Minutes of the April 27, 2005 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room, 5th Floor, 79 Elm Street, Hartford.

PRESENT:  Thomas Harrison (Chairman), Howard Beach, John Mandyck, Susan Mendenhall, Earl Phillips, Richard Sherman, Norman VanCor, Wesley Winterbottom, Karl Wagener (Executive Director)

Chairman Harrison called the meeting to order at 9:07 AM. 

Chairman Harrison offered a motion to approve the minutes of February 23, 2005.  Second by Winterbottom.  Approved unanimously.  Harrison then offered a motion to approve the March 23, 2005 minutes. Second by Sherman.  Approved unanimously, with Winterbottom abstaining for the reason that he was not present.

Chairman Harrison gave a brief report on the proposed budget, saying that the budget bill as reported by the legislature’s Appropriations Committee would fund one position for the Council.

Wagener also gave a brief report on the activities of the office, noting that his recent work on the annual report and citizen complaints would be discussed later in the agenda.

Citizen Complaints

Norwich State Hospital – Wagener recounted the events since the Council’s March meeting, including the sending of the letter to Commissioner of Public Works James Fleming, and his discussions with the Commissioner Fleming and Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon.  He referred to a letter from the former, which had been distributed to members in advance.  Wagener said that the Council’s letter had been reported in newspapers as a threat to the timing or very future of the transfer of land, which was not the Council’s understanding or intent.  The news coverage went on for many days, until Commissioner Fleming rejected the Councils’ advice. Sherman asked how much information the news media requested from the Council.  Wagener replied that he was contacted by two reporters on the very first day the letter became public, and afterward he was never contacted again for facts or commentary.  Wagener concluded his remarks by saying that, without intending any criticism of any one state agency, the fact remained that the state was giving away about 250 acres of undeveloped land without knowing what natural resources might be present.  The state routinely buys undeveloped land for conservation purposes, and a tract of this size, if it were found to have conservation value, would probably cost two million dollars or more.  Chairman Harrison suggested that the Council put the generic question of surplus land transfers on its agenda in a couple of months, after this specific controversy subsides, to discuss possible improvements to state procedures.  Members agreed.

Speaking from the audience, Dr. David Bingham of Salem said he had  been having very similar experiences with the news media, having been quoted and mischaracterized (with regard to his position with the Sierra Club) repeatedly without ever having been contacted.  He said he believes the state will end up buying back this land at considerable expense.  He also said he is asking the Department of Public Works for a declaratory ruling as to the applicability of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) to land transfers.  Sherman asked if he thought the sale of the land was an action under CEPA; Bingham said in his view it was.  Bingham advised the Council to look into the larger issue of how surplus land is handled, as the large state-owned hospital property in Middletown could be made surplus in the future.

Ash Creek and DEP Hearing Procedures – Wagener referred to the letter from DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy that was distributed in advance.  Wagener said she wrote that she could not review the procedural issue in question until the permit proceeding had been concluded, after which time she would be willing to discuss the questions.  Wagener added that the hearing officer yesterday had issued a proposed decision to grant the permit with conditions, and the final decision would be made by the Commissioner.

Farmington wetlands – Wagener referred to the draft letter that had been distributed in advance, and said that he had drafted the letter following the discussion at the March meeting.  After some discussion, members decided to send a copy to the town’s chief elected official.  Beach made a motion to send the letter with a copy to the town. Second by Mandyck. Approved unanimously. 

Others – Wagener said that he had spent time on several complaints, including one from citizens who questioned why an intersection expansion in Stonington was being done with no environmental impact evaluation or wetlands permit.  Wagener said his research indicated that it appeared to be too small to fall under CEPA requirements, and that it had been designed to avoid nearby wetlands.  Regarding the latter, he said that the DOT had marked the wetlands in the field, and the DEP, unlike most municipalities, does not regulate any buffer zone outside the wetlands.  Members suggested that the DEP’s policy on buffer zones might warrant review.

Review of State Agency Projects

Hebron Village Green District – Wagener said that the office had received an Environmental Impact Evaluation for this proposed project.  He had only one brief comment.  He proposed commenting to the effect that an EIE should always address specific issues raised during the scoping process, even if the issue is not of concern.  In this instance, some citizens had questioned the impact to a local rail-trail.  Wagener said the EIE should address such a concern even if the answer is that the rail-trail will not adjoin the project site.  Members concurred. 

Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) and CEPA – Wagener referred to the draft letter to OPM that had been circulated in advance of the meeting.  Winterbottom suggested one editorial change.  VanCor made a motion to approve and send the letter.  Second by Beach.  The motion was approved unanimously.

Discussion of Annual Report Topics

Members suggested some minor changes to the report, which were adopted.  Members suggested a number of changes to the introduction.  Chairman Harrison said the introduction would be revised and circulated by e-mail, and members would have a period to review and approve the revised introduction.  Once revised, he said, the report would be printed and distributed in May.

Chairman Harrison adjourned the meeting at 11:30 AM.