Minutes of the March 25, 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, Alison Hilding, David Kalafa, Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Kip Kolesinskas, and Charles Vidich.
ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Executive Director) and Paul Aresta (Environmental Analyst).
Call to Order: Establishment of a Quorum
Prior to the meeting Chair Merrow announced that the meeting is being recorded and will be available to the public.
At 9:30 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting and noted that there was a quorum of Council members on the phone.
2. Approval of Agenda
Chair Merrow asked if there were any changes to the agenda. Hearing none, Dunbar made a motion to approve the agenda as presented; seconded by Ainsworth. The motion was approved unanimously.
3. Approval of Minutes of February 26, 2020
There were no suggested changes to the draft minutes. Vidich made a motion to approve the minutes of the February 26 meeting; seconded by Ainsworth. The motion was approved unanimously.
4. Chair’s Report
Chair Merrow stated that, though she had long discussed her plan to sell her house and retire to Maine, she had not expected that the sale would be realized as quickly as it had. She said that, regretfully, this change will necessitate her resignation from the Council. She said that her time as Chair was among the best experiences of her career and expressed her gratitude to the members of the Council and staff for their work and dedication. The Council members thanked her for her work, congratulated her for realizing her retirement plan and asked a number of questions about the succession process. Chair Merrow said she will begin the process to have a successor appointed.
Hearn added that the former Executive Director, Karl Wagener, had always spoken of the importance of her valuable insights and assistance to the Council. Hearn mentioned that had been his experience as well during, and subsequent, to his transition to Executive Director.
5. Citizen Comment Period
There were no comments by citizens.
6. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries Received
In follow-up to the complaints that had been brought before the Council from Stamford residents, Hearn announced that the Stamford Health Department and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) had agreed to an arrangement whereby the Stamford Health Department would supplement DEEP’s monitoring at Harbor Point. The monitoring was to begin last week. Hearn said he has not received the results as yet, adding that he is unsure what its status will be during the Covid-19 pandemic. He said he will continue to keep the Council informed about developments at the site.
Hearn also noted that he received a question from a neighbor to a proposed telecommunications facility and told the resident that such facilities fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Siting Council.
7. Annual Report Preview and Approval
Hearn reported that the initial draft of the 2019 Annual Report (Report) has been completed and was distributed to Council members prior to the meeting. The draft Report has more detail presented in charts and graphs than in previous Annual Reports. Also, in keeping with the theme of 2020 being the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the analysis period (timeframe) for some indicators is longer than in the Reports of the past. Hearn mentioned that data is still pending for a few indicators and that he would like to include the key findings of the research that Brigitte Vossler, the Council’s intern, had completed on the impacts of sea level rise.
Hearn asked if the Council members had comments or suggestions for the Report. Dunbar suggested a word change in the letter to the Governor. He also urged referencing the relevance of the report to the economy, which will be the primary public focus in the post-Covis-19 era. He said that the report should reference the importance of resiliency in the economic decisions that will come.
There was general agreement that the report should reflect the fact that the report is being released during a pandemic and that it holds important lessons. Hilding noted that there are articles that tie environmental deterioration to indirect impacts, such as the spread of viruses. She said those could be referenced in a press release. Kalafa suggested including a sentence in the draft recommending that policy decisions in Connecticut be based on climate science. Kolesinskas said that evidence of the relevance of the State’s land preservation policy is the fact that consumers are choosing farm stands over crowded supermarkets, when possible.
Merrow said that reference to those points could be included in a box in the report. Vidich agreed. Hearn said that if the text is sufficiently long it would warrant a separate page at the beginning of the report. Hilding said that the letter to the Governor should incorporate similar references.
There was general discussion on the appropriate release date. It was decided that staff should proceed with the supplemental text and with modifications to the Governor’s letter. Council members agreed to make any final comments and suggestions by April 3rd. It was also decided that a press release noting the publication of the report would be sent the week before Earth Day, as suggested by Charamut and Vidich. April 17th was set as the target release date. Hilding asked that staff track measures of environmental quality during the “shelter-in-place” directive to assess what changes, if any, result from decreased activity. It was noted that air and water quality in counties affected by the Covid-19 virus improved recently in response to reduced human activities. Vidich made a motion to proceed with the development of the final Report with comments due by April 3; seconded by Charamut. The motion passed unanimously.
8. State Agency Actions
a. Connecticut Siting Council (CSC):
Hearn referred to DEEP’s “Draft General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater and Dewatering Wastewaters Associated with Construction Activities” which the Council had discussed at prior meetings and about which the Council had submitted comments. He said that in the Draft Permit there were specific recommendations to address erosion and sedimentation controls and design considerations for solar photovoltaic facilities. He said that these recommendations were the basis for the comments regarding the three submissions to the Siting Council that are on this meeting’s agenda, and had been submitted to the Council prior to the meeting.
Petition 1347A – Aresta noted that this Petition for Declaratory Ruling (Petition) is for the proposed construction of a 16.78-megawatt AC solar photovoltaic electric generating facility in Waterford. Council staff has reviewed the Petition and recommends submitting comments regarding stormwater runoff, inland wetlands and vernal pools, and vegetation.
Petition 1394 – Aresta noted that this Petition is for the proposed construction of three 1.0-megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic electric generating facilities located at 31 Benz Street, Ansonia, Connecticut. Council staff has reviewed the Petition and recommends submitting comments regarding stormwater runoff, use of 100 foot buffers to protect inland wetlands, and conducting an assessment of noise since the proposed facility would be in a residential area.
Petition 1393 – Aresta noted that this Petition is for the proposed construction of a 1.0-megawatt and a 0.975-MWAC solar photovoltaic electric generating facility on an approximately 27 acre parcel in East Hampton. Council staff has reviewed the Petition and recommends submitting comments regarding stormwater runoff and the protection of inland wetlands and vernal pools.
It was the consensus of the Council members to submit comments regarding the three Petitions to the Siting Council.
Hearn said that, in regard to DEEP’s Draft General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater and Dewatering Wastewaters Associated with Construction Activities, discussed before, the date for a public hearing has not yet been scheduled.
9. Legislative Update
Hearn announced that enforcement of the requirements of the “Bottle Bill” have been temporarily suspended so that grocery stores can focus more on serving customers and to reduce the possible transmission of the Covid-19 virus.
Hearn said draft legislation to require release-based reporting of known contamination to replace the “Transfer Act” was being refined at DEEP to address Raised Bills 281 and 293. He said he expects to be provided a copy when complete. At this juncture, he is uncertain if there will be additional action on either of those Bills.
Hearn indicated that the Council submitted comments for proposed Senate Bill 424 that would allow for the extension of the Bolton sewer into Coventry. Charamut noted that this Raised Bill has provisions to exempt the Bolton Lakes Regional Water Pollution Control Authority from environmental regulation. Hearn indicated that although a meeting of the Planning and Development Committee was scheduled for today, he did not believe any legislative meetings were being conducted at this time.
Vidich questioned whether the public had an opportunity to participate in today’s Council meeting. Hearn noted that the instructions for participating in today’s meeting was included in the Council’s agenda for the meeting. The agenda also made clear that members of the public who couldn’t participate remotely provide their comments directly to him to convey to the Council. Merrow asked if there were any members of the public that wished to speak; no one responded.
10. Other Business
Hilding questioned the status of the proposed demolition of the buildings at the former farm on the Depot Campus in Mansfield. Hearn noted that the Scoping Notice for the proposed activity was published in the Environmental Monitor, and the public comment period was still open. Kolesinskas noted that the buildings are dilapidated and probably should be removed. He said the University of Connecticut (UConn) should continue to use the land for agricultural purposes. Hilding raised concerns regarding the possible presence of hazardous materials and chemicals in and around the buildings that are proposed for demolition. Hearn said that he would contact UConn and inquire if there were plans to address any hazardous materials, if present.
Charamut noted that Governor Lamont issued an Executive Order to address land use processes and there would be an informational webinar hosted by UConn’s Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR). Ainsworth noted that his understanding is that the Executive Order has provisions for land use decisions, the filing of documents electronically, and virtual participation. His understanding is that the Executive Order provides balance between project proponents of land use activities and municipal agencies.
Having no further business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. Dunbar made a motion to adjourn; seconded by Hilding. The motion passed unanimously. The meeting adjourned at 10:50 AM.
Pursuant to Executive Order 7B, a transcript of this meeting is available by email request of the Council (mail to; firstname.lastname@example.org).