Minutes of the July 25, 2007 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcomb conference room, 79 Elm St. Hartford.

PRESENT: Thomas Harrison (Chairman), John Mandyck, Earl Phillips, Richard Sherman, Norman VanCor, Barbara Wagner, Wesley Winterbottom, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

Chairman Harrison convened the meeting at 9:05 AM.  A quorum was present.

Chairman Harrison asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the June 28, 2007 meeting.  Mandyck motioned to approve and Phillips seconded; approved unanimously.

Chairman’s Report

Chairman Harrison reported that the June press conference led to an invitation by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association to present the report’s findings at the CBIA’s Environmental Policies Council July meeting.  This he did with Wagener, and it led to some good discussion.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener reported that he sent copies of most, but not all, of the press articles on the annual report to the members.  In addition to what they saw there were stories in the Stamford Advocate and the New Haven Register.  The Connecticut Post ran an editorial but no story.  Most of these focused on the aspects of the report that pertained to Long Island Sound.  The Council’s report coincided with the release of two other reports about the quality of the Sound.  Wagener also mentioned that blogs are also a source of comment on the report.

Wagener reported that the DEP issued its annual report and it is on their web site for viewing.

Review of State Agency Actions

Campus Plan for CCSU – Draft comments on the Central Connecticut State University EIE was sent to the Council members for review.  The project would appear to avoid major effects on the environment but needs to offer supporting data for some of its assertions.

Chairman Harrison asked if any members of the Council had any comments.  None did at that time, but Winterbottom pointed out later in the meeting that the law requires new state construction to be LEED certified and that should be in the comments. The draft response was approved for sending with that change.

Green Plan Update – Chairman Harrison said he read the state’s Green Plan and he agrees with Wagener’s critique that it is deficient as a comprehensive plan of action.

Wagener said the draft contains a number of parts, including a description of existing programs, that are not plans and could be published as a separate document.  It explains what the DEP will do with money it receives, but it does not lay out a strategy and timetable to get to the goal of 21% preserved land as required by statute.

Wagener and Harrison both expressed concern that there was reference to a 20-year time frame for achieving the goal when in fact the target set by the previous governor is 2023.

VanCor said he would like the plan to be written to be useful at the legislature to show that there is a strategic plan for acquisition that needs to be funded.  Harrison said he agrees and thinks the plan should be a ringing call for action.

Chairman Harrison mentioned that the Council’s annual report determined 10,000 acres would have to be acquired annually to meet the 2023 deadline, but the state has been conserving about 6,000 per year.  He believes the 10,000 annual acreage goal should be in the Green Plan.

Winterbottom pointed out that the federal government has funds for land acquisition and that a strategy for obtaining more of that money should be in the plan too.  The potential role of farmland for production of biofuels should be included also.

Margaret Welch, DEP Landscape Stewardship Coordinator was in the audience and was invited to speak.  She said the DEP is very interested in what the Council has to say about the plan and that there is no “official” comment period, so comments are still welcome.  Governor Rell had requested a plan be completed by June.  She said there is a plan to create a separate “implementation plan” to explain how a preservation strategy will be accomplished.

Chairman Harrison told Margaret he hoped she would consider the Council’s comments with the spirit of cooperation in which they were offered.

Eric Hammerling of the Farmington River Watershed Association thought the criteria for selection of land to preserve were very good.  He wished the draft plan had more about creative ways to work with community efforts for preservation.  He mentioned offering expertise to towns that wish to tie preservation into subdivision approvals.

Wagener mentioned that he once had tried to estimate how many acres were preserved by subdivision restrictions.  The best guess was about 2,000 per year.  Ms. Welch said that could count towards the total if it could be tracked.  Chairman Harrison said perhaps it could by CACIWC.  Wagner said that many towns would willingly provide that information; Glastonbury is proud of its effort in that regard.  Beach described the mandatory set-aside procedures that were being used by Simsbury.  Wagener agreed that such efforts are undercounted as a contribution to open space preservation.  VanCor said he believed that much of the land set aside by developers would not have been buildable anyway.  Phillips said that was not the case in Simsbury where the set-aside amount had to equal the mandatory restrictions, like wetlands.  Also Simsbury tries to make the parcels contiguous with other open space.  Sherman said he agrees there must be a method of analysis other than just acres.

Chairman Harrison said that any members who had additional thoughts on the Green Plan draft should send them to Wagener to be added to the Council’s comments.

Discussion of other state projects was postponed until later in the meeting.

Emerging Issues in Environmental Health

Chairman Harrison introduced Nancy Alderman, President of Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI).  Ms. Alderman said her organization plans and conducts major projects, but sometimes unexpected problems are dropped in its lap, including the three she wished to discuss today.

The first concern is synthetic turf that is composed of ground-up tires.  Preliminary analyses performed at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station at EHHI’s expense indicate the presence of volatile organic compounds.  She believes there should be a moratorium until further testing is done.  VanCor and Wagner reported they knew of towns where this was being installed.   In response to Mandyck’s question, Ms. Alderman said the primary health risk appears to be respiratory irritants.  They also are hotter surfaces for recreation. 

Ms Alderman passed out brochures about her second concern, wood smoke.  There is a growing regulation and prohibitions of wood furnaces, which produce great volumes of emissions. These occur mostly in rural areas but she fears they could become popular in more settled areas and supports the bans that some towns are creating.  EHHI also is favors legislation that would allow case-by-case regulation of wood stoves and fireplaces so authorities could stop any that were a local nuisance.  Sherman asked about the effect of catalytic converters.  She responded that most stoves were old and not replaced until broken, so there is little effect overall.  Also she said converters can be bypassed.

The third issue she spoke about was pharmacological and personal care products (PCPPs) that end up in the environment via sewer and septic systems.  There is no treatment to remove these products, so there is a need for public education about proper disposal methods.  She also mentioned that plastics in baby bottles might be a future issue when research is completed.  Chairman Harrison thanked Ms. Alderman for her appearance at the Council.  Wagener said the PPCPs issue is a good reason to maintain Connecticut’s long-term ban on taking drinking water from waste receiving streams.  Alisa Phillips-Griggs, Water Quality and Projects Coordinator for the Farmington River Watershed Association, said her town held the state’s first pharmaceutical recycling day. She said the DEP has recommendations for proper handling and disposal.  She suggested that ultimately the solution is reverse distribution.  Members thanked her for her informative presentation.

Review of State Agency Actions (Resumed)

Ozone Attainment – Wagener resumed discussion of state agency actions by reporting that the DEP expects to achieve the mandated 2010 ambient ozone levels a year early, and is soliciting public comment on its modeled demonstrations.  He explained the process by which attainment is measured.  The projection is based in part on the assumption that states to the west will improve their emission levels which will in turn improve Connecticut’s air.  Although the DEP’s model doesn’t take climatic warming into account, DEP staff believes it might not matter in their two-year projections.  Wagener said the federal EPA is expected to tighten the standard for ambient ozone.  If that happens the state will once again be forced into stringent controls on ozone sources.  In response to Sherman’s question about how much of the state would be in compliance in 2009, he said that DEP staff expect the “greater Connecticut” region to be in compliance, and they believe there is a good chance that the southwest Connecticut region will attain compliance too.

Updates on Other Projects – Wagener mentioned that the two wood-burning energy facilities discussed at an earlier meeting were competing for state subsidies, and both had their supporters among environmental advocates.  DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy had been quoted in The Day as saying both could be approved by the DPUC for rate subsidy, but Wagener said the DPUC sees them as being in competition for wood supplies, which he said did not make sense to him. One would burn clean wood and chicken waste. The other would burn waste wood and construction debris. Wagener said he would continue to provide updates to the Council.

Lori Brown, Executive Director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, speaking from the audience, said her organization had printed its annual report card on the legislators’ environmental voting records, and distributed copies. She then spoke about the proposed mining of water utility lands in New Britain just approved by the General Assembly.  She asked if the CEQ could review that EIE when it is released.  She is very concerned for the precedent this sets for towns that may want to dispose of timber or utilize other resources on their reservoir lands.  By consensus, members agreed that the Council would review it.  Sherman pointed out that this issue goes beyond the reservoir lands; it is a government process issue on which the Council could comment. Chairman Harrison agreed.  Sherman said these ‘rats” are done in the dark because they would not stand the light of day.  He would like the Council to invite legislators who were involved in this to the next Council meeting.  Members concurred.Ms. Brown also asked if the Council could consider a report on the significance of state lands conveyed by special acts each year; members agreed to consider that.

Southington Forum Topics

Wagener referred to the summary table that was distributed in advance of the meeting.  Members reviewed each of the topics that were raised at the public forum in Southington and the possible involvement of the Council in each.

Smart Growth & development driven by the need for property taxes – The Council offered recommendations on many smart growth topics, including the property tax, in past years.  The recommendations have not changed much.  There is no need for a new report; the need is for advocacy groups and political leaders to move them forward.

Timing of CEQ annual report relative to legislative session – It is already planned that CEQ will have a report with recommendations in advance of the legislative session.

Highway design to enhance walking and bicycling and better protect the environment; sedimentation of ponds and streams from sand – The problem of highway design is a huge issue tied in many cases to national construction standards. There might not be much the Council could do about it at this time.  The specific issue of road sand and sedimentation has been addressed by the Council in the past year, with some good effect.

Enforcement of mitigation proposed or required in CEPA projects – A retroactive study would be impossible.  The Council asked Wagener to send a letter to the Office of Policy and Management outlining the problem and suggesting that it begin keeping a record of mandated mitigations for future follow-up.

Environmental damage caused by ATVs – This is to be a topic again in next year’s legislative session. The Council has already identified this as a problem in its special report, Preserved But Not Protected, and penalties have been increased greatly.

Flex hours as a strategy to reduce congestion induced pollution – Wagener said he could not recommend one possible strategy among many that are needed to reduce air emissions. He has read that some observers think that flex hours reduce use of mass transportation and therefore are a weak strategy.  Members agreed to take no action at this time, but would be watching future State Implementation Plan revisions for air quality.

DEP assistance to towns in need of assistance in wetlands issues – The Council is in the middle of evaluating the wetlands programs.  Since local wetlands commission members are sometimes reluctant to travel to DEP training sessions, online training is an option worth considering to get the training more conveniently to more people.

Need for more funding for purchase of development rights – The Council has recommended this in recent reports.

Environmental abuse caused by the fact that affordable housing takes precedence over local zoning – Documenting any environmental damage beyond any anecdotal claims would require a study beyond the resources of CEQ.  The Council will follow this.

Inadequate funding for DEP – This is a high priority for the Council this year.

Sherman said the Council should look at this list once again to redirect the problems to agencies equipped to handle problems it cannot.  VanCor suggested that the Council have an annual priority list, and noted that the efficacy of alternative waste treatment systems should be included on that list.  Wagener responded that many of these topics will show up in a list of recommendations he plans to have in the fall.

The meeting adjourned at 11:07.