Minutes of the October 20, 2010 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality held in the Russell Conference Room at 79 Elm Street, Hartford.

PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Howard Beach, Janet Brooks, Liz Clark, Bruce Fernandez, Karyl Lee Hall, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

Chair Wagner convened the meeting at 9:05 AM, noting the presence of a quorum.

Chair Wagner asked if there were revisions to the minutes of the September 22, 2010 meeting. There was none. Hall moved to approve the minutes; second by Brooks and approved unanimously. Chair Wagner also asked the Council for a motion to accept the report of the Subcommittee on Wetlands Training Requirements, which would be discussed later in the meeting. Hall moved to accept the subcommittee report and minutes; the motion was seconded by Beach and approved unanimously. 

Executive Director's Report

Following up on business from the September meeting, Wagener reported that three letters had been sent on behalf of the Council: to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regarding the a time frame for actions toward protection of the Maromas section of Middletown; to the Department of Transportation (DOT) about the Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) for the Oxford Airport; and to the Connecticut Siting Council with the Council’s recommendations for enhancing public notice.

Wagener reported that the DEP had filed suit against the Sibley Company for failure to complete required testing at its property in Haddam. Wagener added that there was a meeting scheduled that afternoon by the Haddam selectmen regarding additional funding sources for the provision of public water to Tylerville, which Wagener planned to attend at town officials’ invitation. These matters were discussed briefly.

Wagener said that staff had reviewed the documents, submitted by citizens, that were historical studies within the Tylerville area that were not included in the Phase I Assessment of prior investigations. He said that it is the view of DEP staff that this is not a crucial oversight; now that the reports’ existence has been made known to the DEP, the DEP can consider the data in future studies. He said that Council staff was told by DEP staff that it is common for technical information to be added or amended in the Phase II portion of a study.

In follow-up to items that had been brought up at earlier meetings, Wagener reported that he confirmed with the Office of Long Island Sound Programs that its review of cell tower applications with regard to visual impact considers only views from public areas, such as parks and the waters of the Sound, and not for visual impacts on private properties that do not offer public access.

Wagener said that the report of Environment and Human Health Inc. (EHHI) on the health effects of outdoor wood furnaces is expected to be released the following week, and that staff would review it as directed at the September meeting.

Discussion of Recommendations for Legislation

Report of the Subcommittee on Wetlands Training Requirements – Howard Beach, subcommittee chair, summarized the conclusions of the subcommittee’s roundtable meeting on October 1st that was held to collect input from many groups and individuals that are involved with wetlands commissions. He said that all who attended agreed that more training of wetlands commissions would be of benefit to the process. He said most agreed that the majority of members sitting on a commission should be trained. Beach reported that there appeared to be consensus that all new commission members should complete the training program within a reasonable time. Most who attended the subcommittee meeting also agreed that commission members would benefit from attending a review every few years of the information that is presented in Segment I (the basic introduction to the state’s wetlands law). Segment II is the annual update on changes in legislation and case law; there was agreement that this should be attended by all commission members annually. Segment III of the DEP’s wetlands training program is an in-depth look at a specific aspect of wetlands protection. There had been discussion of whether this aspect of the training could be provided by organizations other than the DEP or whether annual attendance by all commission members should be mandated. The DEP already has two of the three portions of Segment I of the training on DVD and wishes to put the final portion onto DVD as well to increase the accessibility of the training. The DEP was adamant that Segment II (the update on new laws and regulations) cannot be provided by any outside groups and must remain under the control of the DEP. Brooks observed that if all commissioners tried to attend, the DEP would not have the capacity to accommodate them, as things are currently structured. Beach added that it can be expensive for a small town to send all commissioners to training; a requirement to do so would be perceived as another unfunded mandate. Wagener noted that he had been contacted since the roundtable meeting by the representative of the Homebuilders Association who had participated in the roundtable but had left to attend another meeting before the fee question had been raised; he said the association would not support a fee increase unless perhaps it were tightly constrained.

Discussion continued among Council members on many methods to increase access of wetlands commissions to training, including the use of webinars and having trained members or a town’s professional staff train members who did not attend the training. They supported a reporting requirement to the DEP of who attended training. Beach noted that the DEP already sends out annual updates; Brooks added that there is update material on their website as well. Beach said that the DEP keeps records of who have been trained; these records are filed by name and not by town, but if the names of members of a town’s commission are known it is a small step to learn which members have been trained.  Wagener added that there was virtually no support for the Council’s original recommendation that commissions announce at the beginning of each hearing that the commission had fulfilled the current statutory training requirement. Fernandez suggested that local agency members could be trusted to want to do a good job, and members agreed that the recommendations should be aimed at helping them.

The importance of trained commission members was emphasized by Hall and Fernandez who pointed out that the expense of appeals for all parties. Brooks pointed out that the impediments to appeal leads to a lot of bad decisions standing. Chair Wagner said that the recommendations of the subcommittee should be added to the list of proposed legislation for discussion at the November 17th public forum and included with it should be the reasons why the Council initiated the recommendations. Members agreed.

Other recommendations for legislation – Chair Wagner referred the Council to a list of proposed legislative recommendations that had been sent prior to the meeting and the Council discussed each item, adding some and modifying others. Chair Wagner suggested that the document should point out that the recommendations for the Clean Water Fund and farmland preservation require a continuation of spending and not new additional spending. Among the items discussed for remediation were legislation to put the state’s potable water program under a single authority, allocate to the DEP a lump sum annually to spend on identification and remediation of highest-priority toxic sites, and to establish an ombudsman-like office to coordinate and hold accountable the many departments involved in remedying toxic sites and providing potable water.

There was considerable discussion of the need for a method for updating the inventory of preserved lands, if such inventory ever is completed. Hall pointed out that each conservation commission is supposed to update its inventory of natural resources and open spaces and that these inventories would be a good source of data; members noted that many towns did not fulfill that responsibility with the same alacrity and thoroughness as her town does. There was discussion of the benefits of having an organization outside of state government coordinate such a project.

Illegal use of ATVs was discussed at some length. There was discussion as to whether the best remedy would be legislation allowing the forfeiture of ATVs when the operator is convicted of damaging preserved lands, or to start with a registration requirement to aid enforcement authorities. Both were added to the draft list of legislative recommendations. The Council also agreed that it could not support the expenditure of public funds to create ATV trails on state land at this time when the state lacks adequate funds for basic park and forest operations.

Members discussed the potential enhancement of penalties for illegal tree cutting by trespassers on private land. Wagener noted that the DEP’s forestry division has always been concerned that an increase in penalties could discourage legitimate logging companies if they could be penalized severely for inadvertent mistakes in the middle of forests with poor boundary markers. Wagener further noted that the complaints received by the Council did not involve certified forest practitioners. After discussion, members agreed to go forward with the recommendation.

Other possible legislation, not on the draft list, was discussed, including mandatory notification of land owners who are identified on a cell tower application as having views of the proposed tower, a proposal to extend “open space” tax abatement to properties that are being managed to enhance wildlife, and banning or restricting outdoor wood burning furnaces. Fernandez explained why the basic design of OWFs made emissions problematic. Because the EHHI report has not been reviewed it was decided to tentatively include a prohibition on OWFs on the agenda for the public forum, with the understanding that the list was being put forth for discussion purposes and that the Council would review every recommendation at the December meeting after hearing what is said at the November 17 public forum.

Citizen Complaints

Wagener reviewed two complaints received by the Council. One involved a culvert under a railroad line in Darien. He said that investigation showed that it was designed in 1974 to accommodate a 10-year storm and the town had been put on notice by the DOT that it would not be able to handle additional drainage areas. There since has been flooding during some storms and the DOT has improved the structure but not sufficiently to accommodate larger storms. There is no evidence that the engineering is incorrect. It may be insufficient to local circumstances at that location due to increased development since it was first designed, but state projects are designed only to a 10-year storm standard. Fernandez suggested that designing for a 10-year storm, while legal, was far from ideal, but that was an issue for a future meeting.

The second complaint was about construction on municipal land in Norwalk reportedly near wetlands. Staff’s review of documents for the site showed that soil scientists and town staff found no evidence that there were wetlands on the site. The other concern was that the town’s construction of a 3-bay garage violated the terms of the state grants that assisted with the town’s purchase of the site as open space. The grants did allow for structures to support its agricultural purpose, including sheds. Wagener said that DEP staff did not think the construction violated the terms of the grant.

Review of State Agency Actions

Wagener reported that cell tower applications in the towns of Orange and Redding had been reviewed by staff and that no action was recommended.

Indicator of the Month

There was a brief discussion of the indicator for compliance rates from the Council’s annual report. Further discussion was postponed to a future meeting.

Public Forum at the Legislative Office Building on November 17, 2010

Wagener said that Hearing Room 1-C had been reserved for the public forum. It will begin at 9:00 AM and end no later than noon. Chair Wagner said it should be preceded by an 8:30 AM business session for the Council. There was some discussion of publicity and the format of the forum.

There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 11:55 AM.