Minutes of the December 16, 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, Matthew Reiser, Alicea Charamut, David Kalafa, Lee Dunbar, and Charles Vidich.
ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Executive Director), Paul Aresta (Environmental Analyst), and Allyson Clarke (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection – DEEP).
1. Call to Order: Establishment of a Quorum
At 9:32 AM, Ainsworth called the meeting to order. Ainsworth confirmed which Council members were present and noted that there was a quorum.
2. Approval of Agenda
Ainsworth asked if there were any changes to the agenda. Hearing none, Ainsworth asked for a motion to approve the agenda. Dunbar made a motion to approve the agenda; seconded by Charamut. The motion passed.
3. Approval of Minutes of November 18, 2020
Ainsworth asked if there were any changes to the draft minutes of November 18, 2020. Hearing none, Ainsworth asked for a motion to approve the minutes. Kolesinskas made a motion to approve the minutes of November 18; seconded by Vidich. The motion passed with Reiser and Charamut abstaining because they had not been at that meeting.
4. Citizen Comment Period
Ainsworth asked if there were any members of the public that wished to speak at this time. Allyson Clarke noted that she was present and would be monitoring the meeting, and may speak later regarding the “open space” item on the agenda. Ainsworth noted that members of the public are welcome to speak to specific items as they come up on the agenda.
5. Chair’s Report
Ainsworth noted that the first meeting of the working group for the development of regulations for the Release-Based Remediation Program, which will replace the Transfer Act, occurred earlier in December. He added that the meeting was primarily administrative and that it was well attended. Reiser asked about the schedule for the adoption of regulations. Ainsworth stated that the working group meetings are expected to be held through early 2022, so regulations might not be adopted until late in 2022 or possibly later.
6. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries Received
Hearn stated that he received a few complaints and inquiries from citizens including:
· A person from the New York State Parks, Recreation Division inquired about protocols for disposing of the siphoned feather weed, dasysiphonia japonica (“Dasy”), a red algae found along the shore of Long Island. Hearn indicated that the algae is an invasive species and that the inquiry concerned how to handle and dispose of it after it has washed ashore and is decomposing. Ainsworth noted that the algae might affect the viability of Connecticut’s kelp beds.
· A “whistle-blower” reported that a business in Bristol was disposing of oil improperly and did not have a vented spray booth. Hearn passed the report on to DEEP. He said that the agency’s pandemic protocols preclude an interior inspection. However, DEEP did check its files to see if there is a history of violations at that site.
· A person reported that there is a problem with the covering at a capped landfill in Stamford. Hearn said that the former landfill has become a town park (Kosciusko Park). He reported that a DEEP inspector visited the site but could not find the problem. Hearn said that he is trying to arrange for the DEEP inspector, the resident, and a member of the City of Stamford’s staff to inspect the site together.
· Hearn noted that the environmental complaints in the Harbor Point area of Stamford continue. He reported that Deputy Commissioner Wingfield organized a virtual meeting with the complainants and DEEP staff and has responded to the citizens with answers to many of their questions. He added that the Notices of Violations (NOVs) that have been issued to certain developers for violating environmental regulations in the Harbor Point area seem to have little impact on their behavior. Ainsworth noted that enforcement of environmental regulations is difficult when the agency (DEEP) is under-staffed and doesn’t have sufficient resources. Hearn added that the complainants allege that the City of Stamford has failed to enforce its own regulations for the site(s). Dunbar noted that the criticism for the environmental violations is focused on DEEP, whereas the criticism should be directed to the developers that are causing the problem and the City that may not be enforcing its own regulations. Hearn added that the residents are also concerned that the remediation may be insufficient to address the threat from the site; however, those standards are in regulations that are not readily changed. DEEP can only try to ensure that the activities are properly overseen by licensed environmental professionals (LEPs) and correctly implemented by contractors. Dunbar suggested collecting information on DEEP’s enforcement activities to assess how effective the issuance of NOVs are for correcting violations.
7. Executive Director’s Report
Citizens’ Concerns about Solar Facilities
Hearn reported that Rivers Alliance asked DEEP and the Connecticut Siting Council (CSC) for a moratorium on the review of solar photovoltaic (PV) projects until after the Governor’s Committee on Climate Change (GC3) releases its final recommendations. Hearn added that a virtual meeting was held on December 11 with the CSC, the Department of Public Health (DPH) Drinking Water Section, and the Water Planning Council Advisory Group (WPCAG) to discuss the regulatory review of solar PV facilities on watershed lands. Charamut clarified that the moratorium requested by Rivers Alliance would only apply to renewable energy projects on natural and working lands. Ainsworth noted that the CSC has broad authority regarding the regulation of facilities within its jurisdiction and that the CSC could apply best management practices to their review of regulated facilities. Kolesinskas stated that the CSC should consider the comprehensive impacts of certain facilities on the local, regional, and even national level. Charamut stated that she appreciates DEEPs efforts to improve stormwater management associated with the development of solar facilities through the revised draft General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater and Dewatering Wastewaters from Construction Activities, but she would prefer that solar facilities be developed on previously disturbed areas. Dunbar questioned the impact that a moratorium and other restrictive practices would have on the State meeting its carbon reduction goals. He added that information regarding watersheds and other environmental issues can currently be provided to the CSC, but the CSC may need to adjust the weight given to that information when they review proposals.
Hearn reported that the Connecticut Coalition for Sustainable Materials Management (CCSMM) working groups are scheduled to “report out” their findings later today (December 16) with a final report due on January 5, 2020. He also noted that the GC3 will convene on December 18 to review the progress of the subcommittees.
Hearn informed the Council that a group of citizens held a virtual press conference on Tuesday (December 15) to express their concerns regarding the Killingly Energy facility. It was reported that over 600 letters in opposition to the project were sent to Governor Lamont requesting that he intervene to block the construction of the facility.
Candlewood Mountain Project, New Milford
Hearn noted that, according to a newspaper article, companies planning to buy power from a proposed solar facility on Candlewood Mountain have indicated they are canceling agreements to do so. He also reported that he was copied on an email to DEEP Commissioner Dykes in which an environmental consultant to the Candlewood Solar project emphasized his credentials in preserving habitats and offered his opinion that sufficient habitat area has been set aside to protect the slimy salamander. The consultant also pointed out that land use proposals far worse than the solar PV project could appear on Candlewood Mountain. Hearn indicated that he may respond to the consultant to point out that the Council’s letter to Commissioner Dykes was not offering an analysis of the habitat, which was completed by DEEP’s staff; but was calling for DEEP to support the Endangered Species Act in this highly unusual circumstance. He also noted that the Council’s letter included a statement that “compelling evidence to the contrary” could change the Council’s recommendation. Ainsworth noted that there is always some action that may be worse than a proposed project; however, the Council’s environmental review is based on the project proposed, not what could be.
Hearn noted that in addition to the specific items discussed in this meeting’s agenda, the Council’s staff has been updating the 2020 Annual Report, assessing the use of Power BI for the development of interactive charts, and assisting the Council’s summer/fall intern with her final project. Hearn reported that Council staff has been looking at the spatial relationships of data for certain indicators, including the relationship between impervious cover and water quality. Vidich expressed an interest in learning more about the data sources and how the chart, depicted on the slide, was developed.
8. State Agency Actions & Legislative Update
• Release-Based Regulation Working Group
Hearn reiterated that the working group met on December 8, 2020 via Zoom to review topical subcommittee concept ideas. He mentioned that all documents will be posted on the program webpage and that DEEP welcomes stakeholder participation in the process. He added that the second working group meeting is scheduled for January 12, 2020, when subcommittee groups are expected to be assigned.
Forest Action Plan draft – comments submitted
Hearn reported that he submitted comments regarding the
draft 2020 Forest Action Plan to DEEP on December 11, 2020 and noted that the
letter made clear that the comments had not been reviewed by the Council. He
noted that his comments called for the creation of “carbon preserves” where
trees would be allowed to grow without being harvested and a recommendation for
DEEP to consider the end use of products harvested from State lands as a
condition in its forest auctions. Dunbar questioned whether the State should
restrict harvesting by the types of trees that provide the most value for
carbon sequestration if that is the primary goal. He added that most of the
State’s forests (~70%) are privately owned and consists of small plots (<25
acres) and he suggested that the State’s forests management activities should interrelate
with activities of private land owners. Kolesinskas added that there is a
responsibility by land owners to manage forests, as has been done for hundreds
of years, with a new focus on appropriate trees for carbon sequestration and
storage. Hearn asked the Council for their thoughts on the practicability of restricting
the end use of forest products in harvesting contracts. Dunbar and Ainsworth
both acknowledged that contracts can be written to stipulate the specific
harvesting activities that the property owner wants.
• DEEP Position on Setbacks for Wetlands in Petition 1437
Hearn reported that DEEP recently submitted a letter to the CSC regarding Petition 1437, which included statements that: 1) DEEP prioritizes preserving core forest connectivity for species, 2) DEEP believes the preservation of 300-foot buffers is a best management practice necessary to protect connectivity in the forest along wetland movement corridors, and 3) DEEP asserts there is a link between the loss of habitat and a material effect to core forests. He added that DEEP issued an opinion that the project, as proposed, “would materially affect this host block of core forest”. He noted that it was significant that DEEP expressed, so strongly, the habitat value of core forests. Vidich noted that buffers along wetlands and riparian corridors are important, but the specific buffer distance may vary depending on site conditions and conservation goals.
Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) Draft Final Decision - Docket No. 18-12-25.
Aresta noted that the Council had provided comments to PURA for this proceeding back in January 2020 based on the concerns reported by citizens that attended the Council’s meetings. The citizens alleged that the United Illuminating Company (UI) was using Targeted Risk Management (TRM), which was intended for vegetative management where there was direct contact with the wires, in lieu of the standard utility protection zone (UPZ) trimming program. Aresta reported that PURA found that 1) UI’s use of TRM had effectively supplanted its standard UPZ trimming program, 2) the TRM program does not comply with applicable statutes, and that 3) the notification process to property owners and complaint tracking is deficient. He added that PURA also found that there would be value in the establishment of a working group, as suggested by DEEP Forestry, to assist with the development of vegetation management programs. Aresta added that PURA’s draft Final Decision seeks to remedy these deficiencies.
• Docket 496 (no comments recommended)
Aresta noted that Docket 496 was an application for the construction, maintenance, and operation of a 135-foot tall telecommunications facility located in Windsor. Aresta reported that the proposed tower would be constructed, if approved, on an industrial-zoned site that has been developed and has four or more existing buildings. He added that the primary environmental issue with the proposed tower might be visibility to the north and south of the proposed site.
• Petition 1222A (comments recommended)
Aresta noted that Petition 1222A is for the reconsideration of the CSC’s denial of a 2.0 megawatt (MW) solar PV generating facility, based on changed conditions, which would be located southeast of Hartford Turnpike and south of Fisk Road in Hampton. Aresta added that the original Petition (1222) was for a total of 8 MW of solar PV capacity and that the CSC approved 6 MW of capacity, but denied 2 MW, without prejudice. He noted that the Council’s draft letter includes comments regarding the impact the proposal would have on the critical terrestrial habitat for vernal pool species, concern regarding the removal of trees, and uncertainty about the provision of a cultural resource survey. It was the consensus of the Council members to submit the draft comments to the CSC.
9. Council Recommendations for Legislation
Hearn reported that Council staff summarized legislative priorities for the 2021 legislative session based on the recommendations identified in the “Fuel for Thought” report and possible revisions to Public Act 17-218 to better protect agricultural land and core forests. Dunbar questioned how these legislative priorities would be disseminated. Hearn indicated that notification to subscribers and members of the legislature would be the primary mechanism. He added that some new legislators could be unfamiliar with the work of the Council, and in addition to the recommendations, there can be information on the role of the Council. There was general discussion of revising the requirements for Public Act 17-218 to include solar PV facilities greater than one MW. Dunbar questioned whether acreage rather than capacity would be a more important factor regarding potential impacts on agricultural land or core forest. Charamut suggested that the efficiency of solar panels may change in the future and that developers may be able to install more capacity in a smaller area. Hearn also suggested that the Council could promote, as legislative priorities, the recommendations found in the two prior special reports developed by the Council regarding pesticides and fuel oil storage. There was general consensus by Council members that the recommendations identified in the special reports and revisions to Public Act 17-218 could be identified as the Council’s 2021 legislative priorities.
10. Other Business
Hearn reported that the “2021 Environmental Summit” would be held in January 2021; however, he didn’t have information yet on the agenda or registration details.
Ainsworth asked if Council members wanted to discuss any other business. He also asked if any member of the public wished to speak. Hearing none, he asked for a motion to adjourn. Reiser made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 11:47 AM; seconded by Vidich. The motion passed.
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