Minutes of the January 25, 2006 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room, 79 Elm Street, Hartford.

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

Harrison called the meeting to order at 9:05 AM and determined that a quorum was present.

VanCor moved approval of the November 30, 2005 minutes.  Second by Beach.  Approved unanimously, with Mendenhall abstaining because she had not been present.

VanCor moved approval of the December 20, 2005 minutes.  Second by Beach.  Approved unanimously, with Mendenhall, Sherman and Winterbottom abstaining because they had not been present.

Chairman’s Report

Chairman Harrison said he was pleased to receive a memorandum from Phillips and VanCor on suggestions for improving communications. It had been distributed, and would be discussed under Other Business.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener reported that he had spent a large portion of his time since the December meeting distributing and following up on the special report, “Preserved But Not Protected.”  There had been several good news articles, and more were expected.  VanCor and he had met with legislators to discuss the recommendations, and he anticipated the introduction of legislation.  It is quite possible, he said, that any such bill or bills would have their public hearings prior to the Council’s February 22 meeting; he said that he would continue to confer with the ad hoc committee of Harrison and VanCor on questions of language.  There was some discussion of possible approaches the legislation could take.

Wagener said that the recommendation regarding surplus state property would likely be the subject of a separate bill, an outgrowth of the legislative hearings on the transfer of the Norwich State Hospital property.  Also regarding the Norwich property, he said that legislators at the Government Administration and Elections Committee hearing had confirmed the Town of Preston’s commitment to allow a natural resource inventory of the undeveloped property while it was still in state hands.  Harrison and other members suggested that the Council’s advice of April 2005 recommending such an inventory was apparently ahead of its time, even though the advice was rejected at the time for coming too late in the process. It was unclear if such review would actually occur, as the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has said that it does not automatically agree to requests for such studies. According to news articles, there might be legislation introduced to require such a study.

Wagener also noted that the draft outline of the work plan for Commissioner Gina McCarthy’s initiative on Landscape Stewardship, distributed at a meeting the previous evening, picked up several of the Council’s themes on encroachments and protection of protected lands.

VanCor said that if several bills were introduced relating to the Council’s recommendations, he would offer his assistance in tracking the various bills.   His offer was accepted instantly.

Discussion of State Inland Wetlands Programs

Chairman Harrison introduced Yvonne Bolton, Chief of the DEP’s Bureau of Water Management.  Also present were Denise Ruzicka, Director of the DEP’s Inland Water Resources Division, and Steven Tessitore, Supervising Environmental Analyst in the Wetlands Management Section of that Division.   Ms. Bolton began by saying the Department is committed to helping local land use commissions, and this will be an element of the Landscape Stewardship Initiative.   She then addressed the question of response to complaints, which had been raised by the Council.  Ms. Bolton said that the Department receives many complaints, and the staff must sift through them, as many are from people who simply do not like the results of their local commissions’ decisions, or have some other grievance.   The staff looks for patterns of disregard for state-mandated laws and procedures; if they find such disregard, the question is what can be done?  The goal is to get the municipality back on track.   Revocation of authority is not the goal.  There were numerous questions followed by discussion, including:

Harrison:  How many staff are in the Wetlands section?
Bolton:  Two, a supervisor and an environmental analyst.

Sherman:  How often does “blatant disregard” occur, and what happens?
Bolton:  Evidence or proof is hard to get.
Tessitore:  There are hundreds of allocations made, very few with documentation, and even fewer can be proved.

Harrison asked Ms. Bolton to think about whether she has any advice for the Council in relation to the Council’s own role in receiving complaints, as there is not enough DEP staff to look into referrals in a timely way, and Ms. Bolton said she would.

Phillips:  What is the funding source for the program?
Bolton:   General Fund.

Phillips:  Do you see uniform application of the regulations across the state?
Tessitore:  They see more consistency than before in the administration of the law.  But the municipalities will vary in their approaches, with the distribution following a Bell Curve.

Winterbottom:  What one thing about the wetlands program would you change if you could?
Bolton:  More resources, to enable it to do all of its jobs.

VanCor:  Local commission members who want to do their job will want to go to training, but many commissions have members who are appointed for political or other reasons not necessarily related to conservation.   How can you get those people to training sessions?  
Bolton:  The DEP expects each town to send at least one person, and provides vouchers for the same.

Harrison:  Do you follow up on the delinquent towns that do not attend training?
Tessitore:  The DEP is applying to the U.S. EPA for more grant funds to pay for more vouchers.
Ruzicka:  The new DVD is expected to have the effect of enticing more people to volunteer for commissions and attend training.  She then described the three types of training sessions.

Phillips:  Do you provide technical assistance to towns?
Bolton:  Staff answers phone calls all the time, but for more detailed help the towns can go to Environmental Review Teams (ERTs) and other organizations for assistance.
Wagener:  The DEP tells towns that they are authorized to charge application fees sufficient to allow the town to hire a consultant to review the application.  

In response to a question from Harrison, Ruzicka explained ERTs and how they are funded through the land-use fee that is charged locally and remitted to the state.  There was also discussion of how the Eastern ERT is coordinating requests statewide.

Phillips:  If you received more resources for the wetlands management program, how would it be deployed?
Ruzicka:  When there were 5 staff positions 7 years ago, they were assigned as follows: technical assistance, legal review of municipal regulations, reporting, program development, and training.

There was further discussion of the need for resources, and agreement to pursue this matter.  VanCor suggested that the Council would want to include this with its other reviews of priority needs.  Wagener said the matter was urgent; the complaint that spurred these discussions was nearly a year old.  Members agreed. Bolton said the DEP appreciates this discussion of resources, and agreed to stay in communication with the Council on this.

Citizen Complaints

UConn water supply planning – Chairman Harrison said that Yvonne Bolton had agreed to stay a few minutes longer to discuss this matter as well.   Wagener summarized the memo he had distributed previously. He reported that most of the substantive concerns expressed by the watershed groups and others were factually accurate:  the UConn Water Supply Plan (WSP), which was submitted to the DPH and DEP for review voluntarily, calculated a “safe yield” of water far in excess of what is currently pumped and which caused the Fenton River dehydration.

The question of creating a clear legal framework for making water-planning decisions with plentiful public participation remains unresolved, and Wagener said the guests might want to talk about progress toward this.  He said this discussion was very timely, as the DEP had submitted its comments on the Fenton River study the previous week, and UConn had until mid-February to submit additional information on its WSP.

Ms. Bolton said the DEP is working on a framework for dealing with these issues, and explained its role.

Chairman Harrison invited Richard Miller, Director of Environmental Policy for UConn, to the table to engage in further discussion.  Mr. Miller began with some specific updates:  UConn will have a permanent operator of its water system on board by May 1.  Meanwhile, the Connecticut Water Company is operating the system.   UConn has invited other agencies and the town of Mansfield to participate in the selection of an operator.  Mr. Miller said the University is still receiving comments on the Fenton River study; it will be final in late spring, and it will be up to the Office of Policy and Management to approve it, as it was conducted as a condition of approval of the Environmental Impact Evaluation for the North Campus.

Mr. Miller said the new WSP information due in February will contain more detailed demand projections.  He agreed that “safe yield” is an engineering term that does not consider environmental impact, but that it does not trump the lower withdrawal amounts allowed by UConn’s registered diversions.  He also said that UConn has been discussing these issues with the Willimantic River Alliance and the Naubesatuck Watershed Council.  He clarified that UConn is not exempt from the laws pertaining to the development of watershed lands, because the law simply does not apply to water systems owned by state agencies.  He also said that 92% of the East Campus was designated for conservation or preservation in UConn’s own plan.  He added that he has been meeting with DEP staff every two weeks to update them on UConn’s progress.

Sherman asked if Margaret Miner, Executive Director of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, who was in the audience, had any information or questions to add.   Ms. Miner asked to whom do comments on the WSP go, and how will the Fenton River study be applied?  She said the numbers in the WSP do not make sense, as the registered diversions are too great.   There is support for legislation that would make land-use designations and plans permanent at the University, which is a different approach from the failed attempts to have UConn declared a water company by statute. 

Mr. Miller said that the University would study the Willimantic River as needed, but noted that the Fenton River study ended up costing more than $600,000.  It would be desirable, he said, to devise a way to produce the necessary information at less cost.

There was some discussion of registered diversions and their importance to water management in the state.  VanCor asked if staff could produce an update on the diversion and allocation issue.  Ms. Bolton described the role of the Water Planning Council, which has existed for four years but has not really taken up this question yet.  She said that in-stream minimum flow regulations are to be produced by the DEP by the end of 2006.  She mentioned the recent water law conference, which drew considerable interest, and the fact that most water consumption is done through registered diversions.

Chairman Harrison thanked Ms. Bolton, Mr. Miller, and Ms. Miner for their very useful information.  Wagener said that most of the watershed groups’ concerns were shared by the DEP, as expressed in its comments on the UConn WSP and Fenton River study, and the Council could watch to make sure the necessary changes get made.

Rocky Hill MotoCross – Wagener reported that he had been informed that the permit application had been returned by the DEP to the applicant for additional information.  He did not know yet if anyone was introducing legislation to modernize the Stream Channel Encroachment Line program with regard to public participation.

Wagener said there were no state agency projects requiring action.

Other Business

Phillips summarized the memo that he and VanCor had prepared, at the Chairman’s request, on ideas for enhancing the Council’s communications.   Many of the suggested steps were actions the Council took from time to time, but their recommendation is to make them regular actions every year.  Phillips mentioned the need to more aggressively seek input from business entities.  There was considerable discussion of the need to communicate priorities, and of the opportunity to do this at public forums.  VanCor reiterated the need to communicate established goals. Members agreed that the public forum in Simsbury in February would be a good place to try out a modified format.  Harrison also asked members to think about any possible need there might be to seek amendments to the Council’s statutory authority and responsibilities.

Harrison adjourned the meeting at 11:15.

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