Minutes of the September 23, 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, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

Chair Wagner convened the meeting at 9:20 AM, noting the presence of a quorum.


Chair Wagner asked if there were any clarifications or revisions of the minutes of the meeting of August 26, 2009. There were none. Sherman motioned to approve. It was seconded by Brooks and approved with no objections, with Fernandez and Suerth abstaining for reason of having been absent at the August meeting.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener began by referencing the fact that funding for the Council had been included in the state’s final budget and that the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) had recently sent a memo cautioning agencies not to commit to spending yet since there would be some budgetary adjustments.

Wagener reported on the draft revisions for the generic environmental classification document (ECD). He reported that he had met with OPM staff to discuss the generic ECD. The Council’s comments on this document had urged the use of Environmental Impact Evaluations (EIE) in all cases and made the point that an EIE need not be long or expensive in cases where impacts are minimal. Wagener said he did not think that OPM staff believed this “short EIE” approach would accomplish the OPM’s goal of allowing agencies an “off ramp” to the EIE process when it was clear that environmental impacts are minimal. Wagener noted that some states have maximum lengths for EIEs.  There is no call for action at this time, Wagener said, as he was waiting to receive OPM’s official responses to comments on the ECD.  Sherman suggested that staff keep a list of examples of shorter EIEs.

Wagener said that since the publication of the DEP’s Solid Waste Management Plan of 2006, some of the plan’s recommended actions have not seen great progress. However, to its credit, the DEP recently has highlighted what still needs to be done. He also reported that the General Assembly’s Program Review and Investigations Committee of the state legislature had expanded its reviewed of solid waste issues, which was begun to look at changes that will occur when the regional resource recovery authorities are turned over to private interests. The Committee is holding a briefing followed by a public meeting on Thursday, October 8. He said that VanCor, who is not present, is very interested in this issue and would like to see the Council be involved. Sherman said the Council should monitor this complicated issue and recommend the best alternatives that are put forth.

In response to questions, Wagener answered that the recycling rate in CT was about 24% and that some states have achieved double Connecticut’s rate. He said the Connecticut rate may rise with the increase in “single stream” recycling that permits the mingling of different categories of recyclables. Wagener said that the big recycling bill that had support of numerous legislators and environmental groups last year did not emerge from the legislature. There was discussion about the need for a subcommittee of the Council to watch this issue and it was decided that given the small size of the Council that would be unnecessary. Chair Wagner said that it is clear from the discussion that the Council is in favor of watching developments closely and that staff should communicate with VanCor as to what should be done.

Wagener reported that staff met with researchers who were exploring ways of tracking preserved open space in the state, and there was discussion of the ongoing need for a dynamic and accurate inventory.  Brooks suggested this would be a good multi-year research project for a graduate student.

Wagener mentioned that open space would be the topic of his presentation at the annual meeting of the Connecticut Audubon Society on Thursday evening October 1 in Fairfield. He also reminded members that for the rest of the year the Council will convene on the third Wednesday of the month.

Citizen Complaints

a. Aquifer contamination in the Tylerville area of Haddam – Wagener reviewed the history of this complaint about contamination of ground water, and referred to the memo he had sent to members. He summarized the citizens’ frustrations with the DEP responses to date. He stated that he could understand citizens’ frustrations with the slowness of the process even when this area is receiving priority attention from the DEP at this time. The DEP has contracted for a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) that will compile known information and should answer many of the questions about the extent of known contamination and the frequency of well testing. He described the complications associated with multiple jurisdictions and expressed concern about a potential loophole, brought to his attention by a citizen, that permits an existing contaminated well to change to a well serving the public without having to go through the full regulatory process; he still did not have complete information on that. Brooks said that if such a loophole in fact exists the issue could be taken up with the Department of Public Health (DPH) without waiting for the ESA. Brooks also observed that DEP has reduced the backlog of administrative hearings but now rarely issues orders and has lost staff familiar with the process. Wagener showed a letter of delegation that the DEP had issued to allow a licensed environmental professional to begin a study of the problem. He described the potentially long delays that this delegation process allows. Chair Wagner asked if this failure to issue orders amounts to failure to enforce the law. Wagener responded that there are many issues in this case, including the question of how many polluters are responsible. Members agreed with Wagener that waiting to take action is not preferred, but no time could be saved by attempting to assemble definitive data on sampling records or other issues independent of the ESA, so it appears that waiting a few weeks for all the data to be assembled in the ESA is the best course of action at present. However, members agreed that this case should be followed closely, both to provide assistance where possible and to understand more fully why the remediation process takes so long.

b. Tree cutting – Wagener mentioned that staff had received a new complaint regarding illegal tree cutting in Haddam. Hearn provided some details of the complaint that also involved a possible wetlands violation. Wagener reminded the Council of an earlier complaint received regarding tree cutting without the landowner’s permission on industrial land. He said that the treatment received by the complainant was typical of how these are handed nationally: police generally treat these as civil matters, not criminal. Sherman speculated that Connecticut might differ from much of the rest of the country; whereas in other states trees might more often be cut for the value of the timber, in Connecticut the motivation might be to improve the value of a neighboring property. Sherman said that in such cases compensation tied to the change in the perpetrator’s property value should be considered. A discussion of Connecticut’s current and proposed sanctions for illegal tree cutting followed. Wagener mentioned a bill that had been proposed by Representative Drew during the last session; it failed to draw support from the DEP at the time. The Council would continue to investigate.

Review of State Agency Actions

a. Old Saybrook Wastewater Project and alternative wastewater system – Wagener reported that comments had been submitted to the DEP as directed on the delegation document for the Old Saybrook Wastewater Management District. The comments focused on the many unanswered questions in the document regarding procedures to follow when the systems fail. Wagener provided the Council, pursuant to its request at the August meeting, with a summary of previous actions taken by the Council on alternative treatment systems.

b. Preserved Scenic Lands – Wagener reported on a meeting he had with representatives from the Governor’s Office, the Siting Council, DEP, DOT, and OPM regarding the Council’s recommendations for state-owned scenic buffers along roads. He reported that since the Council’s announcement the DOT had discovered more “scenic strips” bringing the total to nearly fifty acres so far. The Siting Council is adding to its requirements for applicants that they identify any scenic strips within 2 miles of their proposed project. All the scenic strip maps will be accessible as a GIS data layer. One issue still to be resolved is whether the Legislature will add this category of land to lands that count in the state’s inventory of preserved open space. There also exists a concern that the term “scenic lands” will be mistaken for other categories like scenic roads, scenic overlooks or scenic reserves. A new term is need for these parcels to prevent confusion.

Discussion of Annual Report Topics

Wagener said he would like to continue a monthly review of the indicators used in the Annual Report. This review would allow newer members of the Council to become more familiar with the indicators and how they are derived. It would also allow for analysis of the need to modify, add or delete indicators. The Council approved of the idea and the discussion turned to the possibility that these monthly presentations would serve to educate the public about the environment if they were the subject of monthly press releases when appropriate.

Wagener then explained how the air quality indicators in the annual report are calculated. Chair Wagner said that it is clear from these indicators that the air pollution laws have been successful in reducing airborne contaminants significantly. This is a success of government regulation that should be given more prominence.  Considerable discussion ensued.  Staff was asked to post this first “Indicator of the Month” with an accompanying news release.

Suerth excused himself at 11:00 AM to attend another commitment.

Other Business

The Council took up Brooks’ suggestion to invite new DEP Commissioner Amey Marrella to a Council meeting. It was decided to do so for the October meeting, or a meeting that her scheduled allowed.

Wagener said he wished to bring up one last-minute item:   He received a request from the DECD for input on their intention to ask the legislature for an exemption so that transfer of properties smaller than 10 acres will not have to be posted for public notice in the Environmental Monitor. Members agreed that this should be discussed at the next meeting.

Chair Wagner adjourned the meeting at 11:47 AM.