Minutes of the September 23, 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), and Matt Pafford (OPM).
Call to Order: Establishment of a Quorum
At 9:30 AM, Ainsworth asked the Council members to indicate their presence and then noted that there was a quorum of Council members present. Ainsworth noted that the meeting was being recorded and that public comment is welcome during the specified public comment period for items not on the agenda, or during the appropriate time for items on the agenda.
2. Approval of Agenda
Ainsworth asked if there were any suggested changes to the agenda. Hearing none, Ainsworth asked for a motion to approve the agenda as presented. Vidich made a motion to approve the agenda; seconded by Kolesinskas. The motion passed.
3. Approval of Minutes of August 26, 2020
Ainsworth asked if there were any significant changes to the draft minutes of August 26, 2020. Vidich made a motion to approve the draft minutes of the August 26, 2020 meeting; seconded by Dunbar. The motion passed.
4. Citizen Comment Period
There were no comments from the public at this time.
5. Chair’s Report
Ainsworth noted that there was a legislative proposal to replace the Transfer Act with a release-based remediation program, and mentioned that the Transfer Act was initially designed to make owners of contaminated properties responsible for its clean up. However, Ainsworth added that the Transfer Act legislation had been modified to include so many exceptions that it was ineffective, and unfair to some small businesses. Ainsworth stated that the subject would be discussed in greater detail later in the meeting.
6. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries Received
Hearn stated that he received a few complaints and inquiries from citizens in Connecticut including:
· A person who was concerned that a neighbor’s streambed was collapsing and that it could cause flooding on adjacent properties and roads. He referred the resident to the appropriate resources inside the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the town where the stream is located.
· A person who wanted to know if mosquito spraying had been conducted in her town. Hearn referred the resident to spraying schedules on the internet, to mosquito control information on DEEP’s website, and to the local health department.
· A person, who reported a pesticide company to DEEP that might be in violation of regulations for pesticide applications, believed the investigation was taking too long. Hearn followed up with DEEP and learned that the investigation had been disrupted by the Covid-19 quarantine, but was continuing. Hearn indicated that he will continue to monitor the situation.
7. Executive Director Report
DEEP’s Waste Management Initiative
Hearn reported that DEEP has created the Connecticut Coalition for Sustainable Materials Management (CCSMM). He said that the intent of this new initiative is to explore ways to reduce the amount of waste that is generated, improve reuse, recycling, organics collection, and other innovative solutions for solid waste management. Ainsworth asked who was a party to the CCSMM initiative. Hearn indicated that, in addition to DEEP, over 65 towns have already signed onto the initiative.
Draft Report: Beverage Container Redemption Program
Aresta noted that the draft report examined Connecticut’s beverage container redemption program (“Bottle Bill”) and included two recommendations: 1) to increase the beverage container deposit from 5 cents to 10 cents per container, and 2) to authorize DEEP to assess the value and markets for recycled commodities for beverage container materials and, when appropriate, expand the types of beverage containers that would be subject to a deposit.
Ainsworth questioned whether any organizations had commented on the draft report. Hearn said it was not released to the public for comment prior to this meeting. He said that he asked a DEEP staff member if he would be willing to review specific content for accuracy, but did not receive a response. Charamut stated that she believes the handling fee needs to be increased to support redemption centers. Aresta noted that there are many retailers throughout the state that are required to take back deposit beverage containers that they sell. Dunbar questioned if DEEP was supportive of revisions to the Bottle Bill. Charamut indicated that DEEP is supportive of reducing solid waste. Dunbar noted that it may be best to recommend certain beverage containers be included in the suggested revisions to the Bottle Bill rather than designating DEEP to make that determination. Hearn said that the draft language could be modified to recommend that DEEP develop regulations regarding the designation of deposit beverage containers. Kolesinskas suggested that there should be some mention of requiring recycled content in the manufacture of new products to bolster the market for recyclables. Dunbar suggested that limiting the recommendations to a few key issues was less likely to draw opposition to the proposed changes to the Bottle Bill. Vidich left the meeting at 10 AM. Matt Pafford questioned how many deposit beverage containers were recovered in residential curbside recycling. Aresta indicated that the graph in the report indicates that the pounds of recyclables marketed per capita has been increasing as the redemption rate has been decreasing. Hearn added that information from DEEP’s 2015 Waste Characterization Study estimated the amount of deposit containers in municipal solid waste (MSW). After some additional discussion, Hearn said that staff will revise the report to include information to support the following four recommendations:
1. increasing the beverage container deposit from 5 cents to 10 cents per container;
2. expanding the types of beverage containers that would be subject to a deposit;
3. assessing and possibly increasing the handling fee; and
4. increasing the amount of recycled content in certain products to bolster the market for recycled materials.
Hearn reported on a presentation he made to a land planning organization in Rhode Island about Connecticut’s experience with the regulation of commercial solar electric generating facilities. Hearn reviewed some of the information presented and noted that the state of Vermont has enacted an interesting program to identify the locations where solar energy facilities are appropriate.
Hearn announced that staff has completed the updates to all the notice templates for the Environmental Monitor, and they are available on the Council’s webpage to all the state agencies that submit notices to the Environmental Monitor.
Hearn noted that Aresta completed the review of solar electric generating project proposals that were submitted to the Connecticut Siting Council to determine how much forestland and agricultural land would potentially be impacted. Hearn stated that 317 acres of forest land and approximately 450 acres of agricultural land could be impacted by the development of solar facilities in 2020 alone. He contrasted this total for farmland with the 773 acres of farmland that was preserved by the State in all of 2019.
Hearn reported that staff met with representatives from the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) and DEEP to discuss proposed changes that had been recommended by the Council to the generic Environmental Classification Document (ECD). Hearn showed the alternate wordings that were being discussed. He reported that DEEP agreed to include the Council’s recommendation regarding incorporating climate change considerations in its forest management plans when it releases its own ECD. He said that OPM was still working on revised language for actions that would affect forests and farmland. He said that OPM was amenable to the Council’s wording regarding the siting of energy generation facilities and is awaiting an opinion from its legal counsel on whether a review by another State agency would preclude inclusion of an action within the scope of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA). Hearn added that the DEEP representative in the deliberations expressed the concern that it would be duplicative for energy generating facility projects to have to undergo the scoping process and maybe the Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) process if it were also subject to jurisdiction by the Siting Council. Ainsworth noted that the Siting Council process is not as responsive to public comments regarding environmental impacts of a proposed project. Hearn agreed and noted that the proposed notice provisions would not be twice the work and shouldn’t be a burden to state agencies.
He stated that the recent adoption of new Federal regulations for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has necessitated OPM to revise the generic ECD to be specific that a NEPA analysis must also meet the standards of CEPA to qualify for CEPA equivalency. He said that the Council’s staff proposed new language to OPM for that purpose.
Hearn summarized some of the recent changes to NEPA that may be a concern for meeting the requirements of CEPA, including:
o Arbitrary limits on the number of pages and the length of time allowed in a NEPA analysis;
o Permitting the commencing of preparatory actions like land acquisition before completion of the analysis;
o Allowing applicants to prepare an environmental analysis themselves thus creating apparent, or actual, conflicts-of-interest; and
o Using the word “may” in the definition of “Major Federal Action”, which creates ambiguity about what actions need a NEPA review.
Matt Pafford of OPM added that the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DOAG) has approved the suggested draft wording for the generic ECD. Kolesinskas noted that he believes that the twenty-five acre threshold, proposed in the draft ECD, may be too high; however, he was pleased to see the inclusion of prime farmland soils or soils of statewide or local importance.
8. State Agency Actions
Department of Agriculture
Hearn reported that the DOAG had previously determined that the co-use of agricultural activities would not materially impact the status of prime farmland for Petition 1421. Hearn added that for Petition 1422, the DOAG again found that the proposed co-use of agricultural activities would not materially impact the status of prime farmland. Hearn noted that for Petition 1424, the DOAG did not endorse the co-location because “the mitigation measures proposed for this particular project are insufficient to address the removal of an established tenant farmer growing on prime farmland soils.” Kolesinskas noted that he believed that DOAG’s interpretation of the law for activities that would materially impact the status of prime farmland is being incorrectly applied. He added that because the farmland is encumbered for activities other than agriculture and the soils may be compacted post construction, the development of a solar facility would have a material impact on the status of prime farmland.
DEEP - Release-Based Remediation
Aresta reviewed some of the provisions of a newly proposed legislation initiative for a release-based remediation program to replace the Transfer Act (An Act Concerning Various Revisions to the Property Transfer Law and Spill-Based Remediation of Certain Hazardous Waste). Aresta also reported that there was a listening session for the proposed legislation and the following key points were discussed:
o Connecticut is one of only 2 states that use transfer act rather than release based program;
o About 75 percent of properties (3,000+) are still in Transfer Act (little or no movement);
o Focus of new program would be on cleaning up contamination that is of higher risk;
o Requires the development of regulations to enact new law.
o Licensed environmental professionals (LEP) would be the lead for “lower threat” releases, while DEEP staff to attend to higher threat releases;
o Concern about approving a new program without regulations being adopted; and
o Request for more input from variety of stakeholders.
Charamut and Ainsworth noted that the proposed release-based remediation program would be for addressing new releases unless some new discovery was made regarding a previous release. Charamut noted that the proposed legislation establishes a framework for the program to be implemented, and requires the adoption of new regulations. Charamut also noted that she was disappointed that the proposed legislation did not include a provision for civil litigation. Ainsworth agreed and stated that there were other concerns regarding the proposed program that includes: 1) what will be reported, 2) how would releases be remediated and by whom, and 3) how will LEPs be engaged. It was also reported that environmental groups were disappointed that there was not a firm commitment to require records concerning releases and clean-up activities to be available online. The provision was in the proposed legislation; however, it was subject to “available resources”.
At 11:01, Ainsworth noted that the Council would take a break until 11:06 AM. Vidich returned to the meeting after a one hour absence. Ainsworth noted that there was still a quorum of Council members present.
DEEP - Construction Stormwater Permit
Hearn reported that the adoption of the draft Construction Stormwater Permit has been postponed for at least two months. Hearn indicated that the Council has supported adherence to the provisions identified in the draft General Permit, Appendix I, which addresses the construction of solar electric generating facilities on steeply sloping land, in several of the comments submitted to the Siting Council.
Governor’s Council on Climate Change (GC3)
Hearn reported that there will be several public forums to present the findings of the GC3 working groups’ activities and that four draft reports have been developed and distributed by the Working and Natural Lands sub groups for public review and comment. Hearn added that the Forestry sub group identified five top priority actions to mitigate the impacts of climate change that impact Connecticut’s forests. Hearn also reviewed the key principles of the “No net loss of forest” policy.
Connecticut Siting Council
• Dockets 493 and 494– comments recommended
• Petition 1431
o Docket 493 - Aresta noted that Docket 493 is an application for a 250-foot telecommunications facility to be located off Lakeview Street in East Hampton. Aresta added that the proposed tower would replace an existing 120-foot tower that is located nearby at a higher elevation. Aresta said that the draft comments regarding the proposed facility address wildlife, scenic resources and visibility, and cultural/historic resources. Ainsworth noted that because the proposed facility would be taller than 200 feet, it would be required to have lights and markings.
o Docket 494 - Aresta noted that Docket 494 is an application for a 120-foot telecommunications facility to be located south of Chestnut Hill Road at the intersection with Grilley Road and Lyman Road in Wolcott. Aresta added that the draft comments regarding the proposed facility address a wetland crossing, wildlife, visibility, and cultural/historic resources.
o Petition 1431- Aresta noted that Petition 1431 is a proposal to develop a 1.99-megawatt AC solar photovoltaic electric generating facility to be located at 0, 78 and 84 Thomson Road in Bethlehem. Aresta added that the draft comments regarding the proposed facility address a stormwater and wetland issues, wildlife, noise and visibility, and the impact on agricultural resources.
Vidich questioned if there were any scenic roads proximate to the proposals. Aresta indicated that he wasn’t certain, but would review the information. There were no suggested changes to the draft comments and it was the general consensus of the Council members to submit the comments to the Siting Council.
9. Other Business - No other business.
Ainsworth asked if there were any members of the public that wished to speak. Hearing none, he asked for a motion to adjourn. Hilding made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 11:19 AM; seconded by Charamut. The motion passed.
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