Minutes of the July 28, 2021 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, Charles Vidich, David Kalafa, and Lee Dunbar.
ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Executive Director), Paul Aresta (Environmental Analyst), Matthew Pafford (Office of Policy and Management - OPM), and Margaret Miner.
1. Call to Order: Establishment of a Quorum
At 9:31 AM, Ainsworth called the meeting to order. Ainsworth took attendance and confirmed that there was a quorum of Council members present.
2. Approval of Agenda
Ainsworth asked if there were any suggested changes to the agenda. Hearing none, he asked for a motion to approve the agenda as presented. Dunbar made a motion to approve the agenda; seconded by Vidich. The motion passed.
3. Approval of Minutes of June 23, 2021
Ainsworth asked if there were any suggested changes to the draft minutes of June 23, 2021. Hearing none, Ainsworth asked for a motion to approve the draft minutes. Vidich made a motion to approve the draft minutes of June 23, 2021; seconded by Kolesinskas. The motion passed with Kalafa abstaining because he was not present at the previous meeting.
4. Citizen Comment Period
Ainsworth asked if there were any members of the public that wished to speak. No members of the public wished to speak at this time.
Ainsworth noted that the emergency order that allows public officials/agencies to hold their meeting remotely has been extended and that it would be more convenient to continue to have the Council’s meeting remotely. Kalafa, Charamut, and Vidich agreed and noted that it would also be safer for Council members, staff, and the public.
5. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries Received
Hearn stated that he received a few new complaints and inquiries and that he has an update on a prior complaint:
- Hearn reported that he received an inquiry from a resident concerned about the use of chemical herbicides for weed control in Amos Pond. The resident noted that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) was funding the use of chemicals for weed treatment ($21,000) and he wondered if biological controls are also eligible for funding under PA 19-190. The resident noted that he was aware that sterile Grass Carp had been used for weed control in other waterbodies instead of chemicals. Hearn said he inquired of DEEP and learned that the use sterile Grass Carp for weed control is eligible for PA 19-190 funding. He reported that DEEP is monitoring the impacts of the introduction of sterile Grass Carp in Candlewood Lake, Squantz Pond, and Ball Pond to determine if the Grass Carp might be consuming native vegetation, in addition to invasive weeds and disrupting the ecosystem. Hearn added that DEEP’s Fisheries Division is concerned that the loss of plant life will have an adverse effect on other species and consequently on fishing. Charamut noted that the native vegetation in the lakes is important for maintaining the natural ecosystem. Kolesinskas agreed and noted that carp eat other species, which impact the ecosystems of lakes and ponds. Hearn indicated that staff will continue to monitor the impacts of using sterile Grass Carp for weed control.
- Hearn reported that a resident of Trumbull contacted the Council about a sinkhole developing on his property. Hearn referred him to the town building inspector who determined that it posed no threat to the structures there.
- Hearn reported that the Council received a complaint regarding the conditions at Quinebaug State Park, which included excessive trash, litter, loud music, and tree branches. He referred the complaint to the DEEP Bureau Chief for Recreation who passed it on to the Division Director. Hearn said that last weekend was the first weekend after the complaint, so a follow-up in a week would be appropriate to see if the reported conditions were resolved.
- Hearn reported that a resident of Newtown contacted the Council with a complaint regarding the application of herbicides on private property adjacent to a road. The resident noted that she was concerned that the herbicide application could affect her well water. Aresta confirmed that the supervisor for the contractor that applied the herbicide was licensed with DEEP and he referred her to the Pesticide Section at DEEP if she had any additional questions.
- Hearn added that the Council received a few other complaints; however, the issues were not state level environmental concerns.
Hearn reported on the complaint that had been discussed at last month’s Council meeting regarding alleged filling of wetlands by the Department of Transportation (DOT) in Stratford. He added that the DOT reported it received the necessary permits for the work, and that DEEP inspected the site in May and noted no wetlands filling. He said that there might be some questions remaining and that he would look into the possibility of arranging a meeting with the complainant, DOT and DEEP.
6. Executive Director’s Report
- Aids for Submitters to the Environmental Monitor
Hearn reminded the Council that Aresta had held training sessions for new users to develop notices for the Environmental Monitor. Staff will also make available a chart comparing the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and a flow chart to better inform and assist new users regarding the CEPA process. Kalafa noted his support for the new materials and added that it should be helpful.
- Review of Air Permit
Hearn reported that staff reviewed an air permit for three natural gas turbines at a hospital in New York State, located approximately 22 miles west of the Connecticut/New York border. Hearn added that, to his knowledge, DEEP has not objected to the facility and recommended no comments by the Council.
- Annual Report Research for 2021
Hearn reported that, due to Covid 19, there was no Breeding Bird Survey or marine species survey in 2020. He added that daily vehicle miles travelled (DVMT) and gasoline sales were also down considerably from previous years due to the impact of Covid 19. Hearn noted that Aresta analyzed and graphed the data for DVMT and gasoline sales. Dunbar stated that there will be a divergence between DVMT and gasoline sales as more people use electric vehicles and vehicles become more energy efficient. Hearn added that in the future, the Council might want to assess the environmental impacts of transportation by using fuels data.
- Locating Solar Energy Facilities on State lands as a Consequence of the Environmental Classification Document (ECD)
Hearn reported that some State agencies are looking at siting renewable energy facilities on State-owned properties and that the State agencies might need to go through the scoping process.
He reminded the Council that the newest generic ECD, to which the Council provided input when it was being developed, requires scoping for the development of an energy generation facility that exceeds 100 kilowatts (kW) on undeveloped land, or an energy generation facility that exceeds 1 kW located on or in water. Hearn added that in the Council’s special report, Energy Sprawl in Connecticut, the Council urged the location of renewable energy generation facilities on State lands where possible.
- Comments submitted for Sustainable, Transparent and Efficient Practices (STEP)
Hearn reported that comments were submitted for DEEP’s STEP program, which were also sent to Council members before the meeting. Dunbar commented on STEP and the Shared Clean Energy Facility (SCEF) Programs. He noted that:
- the State had undertaken a process to identify suitable sites for ash landfills, and as a result, the cost of property for the identified suitable sites increased considerably. He added that he was unsure if the identification of suitable sites for solar energy facilities would have the same impact;
- there should be consideration of the statewide need for clean energy, which might be delayed due to local resistance; and
- the installation of residential solar facilities has been a consequence of the investments of the property owners.
Ainsworth responded that the Siting Council is responsible for evaluating certain projects of statewide importance and has the authority to supersede local regulations. Hearn agreed that private investment is needed for the development of solar energy facilities. He added that some residents don’t have the opportunity to participate in the State’s solar incentive programs, and the purpose of the SCEF program is to expand those incentives to reach more people.
Dunbar suggested that it would be helpful to have a representative from DEEP provide information regarding the Natural Diversity Data Base (NDDB) and how the data / tool is used. He added that the locations of the species which are in the NDDB might only be known if residents agree to share the information with DEEP. He recounted that a state-listed bird species was found on his property and that the biologist that discovered the bird could not submit the information to the NDDB without the property owner’s permission. Ainsworth agreed that there is a misconception regarding the data in the NDDB and suggested that site specific surveys should be required. Kolesinskas noted that, in the past, DEEP had field biologists to identify state-listed species and their habitat.
7. State Agency Actions
- General Permit for the Release of Swimming Pool Water
Hearn reported that DEEP announced it intends to renew the General Permit for the Discharge of Swimming Pool Wastewater. The General Permit is intended to control / limit discharges to surface water or wetlands and to minimize soil erosion. Registration is required of commercial pool operators. Private residences do not have to register but are expected to observe the General Permit guidelines. Charamut suggested that it would be good to allocate the fees from the General Permit registration for related purposes and enforcement.
- Coalition for Sustainable Materials Management (CCSMM) Meeting
Hearn reported that the CCSMM stakeholders met on July 16 and that the participants discussed legislative updates regarding solid waste, funding opportunities, and recent initiatives. Hearn added that there will be a stakeholder meeting on August 9 to discuss the implementation of certain provisions of the “Bottle Bill”. Charamut made a motion for staff to participate in the “Bottle Bill” stakeholder process; seconded by Kolesinskas. The motion passed.
- STEP and Shared Clean Energy Facilities (SCEF) Program
Hearn reported that the draft comments for the SCEF program, which were sent to Council members, were revised, and submitted to DEEP by the deadline of Monday, July 26. He added that the comments reiterated some positions that the Council has voiced in the past. Hearn clarified that the input requested by DEEP for STEP was for environmental criteria that should be included in any request for proposal (RFP) from DEEP for solar energy facilities. He said that the SCEF Program could allow low income residents, residents of multi-family dwellings or residents that rent to avail themselves of the benefits of solar energy. Vidich made a motion that the Council support the comments that were submitted for the SCEF Program; seconded by Kalafa. The motion passed.
Hearn noted that the SCEF Program is designed to promote state policy goals to increase access to solar development. It allows solar projects to be evaluated at a lower bid price for ranking purposes based on bid preferences and weighting factors. In years 1 and 2 of the SCEF Program, there was a 20 percent bid preference for projects sited on landfills and brownfields. For the Year 3 SCEF Program, DEEP has requested input on which preferences should be included. Preferences for solar projects in environmental justice communities, and solar projects that enhance energy resiliency are among those suggested for weighting preferences.
- Bantam Lake Study
Hearn reported that DEEP is commencing a study of Bantam Lake, which is Connecticut's largest natural lake. He added that Bantam Lake has had harmful algae blooms, and that DEEP has made a commitment to a watershed study that will assess historical and current nutrient levels to develop total maximum daily discharge limits for the Lake. Ainsworth added that high nutrient levels are usually caused by improper agricultural practices or failures from subsurface sewage treatment systems. Charamut noted that the information that is in the draft watershed-based plan is interesting and it examines the amount of development within a three-hundred-yard buffer of the waterways within the watershed. Kolesinskas agreed and questioned whether the study assesses the impact of climate change.
b. Connecticut Siting Council (CSC)
- Docket 505
Aresta reported that staff reviewed an application for a 2.8-megawatt- solar photovoltaic electric generating facility to be located in Durham. He stated that the Council developed comments for the Siting Council’s consideration, which were distributed in advance of the meeting to Council members, recommending that the applicant: 1) expand the wetland buffer to 100 feet, 2) inventory and assess the presence of state-listed species, and 3) minimize impacts to farmland soils.
- Petition 1458
Aresta reported that staff reviewed a Petition from Homestead Fuel Cell 1, LLC for a proposed grid-side 8.4-megawatt fuel cell facility to be located at 441 Homestead Avenue in Hartford. No comments are recommended.
- Petition 1459
Aresta reported that staff reviewed a Petition from Eversource Energy for proposed modifications to its existing Shunock Substation located at 25 Pendleton Hill Road in North Stonington, and related electric transmission line structure improvements. No comments are recommended.
It was the consensus of the Council members to submit the comments on Docket 505 to the Siting Council.
c. Water Planning Council (WPC)
Hearn reported that the WPC’s Private Well Water Quality work group issued final recommendations to make changes to current water quality testing requirements for new and existing private and semi-public wells in the State, including:
- adding arsenic and uranium to the list of standard potability requirements for new private drinking water wells and semi-public wells;
- requiring that the standard potability tests include arsenic and uranium for all real estate transactions where a private or semi-public well is in use; and
- amending the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies Section 19- 13-B101 and State Statute 19a-37.
Dunbar questioned whether there were technologies to treat drinking water for the presence of arsenic and uranium. Ainsworth noted that arsenic and uranium are both metals and it's very possible that these metals can be removed using filters because of their ionic charge. Hearn agreed and noted that there are filters for the removal of arsenic from drinking water. Vidich noted that the Western Connecticut Council of Governments is working with the Connecticut Department of Public Health to assist residents to sample their drinking water.
Margaret Miner noted that customers of Aquarion Water Company pay extra to have their drinking water treated for radon. She added that she supports the Council’s interest in preserving state-listed species and questioned whether the work performed near the tidal wetlands in Stratford was designed for the 500-year storm or the 100-year storm, which she believes is outdated. Kolesinskas added that the design considerations might be based on the type of development, such as a drainage structure for a waterway versus a parking area.
Charamut noted that the WPC draft Drought Report included many recommendations for water conservation, but there needs to be more of an emphasis on water conservation statewide. She added that decisions regarding water use are based on water supply data. She noted that the Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) recently decided that the Connecticut Water Company need not maintain and operate some their existing stream gauges and that approval for the expenditure of ratepayer funds for water conservation measures must be approved by PURA.
8. Other Business
Ainsworth asked if there were any other items for discussion. Hearing none, Ainsworth asked for a motion to adjourn. Dunbar made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 11:09 AM; seconded by Charamut. The motion passed.