Minutes of the June 23, 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, Matt Reiser, 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.
Call to Order: Establishment of a Quorum
At 9:31 AM, Ainsworth called the meeting to order and noted that the meeting was being recorded and there would be an opportunity for members of the public to speak during the meeting. 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. Vidich made a motion to approve the agenda; seconded by Kolesinskas. The motion passed.
3. Approval of Minutes of May 26, 2021
Ainsworth asked if there were any suggested changes to the draft minutes of May 26, 2021. Ainsworth noted that Docket 502 should be Docket 503 the second time it is referred to in the draft minutes. Ainsworth asked for a motion to approve the draft minutes as corrected. Reiser made a motion to approve the draft minutes of May 26, as revised; seconded by Charamut. The motion passed with Ainsworth 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.
Margaret Miner stated that she was interested in additional information about requesting intervenor status, as was discussed recently for a proposed project in Canton. Hearn indicated that item is on the agenda and will be discussed later in the meeting.
5. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries Received
Hearn stated that he received a few new complaints and inquiries and that he has updates on prior complaints and inquiries:
- Hearn reported that he received two requests for information, including: 1) the use of wildlife tranquilizer guns, which he referred to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Environmental Conservation Enforcement (EnCon) Division, and 2) the location and status of landfills in the State, which Aresta referred to DEEP’s Waste Engineering and Enforcement Division.
- Hearn reported that a resident copied him on an email to the Air Bureau at DEEP regarding a complaint of a natural gas and dog urine smell at a Naugatuck residence. Hearn added that the resident alleged that the complaint was previously made to DEEP’s Air Bureau and went unanswered. Hearn reported that DEEP’s Air Bureau Chief quickly responded to the complainant by email and that he would continue to monitor the situation.
- Hearn reported that a person in Stratford has petitioned that DEEP issue a declaratory ruling that among other things would require the city of Stratford to conduct an environmental assessment of a filling activity close to a wetland on Long Island Sound and that the Department of Transportation (DOT) halt activity there until the assessment is complete. Hearn reported that there are some questions of fact that he was looking into. Ainsworth noted that the Council can provide comments if there is a Petition proceeding.
- Hearn said that he received another complaint from the same person who had requested that DEEP act to stop the use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) in the Cockaponset Forest in Haddam. The complainant reported that the activity was occurring at the time of the complaint, so he gave the person the phone number for DEEP’s EnCon Division. He will follow up to determine the outcome of the complaint.
- Hearn reported that Council staff had a discussion with DEEP regarding the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) process and the status of the proposed Coventry sewer extension project. Hearn added that DEEP’s intention is to close the CEPA process with a Post-Scoping Notice that will address all the comments received during the Scoping period. He said that DEEP noted that there will be opportunities for public input because the sewer service area within Coventry will need to be amended and that the Plan of Conservation and Development might need to be revised.
- Hearn said he will postpone discussion of the ridgeline protection in Canton until the Executive Director’s report.
- Hearn reported on an inquiry as a follow up to a complaint regarding violations of pesticide application regulations. He added that DEEP issued one or more Notices of Violation (NOV) to the company; however, the complainant was unaware of the status of the enforcement action. Hearn noted that he will follow up with DEEP to provide details regarding the status of the enforcement action.
6. Discussion of Enhanced Code of Ethics
Hearn noted that this item was tabled during the previous meeting. Dunbar made a motion to raise this item from being tabled for discussion; seconded by Vidich. The motion passed. Ainsworth noted that the Council members are not subject to the State Code of Ethics because the Council is an advisory board. Ainsworth added that the Council members have expertise and experience with certain subject areas regarding environmental quality and it would be unfortunate if Council members were required to recuse themselves because they had previously discussed a certain topic. Vidich agreed and added that the guidance document for Council members was unnecessary. Vidich made a motion to that effect; seconded by Reiser. The motion passed.
7, Executive Director’s Report
a. Discussion of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) 22a-19 and right of citizen intervention
Hearn noted that a group opposed to the proposed development of a commercial property in the town of Canton had alleged that the proposed project would create environmental harm. He added that this group requested intervenor status in the proceeding from the Canton Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission, pursuant to CGS 22a-19. Hearn reviewed the language for CGS 22a-19. He added that a representative from this group commented to the Council that his group had been denied intervenor status in the proceeding. Hearn stated that he reviewed the Canton P&Z meeting for April and May and observed that the Canton P&Z commission did not formally grant the group intervenor status, but treated them as such. He added that the letter that the Council had suggested be sent to the Canton P&Z Commission was unnecessary since the Canton P&Z Commission referred to the group as intervenors and allowed them to present information in the proceeding as if they had explicitly been granted intervenor status.
Hearn reported that being an intervenor has two parts: 1) the entity requesting intervenor status has to allege that the pollution likely to be caused by the proposed action is unreasonable, and 2) they must show that the proceeding or action involves conduct which has, or is reasonably likely to have, the effect of unreasonably polluting, impairing or destroying the public trust in air, water or other natural resources of the State. Ainsworth added that there only needs to be an allegation of environmental harm, it does not have to be proven at the time the intervenor request is made. Ainsworth added that being designated or treated as an intervenor allows the intervenor the opportunity to present evidence in the proceeding and to askes questions of the applicant, which is not usually allowed for a member of the general public.
Hearn reviewed the specific allegations from the intervenor group and the findings of the Canton P&Z Commission regarding them.
- For the intervenor’s allegation that site alteration is reasonably likely to cause the degradation of groundwater and well water quality and supply by the creation and/or closure of fissures in bedrock geology and the release of sediments, the P&Z Commission did not find sufficient basis in the evidence presented that the proposed activities are likely to cause harm to degradation of groundwater or well water.
- For the intervenor’s allegation that excavation and blasting activities may impact the fate and transport of contamination from the nearby Superfund site and may increase the discharge of hazardous contaminants into ground water, the P&Z Commission did not find sufficient evidence and testimony that the proposed activities are likely to cause harm to degradation of groundwater or well water.
- For the intervenor’s allegation that site work will result in the destruction and loss of trap rock, the P&Z Commission found that the trap rock is a natural resource of the State that warrants protection, and that the proposed site activities would destroy trap rock formations and remove trap rock from the site.
The P&Z Commission’s ruled that the specific proposal is unreasonable in consideration of its scenic and ecological qualities and the potential for feasible and prudent alternatives exist for the development of this property that could reduce or eliminate unreasonable harm.
Ainsworth noted that if any regulatory agency finds that the allegations of environmental harm are likely to be true, the applicant must show that the pollution is not unreasonable or that there are no feasible and prudent alternatives. He added that sometimes an applicant will object to the granting of intervenor status; however, he noted that in such cases, it can be grounds for an appeal.
b. Staff Activities
- Hearn reported that Aresta conducted another training session for staff at the Departments of Public Health, Housing, and Economic and Community Development on June 9.
- Hearn indicated that Aresta continues to update the inventory of conserved land by:
- collecting data on approx. 135 land conservation organizations;
- researching parcels owned within 160+ municipalities;
- coordinating with DPH and OPM to acquire water company property totals; and
- collecting data on easements reported by land conservation organizations to the Land Conservation Council
Hearn added that the Council hopes to report on the status of land conservation for the 2021 Annual report.
8. State Agency & Legislative Actions
- Release-Based Remediation Working Groups – update
Hearn reported that he and Ainsworth have been representing the Council and participating in the Release-Based Remediation working groups and subgroups. He added that all the Release-Based Remediation working groups have produced concept papers presenting conceptual solutions for their assigned topics. He noted that the papers developed by each of the working groups are available for public review and comment on DEEP’s website for Release-Based Cleanup Program Stakeholder Engagement. He added that the deadline to submit comments is Tuesday, July 6, 2021. Hearn also noted that in his working group, there was information provided regarding the financial impact that a release can have on homeowners and businesses. Ainsworth added that the regulated community is concerned it will not be allowed a review of the draft regulations before they are released for public review.
- DEEP’s Sustainable, Transparent, and Efficient Practices (STEPS) for Solar Development Initiative
Hearn indicated that Aresta updated the analysis of Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) certified solar facilities for certain projects and found that:
- most of the capacity (megawatts – MW) were for ground-based systems but many projects, by count, were roof/structure mounted;
- most of the ground-based systems are in a designated agricultural land use classification and in prime farmland soils and statewide important soils; and
- most of the ground-based systems are not located in aquifer protection areas.
Hearn added that DEEP has initiated a stakeholder process to solicit input regarding solar development in the State and that the first meeting was held on June 16. He noted that DEEP has identified tentative objectives and a tentative facility scope. Hearn then provided a summary of the Council’s draft comments, which were distributed to Council members in advance of the meeting, that encourages distributed generation (roof top solar, shared solar) and conservation in DEEP’s request for proposals (RFPs); utilization of the planning capabilities of the Councils of Government (COGs); adherence to local locational preferences and consultation with other State agencies; analysis of the net loss or gain from mitigation for farm soils, wildlife and hydrology in RFP solicitations; and preference for projects that are protective of natural resources.
Ainsworth noted that Margaret Minor requested an opportunity to speak. Minor stated that, in her opinion, 1) the review by the Siting Council for solar projects comes too late in the process and that solar project developers should have more guidance earlier in the site selection process, 2) the headwaters and recharge areas for groundwater sources are very important and should be considered in the Tiers characterization, 3) information on water company lands should be available, and 4) the Coventry sewer project is contrary to the CEPA process and that in the past, DEEP has denied sewer extension projects. She added that there was an article in Connecticut Magazine about Commissioner Dykes and it indicated that DEEP was understaffed and a lot of resources were focused on the Energy Bureau.
Charamut expressed concerns regarding the Council’s draft comments and the suggestion that regulators should consider local guidance in the selection of sites for solar projects. She added that some municipalities might be more focused on economic development rather than the protection of environmental resources. Dunbar agreed that there can be conflicting priorities, but the more complicated the solar siting process, the less efficient and timely it might become. Vidich noted that the process used by the Siting Council for telecommunications towers, whereby local plans and land use requirements are addressed in the application and reviewed by the Siting Council, has merit and could be applied to solar facilities. Ainsworth noted that there are “loopholes” or regulatory exemptions for certain solar projects, including those that are part of a Certificate application or less than two MW, and therefore, not subject to environmental review by certain State agencies. There was general discussion regarding land use planning and selection criteria for solar projects. Charamut suggested that the draft comments should include specific reference to the challenges of developing brownfield sites for solar projects. Kolesinskas suggested that the draft comments should provide more focus on ecosystem services that provide for mitigation, adaption, and resiliency. Hearn indicated that he would revise the draft comments and provide them to Council members prior to submitting them to DEEP.
b. Connecticut Siting Council (CSC)
• Petition 1454
Aresta reported that staff reviewed a Petition from Eversource Energy for the proposed modifications to its existing Mansfield Substation located at on 140 North Eagleville Road in Mansfield and related transmission line and structure improvements. No comments are recommended.
• Docket 504
Aresta reported that staff reviewed an application for a new 115-foot telecommunications facility to be located at Lot N-4, Sequin Drive in Glastonbury. 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 assess: 1) relocating the tower compound to be farther from the identified wetlands, and 2) accessing the proposed facility from the existing access road off Hebron Avenue to avoid any potential impacts to wetlands.
• Petition 1455
Aresta reported that staff reviewed a Petition from Eversource Energy for proposed modifications to its existing Mystic Substation located at 148 Greenmanville Avenue in Stonington, and related electric transmission line structure improvements. No comments are recommended.
It was the consensus of the Council members to submit the comments to the Siting Council.
Aresta reviewed information regarding the current and past status of Siting Council decisions regarding solar electric generation projects.
Hearn noted that two solar electric generation projects, which the Council submitted comments (Petition 1442 and Petition 1443), have been modified so that the potential impacts on environmental resources on the proposed sites, such as wetlands, vernal pools, and forested land, have been minimized.
c. Legislation: Update on the legislative session
Hearn reviewed the status of legislation which the Council provided written testimony/comments for during the 2021 legislative session, including but not limited to:
- Senate Bill 1037 (Public Act 21-58), which includes provisions to modify the “bottle Bill” consistent with several recommendations identified in the Council’s report, Low Deposit, Low Return. These include increasing the deposit to ten cents per container, increasing the handling fee, and expanding the types of beverage containers that would be subject to a deposit;
- Senate Bill 928 (Special Act 21-9), which includes provisions for DEEP to submit recommendations for recycled content requirements for products sold in the state and for multi-state coordination;
- House Bill 6441 (Public Act 21-115), which includes provisions for municipalities to establish a municipal stormwater authority, broadens the authority of municipal flood and erosion control boards to include flood prevention and climate resilience, and expands the Connecticut Green Bank’s duties to include developing separate programs to finance and otherwise support environmental infrastructure and establishes an Environmental Infrastructure Fund within the Green Bank; and
- Senate Bill 701 (Special Act 21-6), which includes provisions for the board of directors of the Bolton Lakes Regional Water Pollution Control Authority to authorize the expansion of such authority's wastewater system into the Town of Coventry.
Charamut expressed her support for the legislation that establishes the municipal stormwater authorities. Vidich noted that Public Act 21-29 expands measures to reduce hypoxic conditions in Long Island Sound to any municipality that is contiguous to or on a navigable waterway draining to Long Island Sound. Vidich suggested that the Council should review what is a “navigable” waterway during an upcoming meeting of the Council. Ainsworth noted that definitions of navigable waterways vary among government agencies, making for a difficult discussion.
9. Other Business
Ainsworth asked if there was any other business. Dunbar questioned (by chat) if the next Council meeting would be held at the Council’s/DEEP’s offices in Hartford. Ainsworth noted that the emergency orders that were issued by the Governor is response to the COVID-19 crisis are due to expire at the end of the month. Hearn reported that DEEP’s policy is that staff will return at fifty percent (50%) capacity as of July 1. Hearn added that although the Council is a separate agency, it would be prudent to adhere to DEEP’s precautions and hold the next meeting remotely rather than in a closed conference room. It was the consensus of the Council members to hold the July meeting remotely, but to review the possibility of in-person meetings in the future.
Ainsworth asked for a motion to adjourn. Vidich made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 11:41 AM; seconded by Kolesinskas. The motion passed.