Minutes of the May 27, 2020 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality (Council) held virtually, in compliance with Governor Lamont’s Executive Order 7B.
MEMBERS PRESENT: Keith Ainsworth (Acting Chair), 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 Margaret Minor.
Call to Order: Establishment of a Quorum
At 9:30 AM, Ainsworth convened the meeting and noted that the meeting is being recorded. He 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. Ainsworth asked that Council members and any members of the public state their name when speaking for the sake of the recording.
2. Approval of Agenda
Ainsworth suggested moving the discussion of the Office of Policy and Management’s (OPM) draft revisions to the Generic Environmental Classification Document (ECD) up in the agenda. Vidich made a motion to approve the revised agenda; seconded by Dunbar. The motion was passed unanimously.
3. Approval of Minutes of April 22, 2020
Reiser recommended two changes to the draft minutes for the April 22nd meeting. He noted that in one line “addition” had been used when “additional” was meant. He recommended rephrasing the mention of Chair Merrow’s absence from future meetings to make it clear that her departure was voluntary and was due to her moving out of state. Hilding made a motion to approve the minutes of the April 22 meeting as revised. This was seconded by Vidich. The motion was approved unanimously.
4. Chair’s Report and Discussion of Succession of Chairmanship
Ainsworth noted that the Chair for the Council would need to be appointed by the Governor. Vidich questioned which members of the Council were appointed by the Governor. Ainsworth asked the members to identify the person who appointed them. Ainsworth noted that a new Chair of the Council could be appointed from the existing members or the Governor may choose to appoint someone new to the Council to fill that role. There was discussion about providing a letter to the Governor informing him of the vacancy for the Chair of the Council. Hearn indicated that Susan Merrow already informed the Governor’s office of her retirement and resignation as Chair from the Council. There was general discussion regarding the appointment of Chair and the best way to communicate to the Governor regarding filling the vacancy. Kalafa asked if any members were interested in serving in that capacity. Ainsworth and Kolesinskas both indicated that they would be willing to serve as Chair.
In response to a question, Hearn indicated that while it would be possible to have different Acting Chairs until a permanent Chair is appointed, he noted it may be easier for staff to have a permanent Acting Chair. Vidich made a motion to have Ainsworth serve as the Acting Chair until the Governor appoints a permanent Chair to the Council; seconded by Kalafa. The motion was approved with Ainsworth abstaining. After additional discussion regarding the process for recommending a new permanent Chair to the Governor, Vidich made a motion to have staff draft and submit a letter to the Governor suggesting that two current members of the Council, both Ainsworth and Kolesinskas, would be willing to serve as permanent Chair for the Council; seconded by Kalafa. The motion passed with Ainsworth abstaining. Hilding questioned if any additional materials would be sent with the letter to the Governor. It was suggested that the biographical information that is currently on the Council’s website should be submitted with the letter to the Governor, and that either could update their information should they wish.
5. Citizen Comment Period
There were no comments by citizens.
6. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries Received - State Properties in Haddam and West Hartford
Haddam: Cockaponset off road issue
Hearn said that he received a complaint from a resident regarding unauthorized access/egress on state forest property in Haddam. Staff referred the complaint to the Forestry Division at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) with the recommendation that better barriers be installed. Forestry responded that Forestry staff is currently working with DEEP Central Services and Parks to either place additional rocks at the unauthorized access point or drop a few trees to block access. Hearn reported that on May 25, staff received another email indicating that the problem continues, along with a photo showing no new barriers. Staff again forwarded the complaint and updated information to Forestry and the Bureau Chief in charge of the Environmental Conservation Police.
West Hartford: Unauthorized camping
Aresta indicated that Hearn received a complaint from a resident regarding unauthorized camping and gatherings on state property used for flood control in West Hartford. Staff referred the complaint to DEEP. DEEP reached out to the resident via email, but has not received additional information from the resident.
Stamford: Harbor Point
Hearn indicated that DEEP’s in-person site monitoring at Harbor Point ended on Saturday May 15th, which was the last day soil was being moved on the site. Hearn noted that DEEP’s presence might have improved the situation there, since the frequency of residents’ complaints have fallen off. Both the developer and the residents were aware that there was environmental monitoring being conducted by DEEP. Hearn indicated that Council staff will continue to monitor and report on compliance complaints about the site.
New Hartford: Clear cutting adjacent to the Wild & Scenic designated portion of the Farmington River.
Hearn reported that he recently received a complaint regarding the removal of trees on a property that abuts the Farmington River, which has been designated as a “Wild and Scenic River”. The complainant reported that the property owner claimed to have a permit; however, Hearn was unsure whether the permit applied to the removal of the trees. Hilding noted that some of the trees in the photo of the property appear to have no foliage, which may be an indication that the trees are dead. Kolesinskas noted that there may be federal issues with the removal of live trees along a river designated as “Wild and Scenic”. Hearn said the complaint is only a few days old and he would continue to collect information. Charamut requested that she be kept informed of the status of this complaint.
7. Executive Director’s Report
Staff Activities – Hearn noted that Susan Merrow contacted him. She is doing well and extends her best wishes to all.
Changes to the Environmental Monitor
Hearn said that staff made some changes to the Environmental Monitor. It now has a link to a spreadsheet that tracks the status of notices required under the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA). Hearn reviewed the information in the spreadsheet and indicated that the spreadsheet was developed and is maintained by OPM. Hearn also reviewed discussions that he and Matt Pafford from OPM have had regarding the best way to provide notice of the cancellation of projects in the Environmental Monitor. Hearn indicated that he did not want to include a new section in the Environmental Monitor just for project cancellations because it already has several categories in which notices rarely appear. He also was concerned about creating a category for cancellations that was not sanctioned by the CEPA Regulations. Resolution was achieved when OPM’s attorney offered the opinion that projects which are cancelled for reasons that are unrelated to the CEPA process are technically no longer in the CEPA process and therefore no longer subject to CEPA regulations. It was agreed that the index section of the Environmental Monitor will not list cancellations of this type as a separate category. Instead, cancellations will appear in the notice section (i.e. Scoping, Post-Scoping, EIE) in which the project last appeared. Council staff will provide a template that submitting agencies can use to announce projects that are cancelled for other than environmental reasons.
Hearn indicated that the Council will have two new interns this summer, and that both interns will be working remotely. Hearn reported that one of the interns will supplement the work previously begun by a former intern regarding coastal impacts of seal level rise. The other intern will assess forestry practices and climate impacts.
Hearn informed the Council that DEEP extended the public comment period for thirty days for the permit for the Killingly Energy Center project, as had been requested by many members of the public and by the Council.
8. State Agency Actions
Office of Policy and Management: Draft Environmental Classification Document (ECD)
Hearn noted that OPM is in the process of updating the Generic ECD and that the Council submitted draft comments to OPM with suggested changes to the ECD. Hearn reviewed the suggested changes to project types for which an environmental review could be appropriate. These included:
- removing “low level” from the type of radioactive waste disposal facilities;
- a refinement of the definition of fossil-fueled power plants or combined heat and power plants with a capacity of two megawatts or greater, unless classified as a Class I renewable energy resource;
- the addition of renewable energy facilities with a capacity of two megawatts or greater on undeveloped land or on water;
- requiring no net increase in stormwater leaving the property, or adequate storm sewers, for some infrastructure projects;
- exempting emergency repairs of dams;
- environmental reviews for certain capital projects in designated“Conservation Areas” and certain land transfers; and
- review of forestry, farmland restoration and conservation practices for which a management plan did not include consideration of lost carbon storage and continuity of habitats and migration of species under changing climatic conditions.
Ainsworth suggested that the term “undeveloped land” for renewable energy projects was not specific enough and that the construction of a shed on a parcel could mean it is not “undeveloped”. Vidich suggested quantifying the term “undeveloped” to include parcels that are perhaps seventy-five percent “undeveloped”. Kolesinskas agreed that clarifying the description of “undeveloped” is needed and suggested adding “farmland and forest land” as qualifiers for the types of parcels subject to an Environmental Impact Evaluation. Reiser also expressed support for efforts to address stormwater management. Hearn added that forest management plans should consider the impacts of certain forest management practices on carbon storage and wildlife. Kolesinskas added that adaption strategies for both plants and animals should also be considered when evaluating forest management practices.
Connecticut Siting Council (CSC):
- Petition 1398, comments recommended
Aresta noted that this Petition for Declaratory Ruling (Petition) is for the proposed construction of a 1.99-megawatt (MW) AC solar PV electric generating facility in Westchester. Council staff reviewed the Petition and recommends submitting the comments regarding stormwater and erosion controls, wildlife, and wetlands. Aresta also noted that the draft comments were provided to the members prior to the meeting. (There was no objection to submitting the comments to the Connecticut Siting Council.)
- Petitions1401, 1402, 1403, 1404 and 1406, no comments recommended
Aresta also provided a brief summary of Petitions 1402, 1403, 1404 and 1406 and noted that no comments were recommended for those fuel cell projects. Ainsworth noted that there are not a lot of environmental issues associated with the development fuel cell projects in previously developed and disturbed areas.
- Bottle bill
Hearn reminded the Council that on March 17, 2020, DEEP temporarily suspended enforcement actions against Connecticut retailers for failing to accept empty beverage containers for redemption under the “bottle bill.” Hearn indicated that full redemption services are expected to be in effect by June 3, 2020.
- EV Roadmap
Aresta summarized the information in the recently released EV Roadmap. Aresta indicated that the Council’s Annual Report notes that electric vehicles (EVs) only constitute about one percent of all vehicle registrations in the state. The EV Roadmaps notes that approximately 6,000 workplace Level 2 charging connectors, will be necessary to achieve the state’s goal. The EV Roadmap also details issues with demand charges, which can make DCFC stations less profitable and that changes to building practices to encourage the installation of electric charging infrastructure could make it easier to deploy vehicles. Hearn suggested that Council members could advocate for EVs in their communities through a number of specific actions.
Executive Order 7NN - bag tax
Hearn reported that the suspension of the tax on single-use plastic checkout bags was extended through June 30, 2020.
9. Legislative Update
Hearn noted that the Governor’s Executive Order, which applies to absentee ballots, is only for the primary election and it authorizes the Secretary of the State to send an application to all registered voters. Hearn also indicated that there is an effort to increase the bottle bill handling fee when the legislature does the budget adjustment.
10. Other Business
Hilding questioned the status of the proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Hearn indicated that he was unaware if the federal government had issued a final decision on NEPA, but would investigate further.
Having no further business, Ainsworth asked for a motion to adjourn. Hilding made a motion to adjourn; seconded by Kalafa. The motion passed unanimously. The meeting adjourned at 11:35 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).