Minutes of the August 24, 2005 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Room, 5th  Floor, 79 Elm Street, Hartford. 

PRESENT:  Thomas Harrison (Chairman), Howard Beach, Richard Sherman, Norman VanCor, Barbara Wagner, Wesley Winterbottom, Karl Wagener (Executive Director)

Chairman Harrison called the meeting to order at 9:05 AM, and determined that a quorum was present.  VanCor made a motion to accept the July 27, 2005 meeting minutes.  Second by Beach.  Unanimous, with Wagner and Winterbottom abstaining because they had not been present.  Sherman arrived after the vote.

Chairman's Report

Harrison said that he and Wagener were scheduled to meet with OPM Secretary Robert Genuario to discuss the Council’s budget.  He said that, as a separate matter, all agencies were being directed to submit budget reduction options equaling five percent of their budgets.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener referred to the list of categories of people who had received the annual report, and asked for suggestions from members for additions.

Discussion of encroachments and other open space management problems

Wagener said that the research is moving ahead but the scope of the problem is larger than he had estimated previously.   He still needs to communicate with other agencies, including the Attorney General, Comptroller, and Auditors of Public Accounts, who all have role in the management of state assets.

After considerable discussion, the Council agreed that a report should be prepared for discussion at the October meeting, and that its scope should cover all of the following:  1) Disposal of undeveloped state land, 2) encroachments on state-owned open space, 3) encroachments on private nonprofit-owned open space, and 4) encroachments on wetlands owned by the state.  Wagener said it is too early to say what draft recommendations might be, but they are likely to cover the need for a consistent response, the need for well-marked, well-surveyed boundaries, and penalties.

Citizen Complaints

Lack of standards in the DEP’s Structures and Dredging program – Chairman Harrison invited Robert Fromer to speak at the table.  Mr. Fromer distributed a copy of a typical application to the DEP for a private dock in Groton, and his comments on it.  His two main points were that the state does not have a marine building code for marine structures, and that the DEP does not require an applicant to consider alternative materials to pressure-treated lumber.  He displayed some samples of resin-based materials that are used for pilings and decking on piers and docks around the world.  He asked the Council to ask the General Assembly to create a Task Force to look at creating a marine building code.  He said the Council should encourage the DEP to develop regulations and standards that would require applicants to look at alternatives.  Mr. Fromer said that many applications are submitted by one contractor, who usually submits the same information in the areas of the application dealing with impacts and materials.

Winterbottom asked if he had brought these concerns to the DEP.  Mr. Fromer said he had commented on more than 50 applications.  In one contested case, the settlement required the applicant to look into alternative materials, but that practice was not adopted in subsequent cases.  Sherman said he thought the plastic materials were for decking only, not structural members; Mr. Fromer displayed some information that showed its use in pilings.  After more discussion, Harrison said Wagener will prepare a memo on what actions the Council might take.

Winterbottom asked if the issues for coastal docks would apply to inland bodies of water.  Wagener said it could; he knew the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers restricted certain materials on some lakes it controlled.  Also, Wagener pointed out, this overlaps the encroachment issue discussed previously, as many docks are built without permission on state-owned lake bottoms.  He would look at this as he prepared his memo.

Farmington wetlands – Wagener reported that DEP staff was looking into the Farmington case, but that a preliminary review showed that a permit had been issued some years ago to fill the ponds and wetlands in question. Wagener said the information he had seen suggested a flawed permitting process, but this was only preliminary and the DEP had not completed its review.  Members agreed to invite the DEP to discuss the larger statewide wetlands issues in October.

Discussion of Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) Regulations

Chairman Harrison asked Jeff Smith of the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) to summarize the main points of the draft regulations.  Mr. Smith said his goals were to provide a procedure for an agency to exit the EIE process, if warranted; to spell out a procedure to follow is a proposed project or conditions change after an EIE is completed; and to dump Environmental Classification Documents and replace that part of the process with Categorical Exclusions, which would parallel the federal process.  There was considerable discussion, especially of the part of the proposed process that would result in a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI).  Mr. Smith said this would be unlike the old FONSIs; this would be more like a true finding.

Several members of the audience indicated that they would like to speak.  Roger Reynolds of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment emphasized the need to spell out a process for monitoring mitigation efforts, including schedules, deadlines, and reporting. He also said the FONSI alternative might prove to be a temptation for agencies.  He also had concerns about each agency having its own list of Categorical Exclusions.

David Bingham of Salem said that the definition of “action” should be changed to include sale or transfers of state properties.  Members concurred.

Mr. Fromer said he echoed the previous two speakers, and wanted to know if there would be a public review and comment period for the regulations.  Mr. Smith said there would be.  Mr. Fromer wanted to see more definitive language for consideration of alternatives in such things as energy use.

Wagener, using the flip chart, presented an overview of current and proposed CEPA processes, including his recommendation to remove the FONSI alternative.  He also summarized the points in the memo he had distributed previously.. The memo included several relatively minor points of the regulations that would affect the Council directly, and members agreed they should all be included in the Council’s comments, along with Mr. Reynolds’ suggestion on mitigation and Mr. Bingham’s suggestion regarding the definition of action.  On the larger issue, members agreed that the route to a FONSI should be designed as to not be too tempting.  Wagener said he would draft comments and circulate them for review by members before submitting them to OPM.

Other Business

Members discussed future agendas.  The September 21 meeting would be a public forum in Torrington.  In October, the Council will discuss the encroachment issue in more detail, hear from Michael Stoddard of Environment Northeast, and possibly discuss wetlands issues with DEP staff.  VanCor said the Council might want to investigate the ATV problem as it keeps growing.  Winterbottom said the issue of indoor air quality received inadequate attention in his view and might warrant attention. 

Chairman Harrison adjourned the meeting at noon.