Minutes of the December 20, 2006 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Phoenix Auditorium, 79 Elm Street, Hartford.

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

Chairman Harrison convened the meeting at 9:05 AM and determined that a quorum was present. 

VanCor made a motion to approve the November 15, 2006 minutes.  Second by Sherman.  Approved unanimously.

Chairman’s Report

Chairman Harrison thanked the members for their efforts over the past year, which he said had been very productive. 

Harrison said that the 2007 meeting schedule created some conflicts for at least one member, but the e-mail survey showed that any attempt to move the date would create new conflicts, so the approved schedule of fourth Wednesdays remained unchanged.

Harrison yielded the floor to Winterbottom, who said he would soon be leaving on a research trip to Africa.   Thanks to satellite communications, members who would like to read progress reports can do so; all wanted to, and Wagener said he would forward them by e-mail.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener gave brief reports on correspondence sent and received since the November meeting, including a letter sent to the Commissioner of Transportation on tree-cutting as well as road sand reduction. 

Wagener attended a meeting in New Hartford where town officials and consulting engineers presented more detailed information on the proposed sewage treatment plant, on which the Council had submitted comments earlier in the year. 

Wagener said the legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee had released its staff report on the DEP’s Environmental Conservation police, which concluded that more officers would be needed but did not specify a number, which would depend on further definition of the goals and policing philosophy by the DEP.

Wagener reported on the Fiscal Accountability report that the Office of Policy and Management submitted to two legislative committees in late November as required by a Public Act 05-262.  Focusing on projected general obligation bond allocations through 2011, Wagener said he did not see in those projections a plan for meeting the state’s environmental goals.  Total annual general obligation bond allocations would average about 1.3 billion dollars, but the only environmental allocations were twenty million a year for the clean water fund and an “all other” category of which an unknown percentage could be environmental.  He noted that this was an OPM projection, not the governor’s budget or the legislature’s decision, and could be changed.  Wagener noted that there was an apparent mismatch between the projections and the amounts being sought by a variety of organizations for environmental purposes, with the latter totaling more than 300 million dollars per year.

Discussion of DEP Priorities and Related Topics

Chairman Harrison introduced Gina McCarthy, Commissioner of Environmental Protection, and members introduced themselves.  Commissioner McCarthy said she regarded the Council as very valuable as an independent voice.  DEP staff in the audience were introduced, including Deputy Commissioner Amey Marrella, legislative program manager Tom Tyler, director of coastal management Brian Thompson, and Steven Tessitore and Darcy Winther, supervising environmental analyst and environmental analyst, respectively, in the wetlands management section.  She then addressed the following priorities:

·       The Solid Waste Management Plan will be made final very soon.  There will be a need for action on electronic waste, the bottle bill, and waste reduction in general.  Will the legislature regard it as important enough for funding?  Most of the money would go toward helping communities.

·      Clean Water Fund:  To reach the goal by the target date, the DEP estimates the need at about $100 million per year, decreasing to 50 million.

·      Open Space: She wishes the best for the groups that are advocating a large initiative.  She wants to set aside stewardship funds at the time of purchase, as the law currently allows.

·      Parks:  The DEP hopes to get back the $1.7 million in operating funds it lost from the budget two years ago.  The Parks Foundation is a concept that has been successful in some states, and she wants to discuss it further with the Friends of State Parks.  On the capital side of the budget, there are big needs ahead, including the beach at Hammonasset which is eroding.

·      Greenways:  Love them.  They are always popular once completed, and she wants to see more.

·      School Bus Diesel Retrofit.  The DEP is still trying to help Hartford use the money that has been appropriated for its school buses.  The state has been doing well, and because of its leadership it does not receive the federal assistance other states are getting to catch up.  In response to a question from Wagner, she said biodiesel has growing potential, especially for home heating oil.  In response to VanCor’s question, Commissioner McCarthy said natural gas has potential for buses, but not so much for passenger cars.  VanCor said that slow-fill (overnight filling) has potential.

·      The Environmental Conservation Fund is going broke, and will be depleted next fiscal year, resulting in layoffs, if nothing is done.  The Department is looking at legislative and revenue options.

·      Inland wetlands:  It is hard to disagree with the Council’s conclusion that the program needs more than the current two positions, but within that same division the Department also needs dam safety positions.  The responsible growth initiative might include assistance for wetlands education.  She believed that local wetlands commissions should not be combined with planning and zoning, as the training demands are too great for an individual to do both.

Speaking from the audience, Bruce Fernandez said he was pleased with the Department’s December 19 response to Farmington, and Council members commended Mr. Fernandez for his persistence and overall approach to that problem.

Chairman Harrison and the other members thanked Commissioner McCarthy for her time and insights.

Citizen Complaints

Wagener reported that he had communicated with Norwalk officials to follow up on the controversial Norwalk Harbor dock, who were now on record as saying they would intervene in all applications where they thought the design was inadequate.

Review of State Agency Projects

Bolton Lakes Sewer Project – Wagener said that he regarded the Environmental Impact Evaluation for this project as adequate in that it described the indirect impacts on currently unsewered areas, and steps to mitigate those impacts.  He said the potential problems would be in the implementation, and would hopefully proceed with fewer erosion problems than the Coventry project.

Gateway Community College – Wagener said he had reviewed the Record of Decision for this project, and had advised OPM, when consulted, that the approval of the EIE should include conditions that require implementation of recommended actions to mitigate traffic impacts, which could be substantial.  Winterbottom said the proposed location is convenient to all bus lines.

Rentschler Field Redevelopment – Wagener said the comments on the EIE had been submitted. 

Wagener said that he and Harrison had agreed to sit on an advisory committee to the DEP’s grassland habitat initiative, which is separate from the Rentschler project but has direct connections to it.

Discussion of Annual Report Topics

After considerable discussion, members agreed that the Council should explore options for the format of the annual report, including the option of producing a much shorter report on paper with more information on the website.  Wagener said he will work on the options in anticipation of further discussion in January.

Harrison adjourned the meeting at 11:35.