Minutes of the May 19, 2009 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Lincoln Center Hearing Room in Manchester.  

PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Bruce Fernandez, John Mandyck, Earl Phillips, Richard Sherman, Ryan Suerth, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

Chair Wagner convened the meeting at 6:20 PM, having determined that a quorum was present. Chair Wagner asked if there were any clarifications or revisions of the minutes of the meeting of April 29, 2009. There being none, Chair Wagner asked for a motion to approve. Sherman motioned to approve. It was seconded by Fernandez and approved unanimously.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener said that the Council’s annual report had been submitted to the Governor in summary form.   Legislators also received the one-page summary and an email with the link to the full report. A column about the annual report appeared in the Danbury News Times.

Wagener said that staff would investigate a suggestion for a new indicator – stream flow as a measure of the consequences of impervious surfaces in the watershed.  This indicator was suggested by a citizen.

Wagner reported that the state employee unions had voted to accept the proposed labor concessions. The agreement contained seven mandatory furlough days over the next two years, and the Council offices must be closed on those days.

Wagener said he wished to update the Council on four pieces of legislation that are before the legislature.

1. He reviewed the history of the bill restricting Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grants that would have the effect of destroying prime agricultural land. He described how it went from a bill that allowed some exceptions to one that had no exceptions and, in the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, back to the version allowing for some exceptions.

2. The bill encouraging training of wetlands commission members that the Council advocated was merged with a bill requiring regulation of vegetative buffers along streams. Then the training portion was removed. He said there is some hope that the wording requiring any untrained towns to identify that fact at commission hearings may be reinserted.

3. Another bill would put all land-use commission training, including wetlands training, under the administration of the Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) at the University of Connecticut.

4. The bill regarding requirements for an environmental review under the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) for improvements at the Oxford Airport was the subject of a meeting of interested parties. There seemed to be some agreement on a concept that would compress the normal timeframe but would not exempt the project from CEPA.

Wagener said that he wanted to inform the Council about tow recent complaints that were not on the agenda:

1.  A private citizen contacted the Council about clear-cutting that had occurred on her privately owned property. The 2006 law that had been initiated by the Council’s report Preserved But Not Protected made no provision for such actions when they occur on private land.

Sherman asked why not support a change in the law to allow private landowners recourse in these situations? After discussion of the issue, Chair Wagner said she would like to see some more research on this question before the Council adopted a position on it, but would like to see a draft response from staff.  Members concurred.

2. A complaint came to the Council regarding mysterious, odoriferous smoke coming from a residence in Norwalk at odd hours. Staff referred it to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), who referred it to the Norwalk Health Department. The consequence was that Mayor Moccia called Council staff and the citizens who complained to inform them that he had reached the party responsible and obtained an agreement to halt the burning.

Review of State Agency Projects

Telecommunications tower, Warren . Wagener said that the Council’s comments were submitted to the Siting Council. Governor M. Jodi Rell also sent a letter in opposition to the proposal. Wagener said the controversial docket had generated some interesting issues; for example, the applicant asking for the names of members of Concerned Residents of Warren and Washington (CROWW), which CROWW contends in its brief violates members’ rights of freedom of assembly and association. The Commissioner of Agriculture submitted a motion to dismiss the application for failure to notify the owner of the development rights prior to filing the application as required by statute.

Old Saybrook Wastewater Management District. Wagener pointed out that the Council has a long history of involvement with this project. He passed around draft staff comments that had been slightly revised from what was mailed to the Council members last week. He asked members to inform him if any changes were required. The new version asked for more specific information about DEP oversight of the Wastewater management District. Members had no changes.

Chair Wagner asked for a motion to adjourn the business portion of the meeting if there was no further business so the public forum portion could commence. Phillips motioned for adjournment which was seconded by Suerth. The meeting adjourned at 6:56 PM.

Public Forum

Chair Wagner opened the public forum and gave a brief overview of the Council’s responsibilities and recent report on Connecticut’s environment, and then invited the public to speak.

John Weedon of the Manchester Conservation Commission spoke. He said that he wished to commend the Council for all the good work it had performed by providing independent environmental analysis of state actions and proposing important legislation. He challenged the Council to look through a “new lens” at the state’s condition.   He said that new indicators should focus on sustainability from three aspects: environment, economy and community. He recommended a Canadian publication, The Report of the Frasier Basin Council Sustainability Snapshot 4.

Mike Veneira asked what regulations are in place to stop the flow of fertilizers and pesticides into Long Island Sound. Wagener responded that this “non-point” pollution was the largest source of pollution now and degrades more miles of rivers than the pollution from sewers and industrial discharges combined. There are some measures in place and proposed to address the use of fertilizers, but the diffuse nature of the problem makes it difficult to solve.

Diane DeJoannis spoke to recommend a short film about water and water pollution. It is called “Flow”, which stands for “For Love of Water.” She said it is available from Netflix and recommended it because it is revelatory about many problems associated with availability of clean drinking water.

Cheri Pelletier, of the Manchester Board of Directors, spoke about the problems of towns like Manchester that are left with contaminated sites from their industrial past. Towns need more assistance and incentives from the state to help turn these properties around. Currently state regulations on brownfields are in conflict with town goals for preservation and redevelopment. State grants tend to be for investigation only, and stop there. Phillips said that he believed Pennsylvania and Maryland have had greater success in this area.

Suerth, of the Council, suggested that Council members explain for the sake of the high school students who had come to the meeting, how Council members are appointed and what the Council does. Several members spoke about this.

Janet Heller was the last citizen speaker. She rose to say that preservation of open space and farmland in the state was a very important state endeavor, and should not be allowed to fall further behind.

There being no further business, Chair Wagner thanked everyone for their very useful comments and adjourned the forum.