Minutes of the March 25, 2009 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room, 5th Floor, 79 Elm St., Hartford.  

PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Janet Brooks, Bruce Fernandez, Howard Beach, Ryan Suerth, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

Chair Wagner convened the meeting at 9:09 AM and determined that a quorum was present.

Chair Wagner asked for approval of the minutes of February 2, 2009, February 6, 2009 and March 9, 2009. Brooks said that since she was newly appointed to the Council she would have to abstain due to her absence at all these meetings.  For the February 2nd minutes, Fernandez moved to approve, seconded by Suerth, and approved unanimously with Brooks’ abstention.  For the February 6th minutes, Fernandez moved to approve, seconded by Beach, and approved unanimously with Brooks’ abstention.  For the March 9th minutes, Suerth moved to approve, seconded by Chair Wagner and approved unanimously with Brooks’ abstention.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener recapped the history of legislative hearings that had taken up the question of the Council’s proposed consolidation. He referred the Council to the list of 38 groups and individuals who spoke in favor of the Council maintaining its independent role, and to the regular “CEQ Budget Updates” that he sent by email.

Chair Wagner said that some municipal conservation commissions had passed resolutions on their own initiative in support of the Council’s independence.  Brooks volunteered to inform the Connecticut Association of Conservation and Inland Wetlands Commissions about the resolutions.

Wagener reported that there were two bills proposed that included restrictions on STEAP grants that would result in the elimination of prime farmland. The one that was approved by the Environment Committee was amended; he had not seen the substitute language but he understood that it removed the exceptions that would permit approval of STEAP grants that convert prime agricultural land.

The wetlands training bill that the council had recommended had been merged with a riparian buffer bill that is somewhat controversial. However, the Environmental Committee deleted the training section of the bill before approving it.  Wagener said he will follow efforts to revise the bill as it moves along.

Wagener said that citizens had asked him to inform the Council of a bill to exempt a project from the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA), specifically a proposed private development at the state-owned Waterbury-Oxford Airport.  Evidently, he reported, proponents of the project believe that an Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) adds two years to the planning process.  Wagener said that the Department of Transportation (DOT) typically hires consultants to complete lengthy EIEs that take a lot of time, but that the DEP and other agencies are able to produce very short EIEs that take very little time.  Members agreed that if asked the Council could help provide information on the question.

Fernandez asked the fate of the bill that would have required separation of wetland commissions from planning and zoning commissions in towns where they are combined; Wagener said the bill died in committee.

Discussion of annual report topics

Chair Wagner rearranged the agenda slightly to accommodate Suerth’s schedule.

Beach motioned to approve the draft annual report summary that had been distributed in advance, subject to minor text and layout changes allowed as needed. Fernandez seconded and it was approved unanimously. Suerth then excused himself from the meeting for his appointment.

A brief discussion followed on what should be included in the text of the cover letter to the Governor that would accompany the Council’s annual report.   Also, Fernandez offered to make the color copies on his own equipment and donate them to the Council; members agreed to his generous offer.

Citizen Complaints

Wagener reported that the Council staff had received a complaint from a member of the Washington Conservation Commission regarding the proposed cell tower on farmland in Warren for which the state had purchased the development rights. Wagener reported that both the Department of Agriculture and the Attorney General’s office had expressed concern about this proposal.  There was discussion of the role of the state in enforcing its easement as a matter separate from Siting Council jurisdiction. Hearn added that the application for the tower did have some other siting issues that were relevant since the same application proposed an alternate location for the tower that was not on land that the state had preserved.  One of those issues is the extent of the viewshed analysis, which did not extend to two state parks just outside the viewshed analysis area. The other is the apparent difference in location of balloons in the photos and the photo simulations of the tower placement. Council members agreed that staff should prepare comments to the Siting Council on the application.

Review of State Agency Actions

Housatonic River Natural Resources Restoration Plan – Wagener stated that the Draft EIE for the project had been received. He asked Hearn to report on it, noting that Hearn had done the first sampling that led to the determination of the presence of PCBs in the Housatonic more than 30 years ago. Hearn reported that the plan is the consequence of a 15 million dollar settlement with the General Electric Company which had been disposing of PCBs directly and indirectly into the Housatonic River for decades. Both Massachusetts and Connecticut have split the settlement and each is to develop a plan to spend the money to improve the river. The funds are being held by the US Department of the Interior. The Connecticut plan includes 74 low-impact projects to improve the resource and public access to it. No action is recommended on the EIE, which Hearn said was adequate.

There being no further business, Chair Wagner adjourned the meeting at 11:15 AM.