Minutes of the June 24, 2009 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) at 79 Elm St. Hartford, CT.  

PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Howard Beach, Janet Brooks, Bruce Fernandez, Richard Sherman, Ryan Suerth, Wesley Winterbottom, 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 May 19, 2009. There were none. Fernandez motioned to approve. It was seconded by Sherman and approved with Brooks and Winterbottom abstaining, since they had not attended the May meeting.

Executive Director’s Report

a) Wagener said that the Council’s annual report had received some additional press coverage and he had sent an example to members.

b) He summarized a letter sent by Mr. Robert Klancko that included a critique of the Council’s Annual Report. Brooks asked for a discussion of some of Klancko’s proposals, especially the concept of ranking pollution sources as to their relative contribution to the total pollution within a category. Discussion followed, and members agreed that Mr. Klancko’s critiques and suggestions will be taken up along with the members’ own, when planning commences for next year’s report.

c) Wagener said that the Council’s comments on the Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) for the Old Saybrook decentralized wastewater management district had been submitted. Other groups submitted similar concerns as the Council. This project would include 450 alternative treatment systems for individual residences; currently there are no similar residential systems in the state. The Council had suggested that mechanisms for monitoring these systems should be part of the EIE.

d) In follow-up to a question that came up at a prior meeting Wagener reported that the problem that led to the MDC warnings to boil water before drinking in April were not accompanied by any water quality violations. This will need to be explained in the Council’s next annual report.

e) Wagener had written to the DEP requesting compliance with state law requiring collection of information on the amount of farmland that is classified under Public Law 490. Thanks to the initiative of State Forester Christopher Martin, working with the assessors’ association, that data is now being collected at the DEP.

f) Wagener reminded the Council that solid waste recycling data for recent years had not been available at the time of the publication of the annual report. Draft data for 2008 is now available. There has been no significant change in the percentage of waste recycled (about 25%).

g) Wagener said a new category had been added to the Environmental Monitor to provide a location for public notice regarding draft environmental classification documents when revisions are proposed by state agencies. Discussion of the importance of these documents and the lack of public knowledge of their significance led to the suggestion by Sherman that an explanation of the purpose of the document be included with the notice, and that their importance be made more widely known. Members agreed.

h) Wagener reported on his attendance at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association’s third annual conference on sustainability. At the conference there were many different interpretations of what constitutes sustainability. The array of corporate projects was impressive and could lead to new indicators for the annual report.

i) Wagener said that there is no news on the state budget as yet. Millions in dedicated DEP funds were swept into the general fund and the new budget will have to appropriate general fund money appropriately.

j) Wagener updated the Council on the fate of many environmental bills in the legislative term that just ended.

Discussion of Topics Raised at the Manchester Public Forum

Wagener referred the Council to a memo prepared by Hearn on the comments received by the Council at the Manchester Public Forum and the responses that were sent to the participants. Members agreed that all of the issues raised were important and needed to be pursued by the Council. There was considerable discussion of sustainability reporting, land preservation, brownfield assistance and others. On the issue of non-point pollution, Wagner and Fernandez both said that an effort to rank the relative significance of nonpoint contributions in the annual report could help to elevate these problems in the public consciousness. Sherman agreed. Winterbottom added that often the public gets inadequate information regarding which pollution sources are the truly important ones.

Chair Wagner and Sherman raised the question of whether the Council should continue with evening public forums. A decision on whether to try an evening forum again was postponed to the autumn, when the location and timing of the next forum would be determined.

Citizen Complaints

Damages for Illegal Tree Cutting – Wagener referred to the memo sent prior to the meeting. It included a draft letter to the citizen who complained. Discussion of the issue followed. The Council members concluded that the zoning of the property should not be considered an important factor, and that the letter to the citizen should refer to all private property, including residential property. With that change, members concurred that the letter should be sent. Chair Wagner asked for a motion to request further staff research on this issue with an eye toward making recommendations to the governor and legislature, if warranted. The motion was made by Fernandez and seconded by Beach, and approved unanimously.

Review of State Agency Actions

Telecommunications Towers on Preserved Agricultural Land – Wagener reported that the cell tower application in Warren (Connecticut Siting Council Docket 378) had been withdrawn by the applicant. The ability of the applicant to propose this location on farmland where the state owned the development rights was made possible by a law adopted in 2003. Winterbottom offered a motion to have the Council make a recommendation to Governor M. Jodi Rell and the General Assembly to repeal CGS Section 16-50p(a)(3)(G); second by Fernandez. Approved unanimously.

Wagener reported that a parallel issue was brought to his attention by a citizen in another town where a tower was proposed on farmland enrolled under P.A. 490 (preferential property taxation).

Melissa Spear of the Connecticut Land Conservation Council spoke from the audience to say that a similar question will arise with the advent of wind generation of electricity. She said that Massachusetts has begun a dialogue with interested parties about this issue. Brian Golembiewski of the DEP spoke from the audience to say that the Siting Council has jurisdiction for installations greater than one megawatt (about 2 or 3 wind turbines); smaller than that, the jurisdiction is local.

Accurate Accounting of Preserved Land

There is no accurate accounting of preserved land in the state, said Wagener. The existing measuring systems are inaccurate or have outdated information. He said that land in not accounted for in a centralized data base. He summarized the work done to date by the DEP’s program to collect and map this data (Protected Open Space Mapping). The data is excellent, Wagener said, but it is designed to be a snapshot in time and is not updated. Discussion turned to the need for a centralized registry that would be updated in real time. Wagener.  He said that other people and organizations are thinking along the same lines. 

Members agreed that the Council needs to work on this issue, especially in light of the Council’s statutory mandate to report land conservation trends.

Wagener also said that the staff had discovered, as a byproduct of the ongoing research into scenic landscape protection, what might be hundreds of acres of state preserved land that has been largely forgotten and that staff might be able to report on it before the next meeting. Members agreed that the information should be reported as soon as possible.

The meeting was adjourned at 11:01 AM.