Minutes of the August 27, 2008 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room, 79 Elm St., Hartford.

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

Chairman Harrison convened the meeting at 9:10 AM.  A quorum was present.

Chairman Harrison asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the July 20, 2008 meeting.  Winterbottom’s motion was seconded by Wagner. The minutes were approved with Beach abstaining because he was not present at that meeting.

Chairman’s Report

Chairman Harrison reported that he and Wagener met with representatives of the Northeast Utilities regarding the New England East West Solution (NEEWS) Project. The project is a proposal for expansion of east – west electric transmission corridors in Connecticut. The representatives were meeting with potentially concerned groups like the Council to inform them in advance of what they expect the impacts to be. As outlined, the project will involve existing rights-of way. Towers may be heightened and considerable clearing done. 

Sherman said that these large transmission projects presumed generation in the future would be from a few sources. He raised the possibility that with the increased use of photovotalics and other alternative sources this may not be the case. He suggested that someone from Connecticut’s Clean Energy Fund be invited to discuss the interest in the state in alternative energy. Harrison agreed that this would be a good idea, apart from any link to the NEEWS Project.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener reported that the Council’s budget for 2010 – 2011 had been prepared and submitted. A discussion followed about whether fiscal restrictions were inhibiting the Council from accomplishing all of its investigatory and reporting responsibilities. Sherman suggested that a “best case” program be drawn to put in perspective what the Council can do with its current budget in contrast to what it could do with more funding. Phillips said that fiscal restraints inhibited what the Council could accomplish in four areas: 1) citizen input regarding state performance, 2) research on existing agency procedures, 3) structural considerations, i.e. how thinking outside the box can dramatically improve efficiencies or effectiveness, 4) education and reporting to the public, the governor and the legislature. Chairman Harrison directed the staff to solicit from the Council members via e-mail input on how the Council is performing relative to what they would like to see accomplished.

Wagener reported on a meeting with Peter Simmons and Maya Lowenberg of the new Office of Responsible Growth within the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).  Mr. Simmons hopes to align DECD programs with Responsible Growth principles, and he reports directly to Commissioner Joan McDonald.

Wagener said he also met with Carrie Vibert of the general Assembly’s Program Review and Investigations Committee, which is studying the potential consequences of transfer of resource recovery facilities to private ownership. He said he learned about the committee’s plans, exchanged information, and urged consideration of the environmental consequences of the takeover in any analysis.

Citizen Complaints

Wagener summarized an anonymous complaint from an Ansonia resident who watched the Council’s July meeting on CT-N. The letter conveyed the opinion that towns like Ansonia were given less consideration regarding scenic impacts than were more affluent communities. The writer asked the Council to raise this issue before the state. Wagener said that staff will look into this as part of the report on visual resources.

Wagener reported that the Siting Council held a hearing to determine whether or not a new hearing was required regarding the Plainfield Renewable Energy (PRE) proposal for a power generation facility with a water intake facility on the Quinebaug River.

State Agency Actions

South Windsor Gateway Zone -- Wagener said that he wrote to the Office of Policy and Management (OPM), as directed, stating that the Council stands by its original comments. He reported that OPM has approved the project subject to an important condition: The town will be required to obtain DECD approval of any local permits having to do with the site. Wagener understands that the DECD will seek the opinion of the DEP in making its decision.

Cromwell Business Park – The DECD’s Record of Decision agrees that the proposal is not entirely consistent with the state Conservation and Development Policies Plan. With regard to agricultural preservation, the decision does not include what the Commissioner of Agriculture recommended - preservation of agricultural land elsewhere in the town. The DECD’s decision would require the town to set up a committee to explore the issue of agricultural preservation. It also required that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) be satisfied regarding questions of protection of endangered species before any infrastructure is installed.

During the discussion of wildlife habitat mitigation, Winterbottom asked if follow-up studies were ever conducted for grassland habitat mitigation measures connected with Rentschler Field and Cabela’s. Sherman expressed concern that mitigation promises were being used to gain access for development on marginal parcels and that the mitigation measures should be in place before development is allowed to proceed. A discussion about this followed.

Following discussion, the Council decided that the Council’s position of standing by its original comments (that the EIE is inadequate) should be communicated to OPM in writing.

Steve Reviczky of the Connecticut Farm Bureau spoke from the audience to say that he wanted to thank the Council for its involvement in farmland preservation and for taking a stand against the incrementalism that allows roads and infrastructure to be built which then becomes the justification for the development that eliminates the farms in the region.  He said that EIEs should look at the broad consequence of infrastructure construction and not just the immediate effect. Wagner asked what funds are available currently for farmland preservation. Steve Reviczky answered that funds are available from the Community Investment Act and from Bonding Authorizations and that these can be matched with funds from towns, non profits and the federal government.

I-95 Improvements in the Long Wharf Area – Wagener reported that the Environmental Impact Evaluation for the I-95 in the Long Wharf area showed minimal impact and there is no need to comment on it.

Special Report on Wetlands and Watercourses

Wagener referred to the draft report that members had received in advance. He pointed out that it was truly a rough draft and was not in its final wording or layout. The supporting documents were not intended to be included in the report but were there just for Council analysis. He recounted the history of the Council’s involvement with the issue of wetlands administration at the DEP. Wagner described the research that had been done by three interns, Emily VerPloeg, Carmel Zahran and Nathaniel Danforth, that lay behind the report.

Phillips commented favorably on the draft and said he must excuse himself to attend a previously scheduled meeting. Wagener summarized the conclusions of the report. The Council members discussed solutions to the problem. Winterbottom suggested that other agencies like the Health Department receive reports online and that may be the model to imitate. Beach said that the current three-page form is wasteful of paper and an online form would be a welcome change.

Members concurred that training is the most important aspect of the report and should be emphasized in the report.

Wagner pointed out that the training of wetlands staff and commissioners not only protects the wetlands; but protects the applicants’ rights as well. Sherman suggested that inland wetlands agencies that have no trained staff or members should be required to announce that fact before any proceeding which they conduct.  Winterbottom suggested that a more positive approach be explored, such as certifying towns that meet the training requirements. Chairman Harrison directed the staff to consult with the DEP about these ideas and to finalize the report with the conclusions in the draft and the ideas that had been discussed at today’s meeting including the separation of combined zoning and wetland commissions.

Chairman Harrison asked for a motion to adjourn. Winterbottom, seconded by Beach, motioned to adjourn and the meeting was adjourned at 11:11 AM.