Council on Environmental Quality Meeting Minutes
Minutes of the July 26, 2023, meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality (Council).
MEMBERS PRESENT: Keith Ainsworth (Acting Chair), Kip Kolesinskas, Charles Vidich, David Kalafa, William Warzecha, Alicea Charamut, Christopher Donnelly, Matt Reiser, and Denise Rodosevich.
ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Paul Aresta (Executive Director), Nicholas Velseboer (Environmental Analyst), Linda Brunza (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP)), Bruce Wittchen (Office of Policy and Management (OPM)), Rebecca Dahl – (OPM), and Justine Phillips-Gallucci (OPM).
1. Call to Order: Establishment of a Quorum
At 9:30 AM, Ainsworth called the meeting to order, took attendance, and confirmed that there was a quorum of Council members present.
2. Approval of Minutes of June 28, 2023
Charamut made a motion to approve the draft minutes of June 28, 2023; seconded by Vidich. The motion was approved unanimously.
Ainsworth noted that Connecticut Siting Council (CSC) Petition 1533A could be added to the agenda. Vidich made a motion to revise the agenda to include CSC Petition 1533A; seconded by Warzecha. The motion was approved unanimously.
3. Citizen Comment Period
Charamut noted the passing of a long-time environmental advocate in Connecticut.
4. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries Received
- Aresta reported that the Council received an inquiry from the press (WWLP, 22 News) regarding the recent Connecticut River flooding and possible water quality issues. Ainsworth stated that he responded to the press inquiry. Ainsworth and Charamut noted the importance of reducing combined sewer overflows for improving water quality.
- Aresta reported that a letter was sent to Commissioner Hurlburt at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DOA) to inquire if the agency had issued a decision about the development rights for the property in Sharon. He added that the Commissioner responded that the issue is still pending.
- Velseboer reported that the Council received a complaint about multiple potential mosquito breeding sites at a property in Waterbury. He added that Council staff contacted DEEP for assistance and received a response that mosquito breeding sites are the responsibility of the local Department of Public Health, which has the authority to send a sanitarian to the property to assess the potential for mosquito breeding. This information was relayed back to the complainant.
- Velseboer reported that the Council was contacted by a resident of Kensington concerned that a recent sale of a wooded parcel of land that contains a Natural Diversity Data Base (NDDB) buffer area and might be developed. Velseboer responded that the development of private land might not necessarily require state input, or an environmental review. The resident was provided with information regarding DEEP’s Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant (OSWA) Program for the potential preservation of an adjacent property.
- Velseboer reported that the Council received an inquiry from a citizen requesting information on how to determine if a property is within/near a core forest. The caller was provided with a link to the web service for forest fragmentation, and contact information for the Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) and DEEP Forestry.
5. Executive Director’s Report
- Aresta reported again that a letter to Commissioner Hurlburt expressing the Council’s concerns regarding the preservation status for a portion of a parcel in Sharon; the amount of farmland being preserved by the DOA; and the conversion of agricultural land for the production of energy in the state. Commissioner Hurlburt responded that the agency would be pleased to attend a future Council meeting and provide information. Aresta added that he provided the Commissioner with the dates for the next four Council meetings, and is waiting to confirm the Commissioner's availability.
- Aresta reported that the Council continues to try to obtain information regarding expenditures for 2022 for the Connecticut Lakes, Rivers and Ponds Preservation Account and suggested that a letter to the Deputy Commissioner might be warranted.
- Aresta reported that the Council reviewed the draft Forest Plan for certain blocks of the Pachaug State Forest (Plan), which would govern management activities from 2023 to 2038. He added that draft comments have been developed that raise some questions regarding public notice/public input and seek clarification for some of the details in the draft Plan. Kolesinskas noted that forest management activities might be altered because of changes in the climate and how carbon is managed in a forest. Donnelly noted the importance of DEEP’s standard operating procedures for forest management. There was general discussion regarding forest management plans in the state.
- Vidich made a motion to approve the draft comments for the draft Plan for the Pachaug State Forest; seconded by Kalafa. The motion was approved unanimously.
- Aresta reported that the Council was contacted by OPM’s Office of Responsible Growth (ORG) seeking assistance in identifying potential policies, objectives, performance measurements and potential implementation methods to include in the state Conservation and Development Policies Plan 2025-30 (C&D Plan). He added that this might be an opportunity to provide high level input into policy priorities that have been identified in the annual report, such as farmland preservation, reduction of impervious surfaces, etc. Kolesinskas noted that the central theme for the state’s C&D Plan should address climate change mitigation and adaptation. Kalafa noted that it would be helpful to invite a representative of OPM to discuss how the C&D Plan is considered when making funding decisions for capital projects. Vidich added that it would also be helpful to get information on the interaction between the state C&D Plan and regional and local plans of development.
- Aresta reported that he contacted DEEP regarding the status of the preservation efforts for the Department of Transportation (DOT) parcels in North Canaan. DEEP responded that the property would qualify for funding through the Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program and a local preservation organization has been working with the town to preserve those parcels.
- Aresta reported that DEEP and the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) are partnering on the development of an Environmental Justice Mapping tool to identify vulnerable populations that may be disproportionately impacted by programs, policies, or projects and to inform initiatives for creating healthy communities. He noted that the data is mapped by block group and the layers groups include potential pollution sources, potential pollution exposure, socioeconomic factors, and health sensitivity. Aresta added that the Council might be able to incorporate the results of the mapping tool into the annual report. Rodosevich also suggested utilizing the tool when the Council reviews projects/actions throughout the state. Donnelly, Ainsworth and Kolesinskas expressed support for using the tool, but noted that the tool is still new and might not have all the data sets that could be helpful for analyses.
- Aresta noted that recently enacted legislation (Public Act 23-76) requires the Council to include in the annual report - a review of “programs and measures of local governments implemented pursuant to subsection (d) of section 22a-244b.” He added that the Council will request information from municipalities on how the funds were spent and will begin data collection in the late summer/early fall with the results highlighted in a white paper for the Council’s review and approval by mid-December. The results can then be given to the Environment Committee in advance of the legislative session and included in the Council’s annual report.
Ainsworth noted that the Council would take a five-minute break at 10:32 AM. The Council meeting resumed at 10:37 AM.
6. State Agency Actions
- Release-Based Remediation Program – update
Velseboer summarized the most recent meeting of the Release-Based Remediation Working Group and noted that DEEP discussed the difference between two categories of professionals certified to verify the cleanup of a release. He added that the next meeting of the Working Group is scheduled for August 8, 2023.
- General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater from Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System and General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater Associated with Commercial Activity
Aresta reported that DEEP intends to reissue both stormwater general permits without modifications for the period of two (2) years after the effective date. For the General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater from Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System, DEEP intends to engage in a stakeholder process and reissue a new MS4 general permit with modifications following the release of the 2020 census maps and regulatory clarifications by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Aresta added that there is no mention of revising the General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater Associated with Commercial Activity in the next two years.
- Sustainable, Transparent, and Efficient Practices for Solar Siting (STEPS) initiative and Statewide Shared Clean Energy Facility (SCEF) Program
Aresta reported that DEEP developed and is revising a Draft Guidance for Siting Solar on Agricultural Lands for STEPS and is seeking comments regarding the possibility of a bid preference for agrivoltaics in the next SCEF procurement. He added that draft comments have been developed and distributed that address a potential bid preference for agrivoltaics in the SCEF program. Ainsworth suggested that there should not be an incentive or bid preference for the development of solar on agricultural land, but if a solar project is proposed to be developed on agricultural land, the project should incorporate agrivoltaics measures.
Kolesinskas suggested that the draft General Permits should incorporate the most updated guidance for erosion and sedimentation control and stormwater management. Vidich noted the importance of protecting farmland and suggested that the bid preference for agrivoltaics for the SCEF program could be a negative bid preference or a cost adder for evaluation purposes. Rodosevich questioned the success of the MS4 program. Reiser responded that some municipalities are in full compliance, and some are not, and it depends on the amount of resources that a municipality can direct to the program.
Vidich made a motion to amend the draft comments to recommend that DEEP consider a variable negative bid preference for solar development for the SECF program, based on the type and quality of agricultural land/uses; seconded by Rodosevich. The motion was approved unanimously.
b. Connecticut Siting Council (CSC)
- Petition 1533A (fuel cell, Colchester) - Comments recommended
Aresta reported that he reviewed a proposal by ReNew Developers LLC to construct a fuel cell facility with a capacity of 18-megawatt (MW). He added that the developers requested that the Siting Council reopen Petition 1533 and modify, based on changed conditions, its decision that approved the construction and operation of a 4.99-MW fuel cell facility on Old Amston Road in Colchester. He summarized the land use and environmental characteristics of the proposed site and noted that draft comments have been developed and distributed that address wetlands, wildlife, stormwater management and erosion and sedimentation (E&S) controls.
- Petition 1582 (energy, Shelton - Stratford) - Comments recommended
Aresta reported that he reviewed a proposal by Eversource to replace structures, conductors and shield wire along approximately 3.3 miles within the existing right of way (ROW) that connects United Illuminating's Substation in Shelton to Eversource’s West Devon Junction in Stratford. He summarized the land use and environmental characteristics of the proposed site and noted that draft comments have been developed and distributed that address the provision of best management practices and other referenced materials; protection of wetland, watercourses, and vernal pools; vegetation management; E&S controls; and inspections/education.
- Petition 1583 (solar, Bethany) - Comments recommended
Aresta reported that he reviewed a proposal by TRITEC Americas, LLC to develop a 0.999-MW solar facility to be located at 428 Bethmour Road in Bethany. He summarized the land use and environmental characteristics of the proposed site and noted that draft comments have been developed and distributed that address visibility, water resources, and prime farmland soils and agricultural uses Ainsworth noted that the visual impact might be significant for neighboring properties, and it was suggested that the proposed plantings be of sufficient size to effectively screen the proposed project. Vidich suggested modifying the draft comments to remove reference to the draft Guidance for Siting Solar on Agricultural Lands.
Donnelly suggested including a reference in the comments for Petition 1582 to the statutory definition for hazard trees, consistent with Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) Section 16-234, which might differ with the definition of hazard tree used by the electric utilities.
Vidich made a motion to approve the draft comments for Petition 1533A; revise and approve the draft comments for the Petition 1582 with the addition of a reference to CGS Section 16-234 for hazardous trees; and revise and approve the draft comments for Petition 1583 to include plantings of sufficient size to effectively screen the proposed facility and removal of the reference to the draft Guidance for Siting Solar on Agricultural Lands; seconded by Kalafa. The motion passed unanimously.
- Petition 1544A (solar, Norfolk/Colebrook) – No comments recommended at this time
Aresta reported that he reviewed a proposal by Lodestar to amend the CSC decision to allow the relocation of the utility easement associated with the project from the originally proposed location on the eastern boundary of land to the western boundary. He summarized the land use and environmental characteristics of the site.
- Petition 1581 (battery storage, East Hampton) – No comments recommended at this time
Aresta reported that he reviewed a proposal by KCE CT 8, LLC to develop a 4.9-MW / 19.6 MWh battery energy storage facility to be located at 44 Skinner Street in East Hampton. He summarized the land use and environmental characteristics of the proposed site, including the installation of sound walls around the proposed equipment in order to be in compliance with noise regulations.
- Petition 1584 (telecom, Hartford) - No comments recommended at this time
Aresta reported that he reviewed a proposal by Verizon Wireless to install a small wireless telecommunications facility on the roof of a City-owned building that is used as a parking garage in Hartford.
- Petition 1585 (battery storage, Meriden) - No comments recommended at this time
Aresta reported that he reviewed a proposal by Endurant Energy to construct a 4.9-MW battery energy storage facility to be located at 508 North Colony Street in Meriden. He summarized the land use and environmental characteristics of the proposed site.
7. Other Business
Ainsworth asked if there were any other items for discussion by Council members and noted that the next Council meeting is scheduled for August 23, 2023.
Vidich made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 11:38 AM; seconded by Ainsworth. The motion was approved unanimously.
A recording of this meeting is available here1 and by email request of the Council (email to: email@example.com). (Disclaimer: The transcript associated with the meeting recording is computer-generated and may contain typos that have not been edited.)
1 Passcode: @I.@py&4