen in Burlington had inquired about his recourse when a neighbor deposits yard waste in a stream. He said the neighbors resolved the issue between themselves.
7. Executive Director’s Report – Staff Activities
Hearn reported that the 2019 Annual Report (Report) has been completed and was provided electronically to the Governor’s office. Hearn also noted that the report was posted on the Council’s website; notice of the Report was provided to the Council’s subscriber list and press contacts; listed in the Environmental Monitor, which was published on April 21; and included in the Council’s Earth Day email.
Hearn noted some positive comments that he received regarding the Report, including two individuals at the Connecticut Green Bank, the Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs for the Governor’s Office, a citizen in Westport, and the Executive Director for the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters. He also indicated that he is scheduled to participate in an interview with a radio station regarding the Report and Connecticut’s environment, which will be recorded and broadcast at a later date. He reviewed the results of the email campaign and noted that approximately one third of the recipients opened the email and approximately one half of those people clicked on at least one link within the Report. Ainsworth suggested that all the Council members should distribute the report to their colleagues. Charamut noted that her organization would be including a notice regarding the Report in their Earth Day email that will be distributed later today. Hilding suggested that the Council assess the environmental impact of reduced human activities resulting from the response to the Covid-19 virus. Dunbar suggested that the Council should carefully consider how to present such information based on the impact that the Covid-19 virus has had on the economy. Hearn agreed and indicated that information from DEEP on recent environmental conditions in Connecticut will be presented later in the meeting.
Hearn noted that the Council had included an alert banner on the top of every webpage on the Council’s website instructing individuals to contact the Council via email during the time staff will be working remotely.
Hearn reported that three students had requested a summer internship. He stated that he is not sure if it will be feasible to have an intern this summer since staff may be working remotely and interns require more direct supervision. Hilding noted that contact with additional staff in the office could enhance the risk for exposure to the Covid-19 virus. Hearn also reported that a former intern notified him that she was recently accepted into law school.
Hearn mentioned that the Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound recently announced it will be dropping “Connecticut Fund for the Environment” from its name. The announcement said that the organization would be the same, but the name change will better reflect current regional activities and focus.
Kolesinskas complimented staff on connecting the impact of climate change and the environmental indicators in the Report.
8. State Agency Actions
a. Connecticut Siting Council (CSC):
Petition 1347A – Aresta noted that this Petition for Declaratory Ruling (Petition) is for the proposed construction of a 20-megawatt (MW) AC solar PV electric generating facility in Plainfield. Council staff has reviewed the Petition and recommends submitting the comments regarding stormwater and erosion controls, historic resources, and wildlife that had been provided to the members prior to the meeting.
PETITION NO. 1398 – Aresta noted that this Petition is for a 1.99-MW AC solar PV electric generating facility in Winchester. Aresta indicated that the date to submit comments for this Petition has been extended by 30 days, so staff will review and provide comments, if appropriate, at the next meeting. Chair Merrow questioned why the facility was only 1.99 MW and not two MW. Aresta indicated that he was unsure whether the facility size was the result of the Zero Emission Renewable Energy Credit (ZREC) program, which has capacity limits, or the requirements for consultation with the Departments of Agriculture and Energy and Environmental Protection.
Petition 1400 – Aresta noted that this Petition is for a 1,150-kilowatt customer-side fuel cell facility at Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU) in Windham. Aresta indicated that the site is a previously disturbed and developed site with no significant environmental features and that no comments are recommended.
Ainsworth noted that he has to recuse himself from any discussion regarding Siting Council Docket 488 and he would leave the meeting for a short time.
DOCKET NO. 488 – Aresta noted that this application for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need (Application) was for a telecommunications facility in Kent. Draft comments had been emailed to the members prior to the meeting. Aresta noted that the draft comments address visibility concerns in this scenic part of the State and requests analysis of the adequacy of coverage with a lower tower. Vidich said that there are at least two other towers in Kent that could possibly be used to provide wireless coverage in Kent. Aresta noted that the two existing towers are near route 7 and that the application is for a telecommunications facility to provide wireless coverage to the area along Route 341 east of Route 7. Vidich also noted that there are eight locally designated scenic roads in Kent and that the visibility analysis should include those roads. Aresta indicated that the draft comments regarding the visibility analysis could be revised to include locally designated scenic roads.
Ainsworth rejoined the meeting.
DOCKET NO. 489 – Aresta noted that this Application was for a 130-foot telecommunications facility on property owned by the First Taxing District Water Department of Norwalk in Norwalk. He said that there is an existing 100,000 gallon water tank that currently supports antennas for several wireless carriers. The existing water tank will be removed and replaced with a 500,000 gallon water tank and the antennas currently on the water tank will be relocated to the new tower. Vidich questioned the visibility of the new tower and whether it would be significantly different than the visibility of the existing water tank. Aresta said Council staff recommends submitting comments regarding noise, protection measures for bat species, and the visibility analysis.
Although not on the current agenda, Aresta noted that two additional petitions have been filed with the Siting Council and staff would be reviewing them. Hearn said that the deadline for the submission of comments for these two additional Petitions would be before the next Council meeting. He said he could distribute the draft comments, if warranted, to the Council members for review and comment by members and could revise them based on member input. The Council agreed to this procedure, under the circumstances.
It was the consensus of the Council members to approve the draft comments that had been presented.
Hearn indicated that the DEEP Commissioner is holding regularly scheduled meetings with environmental advocates to discuss relevant items during the pandemic. Hearn indicated that the advocates expressed concerns regarding the suspension of enforcement of deposit / collection requirements for bottles and cans. He acknowledged that stores have closed the redemption areas to accommodate staff shortages and stocking needs. He noted that redemption advocates fear the public perception is that used bottles and cans are “contaminated” and recycling efforts will lessen. There was general discussion regarding recycling and the markets for recycled materials. Chair Merrow noted that municipalities are faced with having to pay to process recyclable materials when they were previously being paid for that material. Dunbar noted that multi stream recycling is easier for residents, but the value of the recycled materials is not as high. Hilding suggested that the Council should advocate for the “bottle deposit” to be directed towards recycling education and environmental programs. Chair Merrow suggested inviting an expert on recycling to participate in a future Council meeting to address the Council’s questions. Hearn reported that stores are also no longer required to charge customers for single use plastic bags and that many stores would not load groceries into the customer’s reusable grocery bags. Hearn indicated that other environmental issues that have come up include the proper disposal of wipes, which are clogging up water treatment facilities, and the presence of dogs on beaches, which may interfere with bird nesting.
Hearn indicated that DEEP has closed portions of some state parks and completely closed other state parks because of concerns regarding the impossibility of proper social distancing at some locations. Hearn noted that most satellite DEEP office locations, branch facilities, and high-traffic visitor centers within state parks and forests have been closed to the public, as has public shooting ranges. In addition, classes have been suspended for Conservation Education/Firearms Safety and the Connecticut Aquatic Resource Education classes for boaters in response to the Covid-19 virus.
He said that DEEP has reported that virtually one hundred percent of their administrative staff is working remotely. Hearn also noted that DEEP’s website has been updated to include information on reducing the risk of contracting or spreading the Covid-19 virus for anglers and visitors at its facilities.
Hearn shared some data regarding air quality (NO2 in southwest Connecticut), traffic counts on Interstate 91 in Wethersfield, and ambient air pollution levels for five criteria pollutants resulting from the reduction in fossil fuel consumption. There was general discussion regarding the environmental data. Kalafa suggested that the Council should advocate for more telecommuting in the workforce; however, Dunbar was concerned about the impact telework has on productivity. Kalafa also questioned what the impact of the Covid-19 virus will have on public transit, both in terms of ridership and public safety. Hearn also reported that DEEP recently released a 109 page “EV Roadmap” that will be a topic for another meeting.
Hearn mentioned that DEEP published a notice in the Norwich Bulletin of the tentative determination to approve an application for a Discharge Permit for the Killingly Energy Center (KEC) project, but many people around the state failed to receive notice electronically through DEEP’s email notification system. Consequently, some residents were not aware of the deadline to submit comments and are looking for DEEP to extend the comment period. DEEP indicated it expects to make a decision regarding extending the comment period by next Tuesday. Hearn reported that the Council has been asked to submit comments regarding the request for additional time. Ainsworth indicated that DEEP could extend the comment period. Charamut made a motion to have the Council submit a request to DEEP today for additional time for the public to submit comments regarding DEEP’s tentative determination for the KEC project; seconded by Hilding. The motion passed unanimously.
9. Legislative Update
Hearn indicated that the Legislature is not expected to meet in May and will likely only meet in June to pass a budget. He also noted that the proposed legislation to revise the Transfer Act and other non-budget proposals may not be addressed this year.
10. Other Business
Chair Merrow announced that she must resign from the Council because she will be moving out of state. As a consequence, the Council will have to install a temporary chairperson for the May meeting, and for subsequent meetings, until the Governor appoints a permanent replacement. Hilding questioned whether the Council members can have any impact on the Governor’s decision to appoint a new chairperson. Chair Merrow was uncertain that the Governor would be available to appoint a new member and chairperson given the demands of addressing the Covid-19 virus in the state. Ainsworth volunteered to serve as temporary chair for the next meeting. Vidich made a motion to nominate Ainsworth as the temporary chairperson for the next meeting; seconded by Charamut. The motion passed unanimously.
Several Council members thanked Chair Merrow for her participation on the Council and her service to the state of Connecticut.
Having no further business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. Charamut made a motion to adjourn; seconded by Vidich. The motion passed unanimously. The meeting adjourned at 11:42 AM.
Pursuant to Executive Order 7B, a transcript of this meeting is available by email request of the Council (mail to; email@example.com).