Minutes of the October 21, 2009 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality held in the Holcombe Conference Room of 79 Elm St., Hartford, CT.  

PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Howard Beach, Janet Brooks, Bruce Fernandez, John Mandyck, Richard Sherman, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

Chair Wagner convened the meeting at 9:10 AM, noting the presence of a quorum.

Chair Wagner asked if there were any clarifications or revisions of the minutes of the meeting of September 23, 2009. There were none. Brooks motioned to approve; second by Sherman and approved unanimously.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener said that his speech at the annual meeting of the Connecticut Audubon Society had led to a follow-up meeting on ways to improve land conservation strategy.

Wagener reported that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had proposed new stream flow standards and regulations. Sherman said that this had been a big issue and the Council may want to comment on it.  (Later in the meeting, the Council agreed to invite the appropriate person from the DEP to present an overview of the proposal.)

Wagener reported that the General Assembly’s Program Review and Investigations Committee had a briefing followed by a public hearing on Municipal Solid Waste Services. He asked Hearn to report on it. Hearn said that the report by the legislative staff was an excellent summary of the issues and status of solid waste disposal and recycling in the state, and noted that it was available on the committee’s web site. No policy recommendations were made at the briefing.

Wagener reminded the Council that the annual Connecticut Forest Conservation and Research Forum, which the Council co-sponsors, is scheduled for November 24.

Wagener said that staff will put on the meeting agendas all cell tower applications it receives, at the time the Connecticut Siting Council solicits the Council’s comments, even if staff is not proposing comments.

The search function on the Council web site has been improved, Wagener reported. Eventually the Council’s web site will have the new format to which all agencies are being switched. 

The Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) will be sending a representative to the November Council meeting to present the DECD’s recommendations to exempt parcels smaller than ten acres from the requirement that proposed state land transfers be published for public notice in the Environmental Monitor.

Mandyck mentioned that Hartford had initiated a recycling project that offers store coupons to households based on the weight of their recyclables in a “single stream” recycling program.  He asked whether Council members thought the Council should offer congratulations or otherwise acknowledge this innovative effort. Other Council members suggested that commendations should go to all towns that have incorporated this or other new and effective approaches to increasing recycling. Staff was asked to determine if the Hartford “recycle bank” was the first of its kind in the state and what other towns’ efforts are worthy of note.

Citizen Complaints

Wagener said staff received a call from the person who had reported the wetlands / tree cutting violation that was discussed last month. The person was concerned that lack of the town’s name in the minutes reflected only a cursory discussion at the actual meeting, when the citizen had intended the complaint to be a formal one. The person was assured such was not the case, and that it was being treated fully as a complaint.

Wagener reported that he had received several emails about a proposed stimulus-funded upgrade of the Valley Railroad line, which is owned by the DEP and leased to the Valley Railroad. Trains now run from Essex to Haddam along the Connecticut River. If the line is opened to Middletown, as proposed, trains reportedly would haul municipal solid waste, incinerator ash, and sewage. Residents concerned about this are asking whether Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) applies since the railroad runs on land owned by the DEP.

At this point Commissioner Amey Marrella arrived and the discussion was postponed until later in the meeting. The Commissioner was introduced by Chair Wagner.

Discussion with Amey Marrella, Commissioner of Environmental Protection

Commissioner Marrella began by saying she is appreciative of the Council’s many useful reports it has provided. She said that the fact that the DEP has avoided layoffs has been good for morale and that staff remains highly motivated to continue their work protecting the state’s environment. Many of the managers have seen their work loads increase due to early retirements and this may not be ameliorated for a few months due to the time required to bring on replacements. About 25 of the 68 positions lost will be refilled.

Commissioner Marrella said all agency programs are being subject to “LEAN” analysis to identify and minimize wasteful steps in agency procedures that create inefficiencies.  It is a staff-driven effort and the only way to achieve goals in the current economic environment, even if people outside the agency don’t pay much attention to it.

In response to a question from Mandyck about the major environmental challenges facing the state, Commissioner Marrella said that adapting to the long term challenges of climate change is something for which the DEP must plan.  She said that to solve the problems associated with land use and development it will be necessary for towns to think about issues in ways that transcend town borders. Water supply, sewers and stormwater all have regional scope. She also said that municipalities are resource-constrained and need financial assistance if they are expected to make major changes to regulations or procedures.  The DEP is working on some model regulations for towns.  She is concerned that focus on climate change could distract from traditional air pollution concerns that would not be helped if Midwest power plants begin offsetting their carbon dioxide emissions with purchases of carbon offsets elsewhere on the globe. She added that Connecticut is water-constrained in many ways. She said that the issue of water supply is analogous to electricity several years ago when utilities realized that promotion of conservation needs to be part of their growth plans, and that utilities should be involved in the discussion about the new stream flow regulations. She said that there were many important problems that need to be addressed, such as the vanishing beach at Hammonasset, and the threat posed by the Asian Longhorn Beetle to the state’s forests. Another unknown is what will be the effect of the increases in the DEP’s fees for parks and permits. 

Chair Wagner asked Wagener to discuss the issue of Open Space accounting. Wagener said that now that the results of the DEP’s Protected Open Space Mapping (POSM) project are becoming available there is evidence of what has been hypothesized for a while:  past official estimates of the amount of preserved open space in the state are greatly inaccurate. When POSM is complete, there will be a need for a reporting and updating system. Creation of a voluntary reporting system would have no fiscal impact and he believes that most towns and land preservation groups would participate in a voluntary registry. Commissioner Marrella added that we should not overlook the importance of federal lands in the state and that it might be possible to obtain more federal funds for open space acquisition.

Sherman said that the DEP has produced short, but good, environmental impact evaluations (EIEs) and such an approach to EIEs needs to be encouraged among other agencies. Commissioner Marrella said that the DEP is working on new regulations for the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act, and appreciated the Council’s input on the regulations and the Environmental Classification Documents.

Mandyck said that the Council has received many complaints about cell tower applications and asked if the Commissioner had any insights into how well the siting procedure was working. Commissioned Marrella said she was not greatly informed on the workings of the Siting Council, but that she believed her representative Brian Golembiewski is doing a good job there.

Wagener said that it is important to note that the LEAN streamlining of procedures at the DEP has had the benefit of reducing complaints from frustrated citizens who previously objected to the way in which a coastal permit application could change repeatedly during the hearing process; the new LEAN-inspired permit process eliminates that problem.

Commissioner Marrella thanked the Council for the invitation to meet and invited the Council to contact her at any time.  The Council thanked Commissioner Marrella for her time and insights.

After the Commissioner left there was a discussion about the role of the DEP on the Siting Council and why the Commissioner’s representative is prohibited from ex-parte communication with other DEP staff about proceedings. Wagener said that the Council staff has been communicating with Siting Council and DEP staff about the issue of scenic preservation and cell tower placement without discussing specific projects. He added that he would like to see the DEP have someone on staff with expertise in scenic resources. The council agreed to invite Mr. Golembiewski to a future meeting to discuss his role on the Siting Council.

Citizen complaints (continued)

Wagener said the railroad issue does not require action but might come back to the Council. Brooks said this will be an interesting issue. She said that there have been many encroachments on the state park land in that area.

Review of State Agency Actions

CT Siting Council Solicitations of Comments– No action was recommended regarding the proposed cell towers in Southbury and North Haven.

Returning to the earlier topic of stream flow regulations, Brooks asked if there could be information at the next meeting that would include the context in which the proposed regulations were drafted. Mandyck had to leave the meeting at this time.

8. Discussion of Annual Report Topics

Because of the presence in the audience of citizens from Citizens for Clean Ground Water, the Council skipped to the item they were interested in, the potential development of a new indicator to report on the number of contaminated sites in Connecticut.  Wagener said it was a topic not currently covered in the Council’s annual report. There are many challenges. There are many different lists of these sites using different criteria. Deciding which one(s) to use is the first decision. Another problem is finding a measurable trend since sites are slow to enter the list and very slow to leave it. Thanks to the work of Wadge and the Citizens for Clean Ground Water there is now a website that has put the DEP data on contaminated sites onto a map.

Wagner asked about distinguishing the really bad sites from those with less impact. Lisa Wadge of Citizens for Clean Groundwater, speaking from the audience, said there are 25,000 contaminated sites in the state and about 10,000 are considered to be major. Less than 1% had any remediation. She suggested ranking towns by the number of sites in each category. A discussion began about the conditions that required remediation and Brooks listed the three situations: an order from the DEP, a transfer of the property and voluntary remediation. She said that contaminated farmland was excluded.

Wadge raised the related issue that the Department of Public Health (DPH) does not test for most industrial contaminants in its drinking water tests. If the DEP does not enforce cleanup orders and the DPH does not test for toxics the consequence can be public water supplies that are contaminated with industrial poisons. She gave an example from her town.

Wadge, Brooks and Wagener pointed out some of the many shortcomings of the current law. Supervision of the remediation of a contaminated site may be done by a licensed environmental professional (LEP). However, there is no requirement that the LEP hired by the landowner be kept on the job. Once the LEP is hired there is a two-year time frame to complete the investigation and, thanks to a 2008 law, eight years to complete the cleanup. A property transfer to a bogus corporation might start the clock again.

Indicators of the Month:  Preserved Land and Farmland – Wagener reviewed how the Protected Open Space Mapping (POSM) data had been collected by the DEP, and members reviewed maps that he distributed as well as a memo he had distributed in advance. Wagener said he wanted to correct one sentence in the memo, which said that POSM currently is unfunded; there is a temporary field person in the DEP working on the inventory through January, and there is work being done in the office to distribute data.  The POSM method reduced open space acres by excluding golf courses, cemeteries and similar lands, but the total acres were increased greatly with the accumulation of information on previously undocumented, preserved land.

Fernandez asked about access to this data. Wagener said data now requires the viewer to have GIS software, but a forthcoming DEP webpage will not require the viewer to have GIS.

Beach added that the figures on preserved farmlands are off just as the figures on preserved open space because of towns or land trusts that acquired farms without going through the state preservation program. Fernandez asked about the USDA data on farms in Connecticut; Wagener said it is unreliable because it depends on voluntary reporting. He said the Council now uses the data developed by UConn’s Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR), which is based on satellite imagery.

The Council decided that the good news about open space acreage is deserving of public acknowledgement and voted to send a letter to Governor M. Jodi Rell regarding it and to encourage completion of the inventory and a reporting system in preparation for strategic land conservation. Sherman motioned to send a letter which was seconded by Brooks.

Schedule for future indicators – Wagner said the monthly discussions about indicators and how they are derived has been very valuable and that schedule of topics was satisfactory. 

Discussion of scenic resources was postponed. There being no other business the meeting was adjourned at 11:52 AM