Minutes of the July 22, 2009 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room of 79 Elm St. Hartford, CT.  

PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Janet Brooks, Bruce Fernandez, Richard Sherman, Ryan Suerth, Norman VanCor, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

Chair Wagner convened the meeting at 9:05 AM. A quorum was present. Chair Wagner asked if there were any clarifications or revisions of the minutes of the meeting of June 24th 2009. There were none. Fernandez motioned to approve. It was seconded by Brooks and approved with VanCor abstaining, since he was newly appointed and therefore had not attended the May meeting.

Chair Wagner read a letter from Wesley Winterbottom to Senator Donald Williams, thanking him for the opportunity to serve on the Council over the past several years. Chair Wagner welcomed VanCor back for another term on the Council. VanCor asked that it be noted that he would not have accepted the appointment as Winterbottom’s replacement except for the fact that Winterbottom could no longer serve.

Executive Director’s Report

Budget report. Wagener said that no state budget had been adopted. The Governor issued an executive order to provide funds for agency operations for July; for the Council this includes payroll only.

Glastonbury cell towers. Wagner said that Glastonbury has three applications pending for cell towers. Because he spoke at a town meeting about them, though neither in support nor opposition, he will recuse himself from any review or discussion about these towers when the applications reach the Council office. Hearn will handle these cases.

He added that many people are not aware that cell towers may be increased in height through an abbreviated application process at the Siting Council. The process sometimes requires no public or agency input. Sherman asked if the balloon flight for the towers was at the proposed height or the maximum potential height. Wagener answered that the application height was what the balloons were flown to, not to any potential future height. Hearn added that the application to heighten a tower is accompanied by a new viewshed analysis to assist the Siting Council in making a determination about the potential impact of the modification.

Forest Conservation and Research Conference. Wagener said that the annual Connecticut Forest Conservation Forum is coming up and asked if the Council wishes to co-sponsor this year as it had in past years. There is no cost to the Council to be a co-sponsor. The Council agreed that this was a good idea.

Public Act 490. Wagener reminded the Council that at its urging the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) now collects data on farmland and open space that is registered under the Public Law 490 preferential tax rate program. State Forester Christopher Martin has reported that 2/3 of the towns have reported their data to the DEP. Wagener said he was surprised by the acreage classified as open space under P.A. 490, and he expects that this data will be useful when this year’s annual report is created, and for other purposes.

Environmental Monitor and land transfers. Wagener said that due to a sudden surge in state-owned land transfers, Tuesday’s edition of the Environmental Monitor was unusually large – 26 pages when faxed to municipal clerks, as required by statute. The next edition will be even larger. The current effort by state agencies to inventory saleable assets could further increase the number of land transfers. In consideration of these circumstances, there is a need to redesign the land transfer section of the Environmental Monitor to save space and to make the process clear to the layman reader. Any transfer of land could appear in the Monitor from one to three times depending upon whether there are comments received about the proposed transfer. With this volume it will be important for the reader to know to what point in the process the notice pertains.  Wagener said that staff had outlined a redesign last year, but never implemented it because there were no land transfer notices to publish.

Web traffic analysis. Wagener referred the Council to the website traffic report he had sent them prior to the meeting. A discussion of the trends followed.  Members agreed with staff that the data could be useful in planning the release of future paperless reports.

Citizen Complaints

Aquifer contamination in the Tylerville area of Haddam.  Lisa Wadge of Haddam was introduced to speak about her organization, Citizens for Clean Groundwater, and its involvement with the problem of contamination of the Tylerville Aquifer with chemicals. Ms. Wadge gave a brief history of her involvement in environmental contamination issues, including years as an engineer and consultant and brownfield developer.  She showed maps of pollution plumes she had developed, and discussed the long struggle to get governmental action to investigate and ameliorate the Tylerville problem. She said she has been told that the delay has been due mostly to the volume of similar sites and the lack of resources. She said that filtration systems being provided by the state are only a short term patch; the solution lay in eliminating the source of the problem. She said that in many cases removal of the source is less expensive that bringing in a new public water supply. She gave the Council lists of contaminated wells and results of recent well testing.

The Tylerville problem is only one of thousands of similar problems in the state, Ms. Wadge said, and the state should require testing of all wells, public and private, for industrial chemicals – especially whenever there is suspicion of such contamination.

Ms. Wadge said that Citizens for Clean Groundwater intends to advocate for clean groundwater statewide.  It will soon have a Geographic Information System function on its website whereby any resident will be able to learn what if any known sources of contamination are nearby.  She said that it is difficult for a citizen to get information from the DEP, and recommended that the DEP have an ombudsman as a point of contact for people who live in contaminated areas. 

Margaret Miner of the Rivers Alliance spoke from the audience saying that her group had been working on the problem of groundwater contamination for some time, and that it is a big problem. The fragmentation of responsibility among different departments and agencies is a major part of the problem. A single authority for testing and cleanup would be helpful. She suggested that the Council should look at this aspect of the problem.

Wagener said that Council staff met with DEP staff prior to this meeting and was told that over 7,000 establishments have entered the testing protocols mandated by the Transfer Act, of which a small percentage have been fully cleaned up. He said that as contaminated as Tylerville is, in some ways the citizens there are better off because their actions have resulted in state funds being allocated and other actions initiated. A “Phase I” study, a survey of known contamination sources, is expected to commence in August with results due in four months. Phases II and III can take three to five years to complete, and then remediation may be possible. DEP staff believes that the funds for this are secure at this time. Brooks asked if there were responsible parties who should be paying these costs. Wagener said he had asked that question of the DEP; DEP staff replied that orders to responsible parties are laborious and take a long time to enforce, and that often the DEP finds it preferable to spend state money and, if possible, recover the costs at a later date from the responsible party.

There was considerable discussion of the larger issue of the length of time it takes to resolve contamination cases, and of the potentially confusing array of data sources and programs that list and address contaminated properties. 

Ms. Wadge said that in a recent conversation with DEP staff she had been told that an enforcement order in the area had not been lifted and that no work was being done on the site. Wagener asked her to get that information to him.  She also said that some people who have had filters installed have not had quarterly monitoring.

Chair Wagner thanked Ms. Wadge for her information and asked Council members to consider what was learned about the problem of groundwater contamination and to come up with recommendations that the Council can discuss at the August meeting.

Other Complaints. Margaret Miner of the Rivers Alliance spoke about the proposed Haddam land swap, which was contained in the recent land conveyance legislation. Aspects of the bill, which was vetoed by Governor Rell, are unusual and are of concern should the swap come up again: 1) the state owned land would go directly into private hands, 2) there is no public input in the process, and 3) as written it appears that the developer might get the land regardless of whether the DEP agrees that the developer’s offer is fair compensation for the parcel that the DEP is swapping.

Wagener read passages from a letter complaining about town inaction regarding private property that contains litter along a river. The Council agreed that the Council’s previous advice was sound, and that only local pressure on local officials could generate action.

Review of State Agency Actions

Proposed Generic Environmental Classification Document. Wagener referred to the correspondence on the proposed Environmental Classification Document (ECD) that lists the types of projects that would require an Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE). The generic ECD applies to smaller agencies that are involved with fewer projects than say, the DOT or DEP. Discussion followed about the proposed changes and about the fact that the proposed ECD would allow an agency to decide if an EIE is required without any input from the public. Members agreed that the production of a short EIE would be preferable to a non-public administrative decision that an EIE is not required. The short EIE would show why there is no significant environmental impact.

In addition, members agreed, the wording in the ECD should be changed to clarify that the EIE requirement is for any state-funded project, not just for projects on state land. Brooks added that demolition of buildings should be removed from the category of actions that have no environmental impact since demolition can have negative environmental consequences; members agreed. Fernandez suggested that there is a need for a template that can be used by an administrator to produce a short EIE. There was considerable discussion of the ECD. Chair Wagner asked staff to prepare a short document for Council that would take these comments into consideration and recommend changes to the proposed ECD.

Update on Preserved Scenic Lands. Wagener presented a short summary of the response to the staff’s memo on state-owned scenic lands. There has been a report on National Public Radio about the memo and he expects some other coverage.

The meeting was adjourned at 11:24 AM with a vote on an adjournment motion made by Fernandez that was seconded by Sherman.