Minutes of the March 24, 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, David Kalafa, Charles Vidich, Matt Reiser, and Lee Dunbar.
ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Executive Director), Paul Aresta (Environmental Analyst), and Matt Pafford (Office of Policy and Management)
Call to Order: Establishment of a Quorum
At 9:30 AM, Ainsworth called the meeting to order. Ainsworth noted that the meeting was being recorded. He confirmed which Council members were present and noted that there was a quorum.
2. Approval of Agenda
Ainsworth suggested adding the draft comments for Raised Bill 887 to the agenda as item 8b. Vidich made the motion to approve the agenda as revised; seconded by Kalafa. The motion passed.
3. Approval of Minutes of February 24, 2021
Ainsworth asked if there were any changes to the draft minutes of February 24, 2021. Hearing none, Ainsworth asked for a motion to approve the draft minutes. Vidich made a motion to approve the draft minutes of February 24; seconded by Kalafa. The motion passed with Reiser abstaining, having been absent at the February meeting.
4. Citizen Comment Period
There were no citizen comments.
5. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries Received
Hearn stated that he received a few complaints and inquiries:
Hearn described how he has followed up on the complaint of potentially inadequate cover material at the former landfill that has become a town park (Kosciusko Park) in Stamford. He said he is awaiting the inspection report from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
He said a legislator contacted him about a constituent complaint regarding deterioration of the Amtrak Bridge over Quinnipiac River. He reported that he contacted the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Long Island Soundkeeper. The DOT informed him that Amtrak was aware of the problem and the Soundkeeper informed him that the United States Coast Guard had been notified because it might affect the Quinnipiac River, which is a navigable waterway.
An inquiry was received from a resident of West Hartford who wanted to know whom to contact to get permission to landscape State-owned flood control land behind his house. Hearn passed the inquiry on to DEEP and is awaiting an answer.
A complaint about quarry operations on a 75-acre parcel in Monroe. Hearn added that the complainant alleges that the operators of the quarry eliminated wetlands on the site and that parts of the quarry had been filled with materials that might be contaminated. The complainant reported that DEEP had visited the site and found no violations. He said he expected to have more information at the next meeting.
A resident complained about excess runoff from State-owned land at one of Connecticut’s universities, following mandated mitigation to replace a field that was displaced by a campus road. The complainant indicated that the modifications took place a few years ago and that the university has made efforts to remedy the problem through the use of a curtain drain. However, the resident informed him that the problem persists and the school is no longer cooperating. Hearn stated he expects to have more to report at the next meeting.
6. Executive Director’s Report
Report on Comments & Correspondence
Hearn reported that, since the last meeting, he filed written comments with the legislature regarding the following raised bills (RB):
Governor’s Bill 882 - An Act Concerning Climate Change Mitigation and Home Energy Affordability
Governor’s Bill 6441 - An Act Concerning Climate Change Adaptation
RB 928 - An Act Concerning Recycled Content for Products Sold in Connecticut
RB 1037 - An Act Concerning Solid Waste Management
RB 6498 - An Act Concerning the Siting of Certain Solar Facilities on Farmlands and Core Forests
RB 887 - An Act Authorizing and Adjusting Bonds of the State for Capital Improvements, Transportation and Other Purposes.
Request for State Park attendance figures
Hearn reported that both he and Aresta contacted DEEP regarding statistics regarding the number of visitors to Connecticut’s State parks and forests, but neither have received a reply to the inquiries.
As directed by the Council at the last meeting, Hearn sent a letter to Environment Committee regarding RB 701 and he also sent an email to DEEP requesting a status update on the project. Hearn reviewed the content of the email for Council members and noted that he has not received a reply to his inquiry nor has the Environment Committee acted on RB 701.
Tiers Subcommittee Activities of the Release-Based Regulation Working Group
Hearn indicated that he and Ainsworth have been participating in the meetings of the Release-Based Regulation Working Group. He has been also attending the meetings of the Tiers Subcommittee. He added that the Subcommittee has been working on defining what a tier is – a process or category, and if a category, what are the categories into which various releases would fall. He noted that he was impressed with the caliber and professionalism of the people on the Subcommittee. Ainsworth added that some of the Subcommittee participants are trying to make the definitions that will be inserted into the ultimate regulations fit their desired results; however, there haven't been any solid decisions on what's going to replace the Transfer Act.
Hearn reported that Council staff recently acquired Power BI to develop interactive charts for the online version of the Annual Report.
New Templates for Notices to the Environmental Monitor
Hearn reported that the notice template for the Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) notice was recently refined to include content on the previous publication of a Scoping Notice and Post-Scoping Notice in the Environmental Monitor.
Department of Housing (DOH) Access
Hearn reported that staff has been working with NIC, the systems developer for the Sitecore software, to allow access for representatives of the Connecticut DOH to develop notices for the Environmental Monitor.
7. Review Draft Annual Report
Hearn thanked the Council members that submitted comments regarding the draft Annual Report and indicated that the vast majority of the comments were addressed in the revised draft Annual Report. He reviewed the Summary page of indicators in the Annual Report and briefly explained why certain indicators were selected for specific categories. Ainsworth noted that lobster reductions are likely due to increases in bottom water temperature and potentially, insecticides. He added that the decline in bats is due to a fungus and that both bats and lobsters are unlikely to see a return to previous population numbers. Hearn noted that the wetlands indicator was the only page in the Annual Report that did not have a chart because there was no data. He added that attention needs to be focused on the Wetlands Program at DEEP because of the current way records are reported and the lack of electronic data, the insufficient staff resources, and the difficulties with the online training materials.
After reviewing the Summary page, Hearn reviewed the major changes from the version that had been sent to the Council members for comment. These included:
a revision to the Core Forest chart, which included a revised legend;
a revision to the land preservation gauge;
a revision to the Osprey nesting map to increase the legend; and
a revision to the scale of the Waste Diversion chart.
Ainsworth commented that the goal line on the Land Preservation chart created confusion regarding the annual acquisition and the cumulative total of acres. Hearn indicated that the right axis could be modified to make it clearer that the goal line is for the cumulative acres of open space. Vidich noted that it is difficult to distinguish between SO2 and PM10 in the Air Pollutants chart because the colors are similar. Hearn indicated that the data series can be modified to make it clearer. Kolesinskas noted that there should be text referenced from the Drinking Water page indicating that the impact of climate change and extreme precipitation events can impact water quantity which impacts water quality. Hearn agreed and indicated that text could be added to the Annual Report to highlight that issue.
Hearn suggested that the Annual Report is mostly complete and that it would be desirable to release it in advance of Earth Day. Vidich questioned the status of the Climate Changers page and whether more data for the Annual Report is expected. Hearn answered that more data is expected before publication and if it doesn’t arrive in time, a mid-summer update can be published, as has been done in the past. After general discussion regarding the release of the Annual Report, Vidich made a motion to approve the release of the Annual Report in advance of Earth Day, provided all the suggested changes and any new data received are incorporated into the final version; seconded by Kolesinskas. The motion passed.
8. State Agency & Legislative Actions
Connecticut Siting Council (CSC)
Aresta reported SR North Stonington, LLC proposed to construct a 9.9-MW AC solar PV facility on a few parcels in North Stonington. Aresta added that comments have been drafted that address wetlands and vernal pools, wildlife, vegetation and core forests, visibility, and stormwater. Aresta stated that the Petitioner indicated that there was no core forest on the proposed site(s), but they had incorrectly defined core forest in the Petition.
Aresta noted that CP NB Solar I, LLC and CP NB Solar II, LLC proposed to construct a 1-megawatt (MW) and a 0.97-MW solar photovoltaic electric generating facility in North Branford. Aresta added that comments have been drafted that address wildlife, visibility, and groundwater. He noted that the proposed project is less than two MW in total capacity and therefore not subject to the requirements of Public Act 17-218, even though there are prime farmland soils on the proposed site. Kolesinskas commented that he has concerns regarding the impact on prime farmland soils and suggested that the comments be refined to include a recommendation by the Council that practices, such as minimizing grading, trenching and compaction of prime farmland soils, be employed during construction to allow for a future restoration of those soils to productive agricultural use. In addition, he suggested that a statement be added to the comments highlighting the importance of North Branford as an agricultural community, which is located near the City of New Haven.
Aresta reported that Diamond Towers V, LLC proposed to construct a 95-foot monopole tower that would be designed to look like a pine tree in the rear parking area of an existing building in Cheshire. No comments are recommended.
Charamut made a motion to approve the submittal of the revised comments to the Connecticut Siting Council; seconded by Dunbar. The motion passed.
Legislature – Bills to Watch
Hearn reported that Council staff is tracking several raised bills that have thus far received a “joint favorable” determination by either the Environment Committee and the Energy and Technology Committee of the legislature. Hearn reviewed several of the raised bills. There was general discussion regarding the proposed raised bill to de-couple the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) from DEEP. There was also general discussion regarding a proposed bill to provide information on the energy use of residences to better inform prospective buyers and renters. Hearn noted that there has been a lot of interest regarding the vegetation management practices of the electric distribution companies (EDC) recently, and there is a proposed bill to allow the EDCs to remove trees and branches within the utility protection zone for three-phase power distribution. Ainsworth noted that PURA thoroughly reviewed this issue and recently issued a decision that the United Illuminating was using the emergency tree trimming provision for routine vegetation management. Dunbar noted that there are several raised bills of interest that are not on the list of raised bills having a “joint favorable” status and questioned the timeline for raised bills to receive a “joint favorable” determination from the legislature’s committees. Charamut indicated that the deadline is in early April.
Kalafa stated that he had to leave the meeting at 11:00 AM. Ainsworth noted that there was still a quorum.
9. Other Business
Ainsworth asked if Council members wanted to discuss any other business. Kolesinskas asked if it would be possible to do an analysis, possibly for next year’s Annual Report, of the land use impacts of renewable energy projects in the State. Vidich noted that the State has not adequately coupled energy conservation with renewable energy development. Hearn added that there are many worthwhile bills that are proposed each year in the legislature to protect the environment and that the Council has historically provided written comments on those in which the subject matter has been analyzed by the Council.
Ainsworth asked for a motion to adjourn. Dunbar made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 11:13 AM; seconded by Vidich. The motion passed.
 (Passcode: 8EFrF%EQ)