Minutes of the August 24, 2011 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room, 5th Floor, 79 Elm St., Hartford.

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

Chair Wagner called the meeting to order at 9:06 AM, noting the presence of a quorum.

A vote to approve the minutes of the July meeting was postponed to the next Council meeting in September.

Chair’s Report

Chair Wagner said she would ask Wagener to proceed with the portions of the executive director’s report that did not pertain to the budget, and then would like to take up budget discussions.

Executive Director's Report

Wagener said that the staff had been participating in the Remediation Evaluation and Transformation meetings of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) that have been held to analyze the state’s remediation programs with the intent to make recommendations to the legislature. Wagener noted that the potable water programs consume about 25% of the Remediation Program’s budget; he said he had urged the inclusion of the potable water program as a topic for evaluation, but there was not support among those present to include it.

Hall observed that when she co-chaired the State Implementation Plan Revision Advisory Committee (SIPRAC) the monthly meetings were attended by business and industry professionals and that the general public’s interests were not represented well due to the absence of people to voice that perspective. She asked Wagener if the participants in the Evaluation and Transformation sessions represented the interests of the general public and the environment. Wagener said that it was his sense that the citizen groups participated in a limited way. Sherman and Hall commented that the work-day scheduling of meetings is often a significant barrier to participation by the public and suggested raising the question as to whether there will be a mechanism to allow for participation by a broader audience. Wagener said he can express the Council’s concern about this to the DEEP.

Wagener described a meeting, scheduled by Commissioner Esty, to which he had been invited. People from the State of Maryland, the World Resources Institute and Demos presented what they are doing to generate and display environmental and economic data. Much of the discussion pertained to the development of a Genuine Progress Indicator as an alternative to the Gross Domestic Product, as the latter takes neither social and environmental well-being nor depletion of natural capital into account. He said he was particularly interested in Maryland’s efforts to display quantitative information graphically, and was discussing some of the software with DEEP staff.

Wagener updated the Council on the state’s budget reduction. He reported that Hearn’s layoff notice had been rescinded after his union ratified the concessions. Because Wagener is a manager, and not a member of the union, he is not covered by the labor agreement and his layoff notice had not yet been rescinded. Chair Wagner asked for a motion to put this matter on the agenda for discussion. Brooks made the motion, which Hall seconded; approved unanimously. Following discussion, no action was taken.

Martin Mador, legislative chair of the Connecticut Chapter of the Sierra Club spoke briefly from the audience to say that adequate appropriations for the Council has been a priority of Sierra Club and many other organizations.  Hall made a motion to have a vote of the Council as a way of recording support for continuation of the executive director’s position at the Council. Brooks seconded and it was approved unanimously.

Review of State Agency Actions

Siting Council Consultation – Wagener said staff recommended no comments regarding the proposal for a telecommunications tower in North Stonington. He added that the proposed Hartland tower, on which the Council commented, had been denied by the Siting Council.

Preliminary review of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) implementation – Wagener began with a brief review of the 2010 changes to the generic environmental classification document (ECD) and the new processes in it. Last week he had sent out a notice to environmental leaders to inform them of the new category of notice that appears now in the Environmental Monitor, and encouraged them to subscribe to e-alerts for the Monitor. “Post-Scoping Notices” will be posted when a sponsoring agency issues a scoping notice and, after the public comment period, decides not to proceed with an environmental impact evaluation (EIE). He said he received some responses expressing concern about the new process. The public is not generally aware that their only opportunity to comment on a project may be when a scoping notice is published since in the new procedure there may not be an EIE.

Wagener reminded the Council that in 2010 it recommended that the DEEP amend the regulations prior to agencies adopting new ECDs, because the process described in the ECDs is not the same as the process described in the statutes and regulations. He added that the last statutory update was nearly a decade ago, and the regulations date to 1978, and they do not match up well. There was considerable discussion by Sherman, Hall and other members. Fred Reese of the DEEP spoke from the audience to say that the DEEP’s draft regulations will be reviewed by the new DEEP attorney soon. Chair Wagner asked if a letter stressing the urgency of this matter should be sent by the Council; after discussion, it was the consensus of the Council that staff should draft such a letter.

Citizen Complaints

Progress report on remediation in Tylerville – Hearn was asked to update the Council on activity in Haddam regarding the groundwater pollution problem. He said that recent months have seen greater action to identify the extent and sources of the contamination than had been seen in decades. He said that the expected Phase II and Phase III studies have not been put out for contract yet because of the dynamics of other testing efforts around there. Tests are being done at the Sibley Company property and at properties around the Mercury Fuel company. In addition, more sampling is expected at current and former Department of Transportation (DOT) facilities. The results of these investigations may modify the scope of the work plan for the Phase II and Phase III investigations.

Hearn continued that in the spring it was announced that personnel from the DEEP would attempt to put the 43 households on a predictable and nearly simultaneous schedule for water sampling and filter changes. Although the first attempt failed to reach all the residents, DEEP reports that subsequent efforts have reached nearly all the target residences and the August/September sampling is currently being conducted. Results of the sample analyses are provided to the residents and are available at the Chatham Health District. The Mercury Fuel Company has established a well water monitoring program for 19 residences; at four locations where levels of MTBE exceeded the action level it has assumed responsibility for the expense of monitoring and provision of water filters or bottled water. In June, the DEEP requested the DOT to address areas of concern on current and former properties in Tylerville and also Higganum. The DOT acknowledged the request and promised a response in 60 days. 

Hearn said that he found reference to a problem with an underground storage tank in Cockaponset State Forest. DEEP staff reported that the leak was from the filler and has been remedied and added that it is DEEP’s long term plan to eliminate underground storage tanks. The Sibley Company is conducting court-directed sampling on its property. Lisa Wadge from Citizens for Clean Ground Water spoke from the audience to say that there is a concern that the test wells will not be deep enough to find the heavy TCE. A discussion followed on the roles of the court, the DEEP and the Licensed Environmental Professional (LEP). Staff said they would attempt to obtain clarification. Council members said an invitation should be made to the appropriate persons to explain the process that is proceeding at the Sibley location. Ms. Wadge spoke again to say that although some progress has been made, the sad fact remains that 28 years after Sibley was ordered to remediate, no remediation has been performed at any site in Tylerville. Margaret Miner of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut spoke from the audience and added that it is clear that the state’s regulations regarding ground water pollution is a confusing mesh of multiple jurisdictions and authorities. She said that legislative action to improve the situation with regard to potable water, which she was wary of last year, was worthy of consideration.

Herbicide spraying on the Valley Railroad – Wagener updated the Council on the herbicide spraying along the Valley Railroad tracks in Haddam, which had been brought to the Council’s attention at the public forum there in 2010. He said that federal regulations require that the right of way be maintained, including management of weeds, though management does not always mean herbicide application. State law allows for notice to neighbors who request to be notified about planned pesticide applications on abutting properties, but the state and railroads are exempt from the requirement. Wagener said he asked at the DEEP about the possibility of notice for the residents whose properties abut the Valley Railroad. DEEP staff said informally that it probably would be the railroad, if anyone, who could do anything, as the railroad has a long-term lease from the state. After considerable discussion, Chair Wagner asked staff to draft a letter to the railroad company suggesting the establishment of a simple, voluntary system for notifying requesting landowners in advance of spraying. Hall asked if other weed control techniques could be employed.

Discussion of selected topics from the July public forum in Mansfield

Hearn was asked to respond to the concern that had been raised at the forum regarding the radioactivity in wood ash posing a potential health threat to gardeners who spread ash as a fertilizer. He said that the author of the article that prompted the question has authored other articles that address this misinterpretation of his work. He has stated the risk to be de minimis. His point was not that wood ash needed to be regulated, but that other wastes with the same low levels are treated as hazardous unnecessarily. He also noted that the DEEP monitors radioactivity in trees and has never found high levels of radiation. Fernandez said he found an article from a study in Maine with similar conclusions.

Wagener updated the Council on the status of the short term hazardous waste storage facility at the Storrs campus of the University of Connecticut (UCONN). He said that the facility was supposed to be moved to a location close to the university’s waste water treatment plant and a scoping notice was released several years ago based on that plan, but the facility was never moved. UCONN’s work on the sewage treatment plant has eliminated that site. University officials are looking into the feasibility of a site in the proposed Tech Park.

Wagner said that action on other issues raised at the forum has been initiated and he can inform the Council about these at the September meeting. Wagner asked staff to keep the speakers at the forum updated.

The meeting was adjourned at 12:04 PM.