Minutes of the June 24, 2020 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality (Council) held in compliance with Governor Lamont’s Executive Order 7B.
MEMBERS PRESENT: Kip Kolesinskas (Acting Chair), Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Alison Hilding, David Kalafa, 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, Aresta indicated what members of the Council were present (online or on the phone) and asked if any other members or members of the public were present. Matt Pafford indicated that he was also participating in the meeting. Having established a quorum, Hearn noted that Ainsworth was not present and that Kolesinskas could serve as Acting Chair with Council’s approval. Charamut made a motion to have Kolesinskas serve as Acting Chair for this meeting; seconded by Kalafa. The motion was approved.
Kolesinskas mentioned that the meeting is being recorded. Kolesinskas noted that the “citizen comment period” is usually reserved for individuals to bring information to the Council about items that are not on the agenda. If there are items on the agenda that citizens wish to comment on, that they should indicate so and the Chair may recognize them during discussion of that agenda topic. He said there may also be an opportunity for citizens to comment at the end of the meeting.
2. Approval of Agenda
Kolesinskas suggested a change to the agenda so that there would be “no comments recommended” for Petition 1412 under State Agency Actions. Having no other suggested changes to the agenda, Reiser made a motion to accept the revised agenda; seconded by Hilding. The motion passed.
3. Approval of Minutes of May 27, 2020
Kolesinskas recommended adding the word “they” to the last sentence of the first paragraph of the Chair’s Report for the May 27 meeting. Hilding made a motion to approve the minutes of the May 27 meeting as revised; seconded by Vidich. The motion was approved.
4. Citizen Comment Period
There were no comments by citizens.
5. Chair’s Report and Discussion of Succession of Chairmanship
Kolesinskas noted that the Council is really interested in ensuring environmental justice and abolishing racial inequities and that the Council believes a high quality environment is a basic human right and important to the health and survival of all life on the planet. Kolesinskas added that part of the Council’s charge is environmental transparency by State agencies and that the Council is interested in ideas and input on ways the Council can address racism in environmental decision making.
Kolesinskas also noted that the Governor's Council on Climate Change (GC3) working groups continue to meet and last week the forestry sub group met to discuss their recommendations for measures to mitigate climate change. Kolesinskas added that he was impressed by the efforts and the expertise of the sub group. He said some of the thoughtful and useful recommendations for action included: reducing conversion of forests; encouraging reforestation; increasing mapping, research, and monitoring; expanding funding opportunities; and increasing attention to environmental justice and urban forestry issues. Hearn indicated that he was also impressed with the forestry sub group’s efforts. Dunbar questioned whether the draft recommendations were available to the public. Kolesinskas indicated that he was not sure that the draft recommendations were available yet, but they will be on the GC3 website.
6. Guest Speaker, Lou Burch, Connecticut Program Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE)
Hearn provided a brief introduction for Mr. Burch and highlighted his experience and his responsibilities with the CCE. Hearn reviewed the current list of “designated recyclable items” that are required to be recycled in Connecticut. Hearn also reviewed several charts that depicted data for Connecticut’s progress towards meeting its goal of sixty percent waste diversion by 2024; per capita waste disposal and recycling pounds marketed for the last ten years in Connecticut; the redemption rate for beverage containers and the amount of funds not redeemed in Connecticut; and a comparison of redemption rates for Connecticut, Michigan, and Oregon. Hearn noted that there was a substantial increase in the redemption rate in Oregon in 2017 when the beverage container deposit was increased from five cents to ten cents.
Mr. Burch indicated that Connecticut’s beverage container deposit legislation was enacted in the 1980’s and that the deposit has not increased in over thirty years. Burch also noted that the types of beverage containers that require a deposit was expanded in 2008 to include plastic water bottles. Burch stated that redemption rates in Connecticut have been decreasing, which has a direct effect on municipal recycling efforts. Mr. Burch also indicated that China initiated a stricter standard for recyclable materials in 2016, which has affected the markets for single stream recyclables. Mr. Burch suggested that municipalities could save money and improve recycling efforts if the state 1) expanded the types of beverage containers that would be subject to a deposit; 2) increased the deposit on beverage containers to ten cents; and 3) increased the handling fees for facilities that redeem beverage containers. Hilding asked if beverage container redemption is influenced by factors like income or how beverage containers were handled during the recent suspension of redemption activities at food markets throughout the state due to Covid-19. Mr. Burch indicated that he didn’t have sufficient data regarding the factors that influence redemption rates in specific communities and that he suspects that people either included the redeemable beverage containers with their other recyclables or have been storing them until the food markets resume redemption activities. Hilding also questioned whether redeemable beverage containers was a potentially significant means of viral transmission. Mr. Burch indicated that he didn’t believe that beverage containers are a significant means of viral transmission and he is worried that there is a public perception that redeemable beverage containers are dirty or unsafe. Charamut indicated that the food markets suspended redemption activities because the employees were focused on ensuring the stores were well-stocked and clean.
Mr. Burch advocated a modernization of the “bottle bill” by applying a fee or assessment on beverage containers, making producers responsible for the products that they manufacture and distribute (Producer Responsibility Programs), and that a not-for-profit organization or authority could be established to administer Connecticut’s redemption program. Mr. Burch noted that increasing the redemption rate could serve as a means to increase revenue and decrease solid waste. There was general discussion regarding Connecticut’s redemption program and how consumers currently redeem their beverage containers. Kolesinskas suggested that the Council could do a special report on recycling and the redemption program in Connecticut. Dunbar suggested that it would be necessary to highlight why it’s important to increase recycling efforts and how it impacts the consumers. It was the consensus of Council members that staff begin collecting information regarding strategies to increase the redemption rate for beverage containers in Connecticut. The Council thanked Mr. Burch for the information he presented.
7. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries Received
Follow-up on: clear cutting along Farmington River, disposal of contaminated soil in Fairfield, off-road intrusions at Cockaponset Forest.
Hearn reported that Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) notified him that additional barriers had been placed around the existing gravel pit in the Cockaponset Forest off of Beaver Meadow Road in Haddam to deter individuals from accessing / exiting the state forest on Beaver Meadow Road. Hearn noted that DEEP has been very responsive to the citizen’s complaint and acknowledged that it will be difficult to totally restrict access to off-road vehicles.
At the May Council meeting, the issue of the unauthorized removal of trees on a parcel that abuts the “wild and scenic” portion of the Farmington River in New Hartford had been raised. Hearn said he contacted the town’s Land Use Administrator who was working on a mitigation plan with the property owner who had been unaware of the restriction on tree cutting. Hearn added that the Farmington River Coordinating Committee had commended the Land Use Administrator for his good work.
Referencing an item that the Council had been following for a number of months, Hearn reported that the Town of Fairfield is seeking legal action against a consulting company that wrongfully advised the Town regarding the use of contaminated soil on various parcels around town.
Inquiry about PFAS in artificial turf
Hearn said a resident of the Town of Woodbridge contacted him and was opposed to plans to install artificial turf on one of the town’s playing fields. The resident was concerned about the presence of PFAS and other chemicals in artificial turf.
Hearn noted that the State’s research in 2010, which appears on the DEEP website, did not include analysis for the PFAS family of chemicals. He has seen other, more current, reports that reference their presence. Hearn said that the state has no regulatory authority regarding installation of artificial turf fields. Those are entirely the prerogative of local government. Hearn asked whether the Council wished to send a letter to the Town of Woodbridge regarding the proposed use of artificial turf. Vidich suggested that the letter should include a recommendation that the Town assess the availability and use of PFAS-free artificial turf. Dunbar suggested that since the state has no authority to act regarding artificial turf, the Council may not want to recommend a course of action, but merely provide information that may be helpful to the Town. Hilding made a motion to have the Council draft a letter to be sent to the Town of Woodbridge with information on chemicals in artificial turf; seconded by Reiser. The motion passed.
8. Executive Director Report
Hearn noted that the Council submitted comments regarding the draft Environmental Classification Document to the Office of Policy and Management (OPM); provided a letter to the Governor’s office indicating that both Ainsworth and Kolesinskas would be willing to serve as the new chair of the Council; and finalized and uploaded a new notice template for project cancellations for reasons unrelated to the environmental review of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act.
Hearn also noted that the email campaign program that the Council uses will be automatically removing contacts from the distribution list if the contacts do not open an email within one year.
Internships – update
Hearn noted that the Council has two interns this summer. One of the interns is researching the impacts of sea level rise on Connecticut’s coastal communities, and the other intern is researching forestry issues. Hearn mentioned that there may be insufficient data regarding the historical impacts of sea level rise along the Long Island Sound shoreline, so that intern may also research the cause and impact of elevated levels of bacteria on the waters of Long Island Sound. Kolesinskas noted that the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture Division, may have information on bacteria levels since they monitor waters used for shellfishing.
9. State Agency Actions
Connecticut Siting Council
Petition 1412 - no comments recommended (corrected)
Petitions 1407, 1410 - no comments recommended
Aresta reviewed petitions 1407, 1410, and 1412 and indicated that the Council was not recommending any comments. There was general discussion regarding the use farmland for solar projects, the impacts of a proposed solar project on water resources, the visibility of one in Stonington, and the cumulative impact of solar projects in the Town of North Canaan. Hearn indicated that the project developers for the solar project in North Canaan agreed, at the onset of the project, to incorporate DEEP’s Draft General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater and Dewatering Wastewaters from Construction Activities, Appendix I. This is something that the Council has been advocating for months in many reviews of Petitions for solar energy facilities.
Hearn said staff had seen a shift to solar projects that are under two megawatts. Hearn indicated that he questioned the Siting Council regarding the possibility of project segmentation that could circumvent review by DEEP and the Department of Agriculture, if multiple small projects are deployed on the same site. The Siting Council responded to that inquiry by noting that smaller projects may be aggregated if in the same location, and that the Siting Council considers the cumulative impacts of proposed projects.
GC3 Activities Update
Charamut mentioned that the notices for the GC3 meetings are not always adequate to ensure public participation. Charamut confirmed that the GC3 working group that she participates in will have a meeting tomorrow at 10:00 A.M. Vidich noted that the organization he works with, the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, has been promoting the concept of riparian corridors as a means to protect wetlands and buffers to watercourses. Kolesinskas noted that the GC3 may have a draft report available by the end of July 2020.
10. Other Business
Vidich suggested that the Council vote to have Kolesinskas serve as acting chair in the event that Ainsworth is unable to serve as acting chair for the Council, instead of taking a vote at each meeting. Kolesinskas indicated that would be acceptable to him. Hearn said that two letters and three emails have been provided to the Governor’s office regarding the vacancy on the Council. Kalafa made a motion to have Kolesinskas serve as acting chair in the event that Ainsworth is unable to serve as acting chair for a Council meeting; seconded by Charamut. The motion passed with Kolesinskas abstaining.
Kalafa indicated that he forwarded information from OPM to Hearn for distribution to Council members regarding Connecticut’s declaration of a Stage 1 drought. Hilding questioned the status of groundwater in the state. Charamut said that some of the wells monitored by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) are at twenty-five percent storage. Kolesinskas noted that extreme changes in weather conditions are possibly related to climate change.
Kolesinskas made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 12:05 PM; seconded by Kalafa. The motion passed.