Minutes of the August 26, 2020 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality (Council) held in compliance with Governor Lamont’s Executive Order 7B.
MEMBERS PRESENT: Keith Ainsworth (Acting Chair), Kip Kolesinskas, Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Alison Hilding, David Kalafa, Matthew Reiser, and Charles Vidich.
ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Executive Director), Paul Aresta (Environmental Analyst), Paul Zagorsky, Matt Pafford (OPM), and Margaret Miner.
Call to Order: Establishment of a Quorum
At 9:30 AM, Ainsworth noted the Council members that were present and asked members of the public to introduce themselves. Ainsworth then noted that there was a quorum of Council members present.
2. Approval of Agenda
Ainsworth reported that there were no suggested changes to the agenda and asked for a motion to approve the agenda as presented. Charamut made a motion to approve the agenda; seconded by Dunbar. The motion passed.
3. Approval of Minutes of July 22, 2020
Hearn indicated that he received a suggestion to add “Energy and” to the first bullet of item six of the draft meeting minutes for the July 22 meeting. Vidich made a motion to approve the minutes of the July 22 meeting as revised; seconded by Dunbar. The motion passed.
4. Citizen Comment Period
Ainsworth asked if there were members of the public that wished to make a statement. Paul Zagorsky, who represents a lessee that may be effected by a proposal that is the subject of Connecticut Siting Council (CSC) Petition 1424, said that he would like to make a statement. Ainsworth noted that he is representing the Town of Southington in that Petition and will not participate in any discussion on that matter. Mr. Zagorsky commented on the agricultural use of the subject property and noted that the land that is adjacent to the proposed solar facility is leased by his client. Mr. Zagorsky also noted that the land the Petitioner proposes to use for wetland mitigation is not under the Petitioner’s control.
Margaret Miner asked the Council to consider supporting efforts to eliminate biomass as a Class I renewable recourse. Ms. Miner stated that she did not think it was good to destroy trees and other vegetation for the purposes of generating electricity. Ms. Miner also asked the Council to support consideration of carbon sequestration in forestry practices, and that carbon sequestration should be identified as a benefit and priority in policies and forestry management activities in the State. Ainsworth suggested adding these topics, biomass as a Class I renewable resource and carbon sequestration, as agenda items for discussion in a future Council meeting. Kolesinskas suggested that the Governor’s Council on Climate Change (GC3) working groups could be appropriate for promoting the concept of carbon sequestration. Vidich agreed and suggested there may be other opportunities to promote consideration of carbon sequestration as a policy issue.
There were no other comments from the public at this time.
5. Chair’s Report
6. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries Received
Hearn stated that he received a number of complaints and inquiries from citizens in Connecticut including:
· A person from the census contacted him regarding a property that was listed in a property transfer notice in the Environmental Monitor. Hearn directed the person to the appropriate contact and noted that contact information for general questions was not included in the property transfer notice template. Hearn indicated that Aresta has been reviewing and revising the various notice templates to ensure that there is a place to list contact details and to include a fax number only if there are staff in the office to receive and process inquiries submitted by fax.
· A concern regarding the presence of Japanese Knotweed on property a citizen was considering purchasing and what liability might be incurred after purchase. Hearn said that he provided the concerned citizen with informational resources and he believes this inquiry is resolved.
· A complaint regarding access/egress to the Cockaponset Forest in Haddam continues to be an issue. Hearn noted that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) felled some trees to restrict access to a former gravel mining pit in the forest in the hopes that it would dissuade off-road vehicles from entering the forest. Hearn said that the complainant indicated she contacted DEEP about this issue. Hearn had requested the contact information at DEEP so he could help facilitate a response. To date, the complainant has not responded with information regarding the contact at DEEP.
· A complaint regarding the provision of materials by DEEP under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding the Bokashi operation in Torrington. Hearn reported that the complainant indicated that his request had not been addressed. Hearn said that an attorney at DEEP requested that appropriate staff provide the information as soon as possible and he believes the requested information has been provided. Hearn added that the complainant is also challenging the appropriateness of the operations at the Bokashi facility stating that the complainant believes that the process involves more than just the “mixing” that was authorized by DEEP.
· A complaint regarding a sand and gravel operation in Monroe. Hearn indicated that he contacted DEEP staff about the complaint and was informed by a DEEP staff member that the site was inspected in 2019 and that no Notice of Violation (NOV) was issued at that time. Hearn noted that the previous owners/operators of this site were issued infractions and NOVs for issues that mostly involved violations of local ordinances and/or regulations. Hearn indicated that there may not be a violation of state laws/regulations and that it may be a local issue. Ms. Miner agreed that the sand and gravel site in Monroe has a history of regulatory violations and is concerned that any unlawful activities at the site may affect public water supply groundwater. She noted that Aquarion Water Company is aware of the issue but is reluctant to intervene since it is a local regulatory issue.
7. Executive Director Report
· Staff Activities:
1. Hearn reviewed the proposed changes to the reporting requirements for spills that DEEP is considering. He noted that there are three categories for releases and that each category depends on the type of materials released, the quantity of the materials released, and/or the location of the release. Hearn noted that the Council submitted comments to DEEP requesting that DEEP consider 1) how would releases of PFAS chemicals be addressed, 2) will the regulations allow the Commissioner of DEEP to add to the list of chemicals that require spill reporting. 3) will DEEP provide information to assist with the estimation of release quantities, and 4) will DEEP provide materials to assist with estimation of the components of a spill?
Vidich and Ainsworth both agreed that there is likely an administrative and/or legislative procedure for the Commissioner of DEEP to add to the list of chemicals that require reporting. Hearn noted that estimating the quantity of a release is merely a guess in most cases and that additional guidance from DEEP on how to estimate a release for reporting purposes would be helpful.
2. Hearn reported that the Council did not submit comments regarding DEEP’s intent to amend air quality regulations and revise the State Implementation Plan because the proposed changes would only affect small incinerators for certain applications that have relatively small releases of air pollutants.
3. Hearn reported that the website administrators had proposed to remove email subscribers that failed to open any emails from the Council over the period of one year. Hearn noted that he requested that the Council be able to confirm the removal of each subscriber in advance or eliminate the automatic process to remove subscribers. Hearn reported that the website administrator agreed not to enact the policy for the removal of subscribers of the Council’s emails.
4. Hearn noted that Aresta has been working on a report on the beverage container redemption program (Bottle Bill) including collecting data, developing an outline, and drafting the report. Hearn reported that the draft report, with possible recommendations for refinement of the Bottle Bill program, may be available for distribution to Council members at the next meeting in September. Hearn noted that timing the release of the report will be an important consideration if legislative support and action is needed to enact the possible recommendations.
· Internships- Updates
Hearn reported that one of the interns, which had been researching carbon sequestration and forestry practices, completed her research for the summer. Dunbar stated that he has reviewed the report developed by the intern and found it to be well written and thorough. Hearn reported that the other intern is still researching the correlation between bacteria levels, income, and impervious surfaces in Connecticut. Hearn noted that he intervened on the intern’s behalf to help facilitate the provision of information from DEEP. Ainsworth noted that government agencies can request information on how data will be used, but cannot restrict the provision of data based on the response to that question. Hearn also noted that the intern from last spring contacted him and requested a reference for a position with the U.S. Forest Service.
At 10:32, Ainsworth noted that Charamut had to leave the meeting at 10:11 but that there was still a quorum of Council members to continue the meeting. Hilding questioned the number of members that were required to have a quorum. Ainsworth noted that a quorum would be a majority of the eight currently appointed Council members. Ainsworth noted that the Council would take a break until 10:38.
8. State Agency Actions
· Connecticut Siting Council
- Petitions 1421, 1422, 1424, 1425, 1426, and 1427 - comments recommended
- Petition 1395A - changes since Petition 1395
- Docket 492 – comments recommended
Ainsworth noted that several Petitions for Declaratory Ruling (Petitions) and one Application were submitted to the CSC for solar facilities and that he would not engage in any conversation or participate in any voting regarding Petition 1424.
- Petition 1395(A) - Aresta noted that Petition 1395(A) was amended from 1395. He reviewed the proposed changes that included a reduction in the proposed capacity of the facility from three megawatts (MW) to 1.99 MW. Aresta noted that the Council previously submitted comments for Petition 1395 and those comments were still applicable, so no new comments were recommended.
- Petition 1421 – Aresta noted that Petition 1421 is a proposal to develop a 3.25 MW solar facility in Bristol. Aresta reported that the draft comments, which were distributed to Council members in advance, include concerns regarding the co-use of the site for agricultural activities; the impact on prime farmland soils; possible impacts on wetlands; and provisions to protect wildlife on the proposed site. Hearn noted that the Department of Agriculture (DOAG) submitted comments to the CSC indicating that the proposed project “does not appear to be a material impact on the status of prime farmland of the site”. Dunbar questioned the rationale for the DOAG’s conclusion that the proposed project would not materially impact prime farmland. Hearn indicated that he couldn’t speak for the Commissioner but that the Petitioner proposed sheep grazing on the proposed site and had agreed to retain the prime farmland soils on the proposed site. Hearn and Ainsworth commented that by statute (Public Act 17-218) eligible projects require that the DOAG make a determination, in writing, that “such project will not materially affect the status of such land as prime farmland”. Kolesinskas noted that, in his opinion, there is a flaw in how the DOAG is determining whether a proposed solar facility would materially impact prime farmland. Vidich suggested that the Council confer with the DOAG Commissioner or his staff to better understand the factors used to determine impacts on farmland.
Kolesinskas made a motion to submit comments to the CSC indicating that the Council does not agree with the DOAG determination that the proposed project (Petition 1421) would not have a materially impact on the status of prime farmland; seconded by Dunbar. Kolesinskas noted that he supports the draft comments that address the regional impacts on agriculture and that prime farmland remaining in the Connecticut Valley is its own unique ecological area and a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) designated resource area because of the excellent soil and microclimate. Vidich noted that he agreed with Kolesinskas and that there were insufficient incentives for the development of solar facilities on urban infrastructure, such as rooftops. The motion passed with Ainsworth abstaining.
- Petition 1422 – Aresta noted that Petition 1422 is a proposal to develop a five MW solar facility in East Windsor. Aresta noted that the draft comments include concerns regarding the impact of the proposed facility on agricultural land.
- Petition 1424 - Aresta noted that Petition 1424 is a proposal to develop a 4.75 MW solar facility in Southington. Aresta reported that the draft comments include concerns regarding the co-use of the site for agricultural activities; the impact on prime farmland soils; and the potential impacts on vernal pools, wetlands, and wildlife. Aresta noted that there were time of year restrictions on construction activities at the proposed site because of the possible presence of state-listed species. Kolesinskas noted that approximately half of all farmland in the state is leased to farmers and that development on farmland impacts nutrient management. Vidich questioned the Petitioner’s ability to provide appropriate buffers if, as Mr. Zagorsky has represented, the Petitioner does not control the land beyond the solar facility project area. Mr. Zagorsky reiterated that the Petitioner does not have control of the proposed site beyond the proposed project area through 2024 and that the proposed project is expected to be operational in the spring of 2021.
- Docket 192 - Aresta noted that this Application is a proposal to develop a 120-MW solar facility in East Windsor. Aresta reported that the draft comments include concerns regarding the impact of the proposed facility on agriculture and prime farmland; provisions to minimize the visual impact; the potential impacts on wildlife, vernal pools, and wetlands; and the need for a spill prevention plan to better protect groundwater resources. Kolesinskas noted that he supports the development of the proposed facility at the gravel mining portion of the site, but not on the agricultural land, and that erosion and sedimentation controls will be very important if they develop the proposed site. Aresta reviewed the total acreage of the land uses/habitat types at the proposed site.
- Petition 1425 - Aresta noted that Petition 1425 is a proposal to develop a 1.9 MW solar facility in Hamden. Aresta reported that the draft comments include concerns regarding the wetland setbacks and the potential visual impact of the proposed facility on a historic structure nearby.
- Petition 1426 - Aresta noted that Petition 1426 is a proposal to develop a 4.9 MW solar facility in East Windsor. Aresta reported that the draft comments include concerns regarding the co-use of the site for agricultural activities; the impact on prime farmland soils; alternative methods for the construction of the access roads; and consideration for additional screening to minimize the visual impact of the proposed facility.
- Petition 1427 - Aresta noted that Petition 1427 is a proposal to develop a one MW solar facility in Bristol. Aresta reported that the draft comments include concerns regarding noise, protection of wildlife resources, and visibility.
Dunbar questioned why there are so many proposals for solar generating facilities. Aresta reviewed the Year 8 awards for the Low Emission Renewable Energy Credit (LREC) Program and the Zero Emission Renewable Energy Credit (ZREC) Program that are being administered by Eversource and the United Illuminating Company. Aresta further noted that the anticipated in-service date for the selected LREC and ZREC solar projects is April 2021 so these awarded projects need their approvals before construction can begin. Ainsworth noted that the cumulative impact of the proposed solar facilities on the environment may be more noticeable if they are proposed and reviewed together rather than over a long time. Hearn noted that the Council can include the cumulative acres of farmland that may be impacted by all the current solar proposals into the comments that will be submitted to the CSC. There was general discussion about agriculture in the State and the need for local food production. Hilding stated that data regarding farmland conversion could be included in the Council’s Annual Report and asked how best to share the information on the potential impact to food production resulting from the development of agricultural land in the State. Hearn noted that the information could be shared with the GC3 working groups. It was also suggested that the Council could share the information, and other environmental priorities, with legislators in the next legislative session.
Local Capital Improvement Program (LoCIP) and CEPA
Hearn reported that the State Historic Preservation Office contacted him and had concerns regarding the provision of grant funds, distributed by the Office of Policy and Management (OPM), for a capital project on an historic structure. Hearn noted that he reviewed the application for LoCIP grants and didn’t believe that the financial support was subject to the provisions of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) because it was ministerial. Kalafa agreed with Hearn and noted that the LoCIP grants are made available by the legislature and that OPM administers the grant process. Ainsworth added that the LoCIP grants are for capital projects only.
OPM - Draft Environmental Classification Document (ECD) released
Hearn noted that OPM revised the generic ECD based on comments received by State agencies and has scheduled a meeting to review and discuss the proposed changes. Hearn reviewed the suggested changes to the generic ECD that were the same or similar to the Council’s recommendations to OPM, including actions that require public scoping (Section I), actions that could have environmental impacts (section II), and changes to consolidate items from Section I into Section II. There will also be discussion regarding comments that were submitted by the Council that include:
· Construction of fossil-fueled power plants or combined heat and power plants, unless classified as a Class I renewable energy resource with a capacity of one MW or less; and
· Construction of renewable energy facilities on two or more acres of undeveloped land, exempting in the acreage calculation the footprint of current, or former, residential, commercial, industrial or institutional structures or infrastructure.
9. Other Business - No other business.
Hilding made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 12:03 PM; seconded by Kolesinskas. The motion passed.
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