Minutes of the March 28, 2007 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room, 79 Elm Street, Hartford.

PRESENT:  Thomas Harrison (Chairman), Howard Beach, Susan Mendenhall, Earl W, Phillips, Jr., Richard Sherman, Norman VanCor, Barbara Wagner, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Emily VerPloeg (Intern).

Chairman Harrison convened the meeting at 9:03 AM and determined that a quorum was present. 

Sherman made a motion to approve the February 28, 2007 minutes.  Second by Beach. 

Chairman’s Report

Chairman Harrison reported that he and Wagener had met with the Appropriations Subcommittee on Conservation and Development to discuss the Council’s budget, and thought the meeting was positive.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener discussed the proposed budget for the Department of Environmental Protection and various capital expenditures including the Clean Water Fund and Face of Connecticut.  He noted that the proposed budget included two positions for the DEP’s inland wetlands program.

Wagener said that he testified at the Government Administration and Elections Committee hearing on Bill 5249 regarding the disposition of surplus lands.  He also reported that the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) had proposed to implement a public-notice procedure administratively.  Members said there would be benefits in a permanent procedure that was required by statute.

Wagener reported on bills to establish a moratorium on alternative wastewater treatment systems, and several bills that could alter inland wetlands regulation at the local level.

Wagner also noted the announcement by the Clean Energy Fund that eleven renewable energy projects had been selected for subsidy, including three proposed wood-fueled power plants, which had already generated some inquiries and expressions of concern to the Council office.

Citizen Complaints

Farmington Wetlands    Wagener reviewed the memo that had been distributed in advance of the meeting and reviewed the staff recommendations.  Harrison reported that Council member John Mandyck had communicated by e-mail from China that he supported the recommendations.  Several people in the audience spoke about the wetlands case:

Guy Wolff identified himself as a member of the Farmington Planning and Zoning / Inland Wetlands Commission, but stated that he was speaking as an individual and not for the commission.  Mr. Wolff described the property, its relation to the flow of runoff from the medical center property, the likely origin of the former pond, and other details.  He was not on the Commission in 1997 when the alleged violation occurred that resulted in the filling of the pond.  He said it is now a meadow, with some erosion channels.  Phillips asked if the town wetlands map showed the area to be wetlands before the pond was present; Mr. Wolff said he did not know.  Wagener said he had seen the map, and it did indicate wetlands.

In answering questions and comments from VanCor, Mr. Wolff clarified that he had completed the DEP’s training program for wetlands commissioners; he thought it was very good but it did not cover enforcement, and he would like to see more training on enforcement.

Bruce Fernandez, resident of Farmington, said the technical facts are clear enough, and now it is time for attorneys to act. The correspondence and testimony and affidavits illustrate what happened.  He said that agencies other than the DEP, which is short on staff, could do the technical investigation of soils. He said the restoration being mandated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will result in the filling of a vernal pool within 15 days.  Regarding Phillips’ previous question, he said the federal cooperative soil survey shows the area to be wetlands, and even the fill is wetland soil.  There was some discussion of the vernal pool between M. Fernandez and Mr. Wolff, with the latter saying that the area had been identified by the town as a wetland but not as a vernal pool.

Denise Ruzicka, Director of the Inland Water Resources Division of the DEP’s Bureau of Water Protection and Land Reuse, said that the Department would be responding soon to the town’s most recent letter.

Tina Delaney, a member of the board of directors of the Farmington Land Trust, said the land trust would support the recommendations in the staff memo, especially the recommendation to separate the combined commission into separate commissions.  On the vernal pool question, she noted that the consultant had found a Jefferson salamander on the property, but that was discounted because it was the only one.  She also said that Mr. Wolff and Mr. Fernandez were two of Farmington’s best citizens.

Mendenhall left at this point, stating that she had to testify at a hearing, and she offered some input on the annual report agenda item.  Chairman Harrison then returned to the Farmington item.

There was additional discussion of the Army Corps of Engineers’ order’s relationship to the permit approved by the town.  Phillips said that, as a general principle, he believes that parties who don’t go through the full regulatory process should not end up in a better position than those who do go through it. He said the case calls for legal review.  Members concurred.  By unanimous votes, the Council approved the following motions:

  1. Recommend to the DEP that it continue to use its available tools to have the Town of Farmington separate its commissions, bring its wetlands regulations into conformity with state statutes and improve review procedures.

  2. Recommend to the DEP that it allocate the resources necessary to investigate all possible violation(s) directly (i.e., without involving the local inland wetlands and watercourses agency), and take further action as appropriate.
  3. Refer the case to the Attorney General, based on information submitted to the Council; authorize staff to contact the Environmental Section of the Office of the Attorney General to discuss the need for rapid review; and authorize staff to draft a brief letter to the Commissioner of Environmental Protection for circulation and approval of the members by e-mail.

The Council also agreed to consider the lessons of this case in its ongoing review of state wetlands programs.

Review of State Agency Actions – No reports.

Discussion of annual report topics

Members discussed the data on annual trends that had been sent to them in advance, and agreed that the report needs to point out the slowness or lack of progress and that the state could fail to meet some of its goals if long-term capital funding questions are not resolved.  Numerous titles were suggested.

Chairman Harrison adjourned the meeting at 11:35.