Minutes of the April 27, 2010 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality held in the Old Town Hall, Haddam.  

PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Bruce Fernandez, Karyl Lee Hall, Richard Sherman, Norman VanCor, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

Chair Wagner convened the meeting at 5:05 PM, noting the presence of a quorum, and said this was intended to be a brief meeting preceding the Council’s Public Forum.

Chair Wagner asked if there were revisions needed to the minutes of the March 24, 2010 meeting. There were none. VanCor moved that the minutes be adopted. This was seconded by Hall and approved unanimously.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener reported that the Chair had spoken at ceremonies at the state Capitol commemorating the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day. He said that the speech included some of the same information on the founding of the Council and on the creation of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that will appear in the Council’s annual report, as well as a 40-year report card on environmental progress.

Wagener said his report for this meeting would focus on three items: 1) Correspondence with the DEP regarding contamination in the Tylerville section of Haddam, 2) Recent developments with regard to proposed generic environmental classification document for state agencies, and 3) Pending legislation, especially with regard to proposed changes for the DEP’s regulatory programs.

Wagener said the Council had received two responses to the letter that had been sent to Commissioner Marrella recommending enforcement action. One response was from Patrick Bowe, Director of the DEP’s Remediation Division, requesting an opportunity to appear before the Council to present the history of the contamination problem and the actions that have been taken by the DEP. The other letter was from Commissioner Marrella, which said that the DEP is not able to discuss enforcement strategies for pending cases. It was the consensus of the Council members to invite the DEP to a Council meeting for a discussion of the issue. Hall observed that the responses didn’t address the issue raised in the Council’s original letter. Sherman said that it is important that the discussion be framed to cover the Council’s concerns. Chair Wagner asked Sherman to draft a letter to the DEP outlining those concerns. Wagener noted that all Council meeting are open to the public.

Wagener recalled that in 2009 the Council had submitted comments on the draft generic environmental classification document (ECD) for state agencies. He said that the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) had proposed a new version, and public comments were due May 14. Wagener said that the new draft includes some of the Council’s recommendations, but it also includes a new process for publishing in the Environmental Monitor any decision to not conduct an environmental impact evaluation.  Wagener said that publication in the Monitor would not be a problem, but that the process does not mesh with the regulations of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act. As this is the generic ECD and does not apply to the DOT, DEP or DECD, citizens would see one process for some agencies but a different process for others. After discussion it was the consensus that the Council should restate its original comments that the proper focus should be on revising the regulations before the ECD.

Wagener noted the many bills that had been submitted in this legislative session regarding the regulatory environment. One that is causing much concern among agencies and environmental groups is a pilot program for automatic approval, where applications that are not acted upon within a specified time frame would be tacitly deemed approved. The bill directs the DEP to set up a pilot program for this. He said that Governor Rell announced that she would have a proposal for permit reform. Sherman said delays in permitting are not always the fault of the DEP. He said that the experience of the CEQ has been that, in many cases, the cause of delays is chronic underfunding. Chair Wagner asked what data exists to show the number and length of delays. Hall urged assertion of the CEQ’s previous analyses and conclusion that the DEP suffers from under funding.

Wagener said that the annual report was ready for release later in the week. VanCor moved to approve the release of the report and submittal to Governor Rell, subject to any last-second minor editing members might request. Sherman seconded the motion, which was approved unanimously. Wagener noted the very valuable contributions of intern Brianna Cohoon, who completed her internship that day and will graduate from Fairfield University in May.

Chair Wagner thanked the Town of Haddam for welcoming the Council and making the building available for the meeting and asked if there was any further business. There being none, the meeting was adjourned at 5:23 PM to commence the public forum.

Public Forum

More than 50 people attended, and 23 spoke. The following is a brief summary of speakers' major points. Many speakers also gave written statements and documents to the Council, which are being reviewed by members and staff, along with more complete notes.

Essie Spencer:  Showed pictures of Illegal tree cutting on her property and unpermitted wetland filling on neighbor's. Interaction with local wetlands agency led to conclusion that DEP needs to strengthen its relationship to towns, and training. Noted that applicant used a business partner as expert witness at a hearing.

Janet Verney:  Discussed Higganum Cove state superfund site (distributed slide show prior to meeting). Natural resources, recreation on site. Told by DEP it is not a high priority site. There are safety hazards and potential wildlife impacts. What are options?

Barrie Robbins-Pianka:  Spoke for Advocates for a Maromas Plan about the natural resources and other values of the Maromas section of Middletown, and the need to preserve it and improve public access. Noted importance of Connecticut Valley Hospital (CVH) property. There was legislation drafted to protect the reservoirs at CVH, but it was not introduced. Questioned certain uses of land that had been deeded to city as open space. Supported more access to beaches, including train service. Noted that the Connecticut Siting Council is too applicant-friendly.

Ellen Lukens:  Spoke for Advocates for a Maromas Plan about importance of preserving CVH lands and reservoirs. Reservoirs could be abandoned and sold. Submitted copies of letters sent to city and the Silvio Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. Discussions between DEP and Northeast utilities regarding preservation of utility lands should be resumed. Put higher priority on open space funding. Noted that the Connecticut Siting Council is too applicant-friendly.

Walter Zilahy:  Read from newspaper articles that quoted DEP Commissioner as saying the Valley Railroad line would be preserved for recreation. As much of the line is not used for scenic railroad nor is it open for walking, should not the state have to repay the federal land and water conservation grant that was used to purchase it?

Sharon Botelle:  Submitted documents on Tylerville contamination and proposed land swap; spoke about the contamination. Recalled her husband speaking with state officials in this very room 30 years ago. DEP has known about the contamination since 1981. DEP has provided charcoal filter since 1996. In January 2010, her well had 620 ppb TCE (safe limit is 5 ppb). In August 2001, DEP said problem would be investigated and cleaned up. New food-selling establishments are being established in Tylerville.

Joe Laurenza:  Opposed to the proposed land swap. DEP opposed. People will not donate or sell land to the DEP if they think it might get swapped.

Lisa Wadge:  Citizens for Clean Groundwater's new annual report published today, which tabulates data of contaminated properties statewide. Thanked the CEQ for advice and support.

Liz Bazazi: Higganum Vision Group is about 50 volunteers trying to implement concepts of smart growth, "Main Street," traffic-calming, context-sensitive road design and other improvements to livability.  Plan of Conservation and Development needs to support density so that a car is not necessary. Need to build on Cockaponset and other preserved lands, farming heritage, historic resources. Haddam could be a prototype green, smart growth town. CEQ can help by promoting green infrastructure, new sewage treatment facilities; also resolution of brownfield sites including DOT garage to stimulate economic development. Noted that unused Valley Railroad track was not open for walking. Higganum Cove could provide access to the river, which freight traffic on the railroad could impede.

Gerry Matthews:  Supported comments of Janet Verney and Liz Bazazi.

Gail Powell:  As business owner in Higganum, spoke about contamination in Higganum Center. Noted help of Citizens for Clean Groundwater. DEP did some work in 1995 but dropped the ball. Recently, DEP and Chatham Health District showed up to conduct testing, which seemed random and uncoordinated. The DEP needs to be fully funded; it is missing opportunities.

Peter Arseneault:  Selectman. Quoted mission statement of DEP. Water contamination is the largest problem.  Some of the wells are too polluted for charcoal filters; recommended air-strippers for wells with high concentrations of volatile compounds. DEP has let it continue for 30 years; it has not been underfunded all that time. Shuffle the money around to be more effective. Why do we have a DEP?

John Sibley:  Asked why the DEP would show up ten days ago to look at a tank removal that happened 12 years ago?

Tad Heise:  Asked why the herbicide Diuron is sprayed regularly on portions of the Valley Railroad line that have not been used for 40 years.  Diuron is banned in many states.

Torrance Downes:  Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency; staff to the Connecticut Gateway Commission, which had opposed the land swap. Gateway Commission's position is that conservation land, especially that which is visible from the river, should not be swapped so it can be developed. Commission is willing to listen and discuss this with all parties. Also asked for CEQ's help on the riparian buffers bill in the legislature.

Arthur Abbott:  Opposed land swap. Noted that deed says the land was bought to be open space.

Ken Gronbach:  Spoke about friend who walked her dog on the railroad tracks; both she and the dog died of cancer. Diuron is believed to cause liver cancer. Why is herbicide used where trains don't run? Friend had to compensate the DEP when his children cut down some dead trees; the herbicide kills living trees. Submitted photo of "no trespassing" sign on railroad line.

Karie Ann Morris:  Spoke about the Valley Railroad, which she noted is a for-profit corporation and pays the state only $15,000 yearly for exclusive rights. Her family has 13 acres in Essex with no access because the railroad will not allow access to the land. Submitted photos of recent work on the railroad line, and asked questions about the regulatory oversight, noting the apparent lack of erosion controls.

Jim McHutchison:  Spoke about the Connecticut Yankee Conservation Project, which wants to see the old power plant site preserved. Group has hired Melissa Spears, formerly of Trust for Public Land, and has good relationship with Connecticut Yankee. They now have documentation of the land, which could lead to an appraisal. Seeking help from the DEP and others. Submitted brochure.

Steve Rocco:  Introduced himself as an architect and a partner in RiverHouse, which is advocating the land swap. Said newspaper articles did not contain the actual facts. The swap would not involve riverfront property, only the 17 acres west of the railroad tracks. Former Commissioner Gina McCarthy had told him that the DEP only bought those 17 acres because they came with the desirable riverfront land, and that if they could come up with a good replacement for a swap, then the DEP would be interested. Proponents are offering more acres adjacent to Cockaponset State Forest. Project on the 17 acres would be balanced for environmental protection and economic development; had worked on this with former Deputy Commissioner David Leff. Looks forward to working with the Gateway Commission, and invited everyone to a public presentation the next week.

[Name unclear]:  Economic Development Commissioner of Haddam. Wants to see public water supply brought to contaminated areas. The Economic Development Commission supports the land swap, after having evaluated the overall effects on the town. The swap would help local businesses, which means the town would not have to seek residential construction for more tax revenue. DEP is not really interested in the 17 acres, and would be getting more acres. 

Anne Marie Mitchell:  Recalled that she spoke to the Council in August 2009 about the proposed waste transfer railroad facility in Hawleyville. Would like to see the DEP take a preventive role. DEP has lost staff, so should go "more LEAN:" when an applicant proposes an activity that will threaten well water, just get rid of it. The area is a sole source aquifer. DEP staff visited the site on April 9 and were great.

Paul DeStefano:  First Selectman. We are in a ten-year economic decline.  We are strong people, we must work together to solve our own problems. It is not enough to identify the problems. Looks forward to hearing more from the Gateway Commission. Reported that he had just heard from the DEP that the town will get an extension on the deadline to close the transfer station, which will allow full exploration of the options. Thanked everyone.

Council Chair Barbara Wagner thanked everyone who attended, and said that all issues will be investigated and that the Council will report on what actions it is able to take on each.

Two other citizens approached staff following the conclusion of the forum to submit information about a sand pit and also more information about the Hawleyville issue.