Minutes of the May 23, 2012 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room on the 5th floor of 79 Elm Street, Hartford.

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

At 9:09 AM Chair Barbara Wagner called the meeting to order and noted the presence of a quorum.

Sherman made a motion to approve the March 28, 2012 minutes as presented. Second by Brooks; approved unanimously. Brooks made a motion to approve the April 25, 2012 minutes as presented. Second by Hall; approved unanimously, with Fernandez abstaining because he had not been present at that meeting.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener began with a report on the recently concluded legislative session. He said that the revised FY2013 budget will include a reduction to the Council’s budget of about $3,000. There was discussion of the budget of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the proposal to merge some natural resource components of DEEP with the Department of Agriculture (DOA); Wagener reported that the bill to study the matter died in the Senate.

A bill to regulate outdoor wood furnaces (OWFs) also failed despite agreement among DEEP, DOA and the Department of Public Health. Wagener detailed the provisions that were in the proposed bill. He said one problem with the current law is that all of Connecticut’s setback requirements for OWFs are eliminated should the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopt standards for OWFs.

The Open Space Plan bill passed. It requires that DEEP produce recommendations for a registry of preserved lands in the state. It requires that DEEP establish a process by which other state agencies may identify lands in their custody that might have conservation value. DEEP is to create a plan for acquisition of state lands it identifies as having conservation value. DEEP must also identify priorities for acquisition in the state’s Green Plan, and update that plan every five years after consulting with other departments, regional planning organizations, cities and towns.

Wagener said that the wetlands training bill did not pass, as he had reported previously. A discussion followed on the problems faced by the wetlands training program in light of a potential reduction in federal funds. Brooks said perhaps the program could be offered more cost-effectively if it were managed in-house or administered by an entity other than the University of Connecticut (UConn). Hall and other members asked for staff to request the DEEP-UConn contract for inspection, and agreed that the training issue merited continued work.

The bill that defined cell towers as being consistent with the state’s conservation purposes for its state parks and forests also did not pass. Wagener said a different bill concerning cell towers passed: bill 5271 allows greater time for towns to deliberate cell tower proposals before having to submit comments, and directs the Siting Council to weigh municipal input regarding proposed towers and to give consideration to alternative locations suggested by town officials. Hall pointed out that most of the provisions in the bill are not new, or are modest expansions of authority. Council members expressed interest in continuing to work toward improved notification of property owners who will be affected by views of proposed towers.

Wagener said that environmental advocates have said that there were a number of important victories in the session. One was a bill to allow towns to take into consideration projections of coastal flooding from sea level rise in planning and zoning matters. Two bills regarding phosphorus were combined into one that will require a study of phosphorous-reduction from sewage-treatment plants and restrict phosphorous application on established lawns.

The bill that would have revised the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act did not pass; members discussed the bill’s problems at some length. Although it failed this year, Hall said she was concerned that it will be introduced again. Brooks said the changes that were proposed would have been a significant impediment to a pro se action and therefore contrary to the intent of the law, which was to empower individual citizens to intervene where the environment is threatened. The Council agreed on the importance of educating the public about the consequences of the proposed revisions. Hall said she was the attorney in the case that is cited as precedent for the change and that the court’s decision in that case has been misconstrued. Members agreed that the Council should work on this matter before next session.

There was some discussion and questions about other bills. Wagener said a mercury thermostat recycling bill passed; it was the version favored by industry, not the one supported by environmental advocates. Brooks asked about the bill to eliminate the stream channel encroachment line program; Wagener said he would report on that at the next meeting.

Changes to the Environmental Monitor

Wagener asked the Council to approve three changes to the Environmental Monitor. The first change is a consequence of Bill 5432, the recently-adopted brownfields legislation, which authorized a pilot program that exempts up to three projects from parts of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA). To be eligible for the pilot program, a project must be located in a distressed municipality or enterprise zone, be consistent with the principles of smart growth and be planned for land that has already been developed. The notice of the project’s selection for the pilot process, plus the slightly revised environmental impact evaluation (EIE) and public comment process, would need to be published in new categories in the Environmental Monitor. The second change for the Environmental Monitor was a request by the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) to include notices of final decisions regarding EIEs; currently, final decisions about EIEs are not published. The third change to the Environmental Monitor has already been implemented: OPM requested that the availability of the state’s new draft Plan of Conservation and Development be published in the Environmental Monitor. The Council approved all three changes.

Review of State Agency Actions

Letter to UConn re: hazardous waste storage facility – Sherman asked if this item could be taken first because of the arrival of citizens who are interested specifically in the issue of UConn’s short term hazardous waste storage facility. Chair Wagner agreed. Wagener commenced the discussion by referring to a draft of a letter to President Herbst which had been distributed prior to the meeting. Wagener said that UConn plans to create a siting committee to advise the University on a location before launching the EIE process again. Jean deSmet, a resident of Windham and Chair of the Naubesatuck Watershed Council, spoke from the audience. She said she had been invited to sit on the siting committee, and said she was concerned that a committee of local citizens will lack sufficient expertise to advise about possible locations. She said hiring an independent expert would be preferable. Brooks said that is an important perspective to bring forth on the committee. Sherman said the siting committee could be a strategy to legitimize a decision to keep the facility where it is now. Chair Wagner said the letter expresses the position of the Council on this issue and asked for a vote to approve it. Brooks made a motion to approve. It was seconded by Fernandez and approved unanimously. Also, Mansfield resident Tulay Luciano spoke about her concerns about the regulatory oversight of the facility. Members agreed that they would follow this matter closely.

DEEP’s proposed renewal of Title V air quality operating permit for South Meadow Station, Hartford – Wagener reported that the gas turbine generators (“jets”) were not delisted by ISO New England. Consequently, they would remain on line in the power grid. He said he met with staff from DEEP to discuss some of the proposed modifications to the permit that the applicant could agree to:

1) Training personnel to perform opacity monitoring when the “jets” are on.

2) Burning ultra low sulfur kerosene.

3) Perform stack tests of emissions every five years or 168 hours, whichever comes first.

Wagener said the allowable sulfur level now is up to 500 parts per million (ppm). The ultra low sulfur has only 15 ppm. He said the plant operator would not agree to a limit in hours of operation, even though they had limited the operation to 168 hours in past years. Fernandez asked about the possibility of switching to natural gas, a cleaner fuel source. Wagener said that staff at DEEP said the kerosene units are on the verge of obsolescence and therefore probably will be removed; investment if fuel conversion could cause their lifespan to be extended. Fernandez said he doesn’t see why a decision would be made to decommission the facility since the owner is being paid over five million dollars annually for simply retaining the units in working order in case of an emergency need for them. Wagener said he was requested by a citizen’s group to meet regarding this and related issues and would report back to the Council on that meeting.

The Villages, Montville, EIE – Wagener described the project, for which the Council had submitted scoping comments in November, 2011 and referred to draft memo that had been distributed prior to the meeting. Wagener detailed many problems with the EIE. Chair Wagner asked for a motion to approve the letter. Brooks made the motion which Fernandez seconded; it was approved unanimously.

Annual Report

The Council discussed the annual report and made a number of suggestions. Some wording changes were suggested. A new placement for the section called “the bottom line” was agreed upon. Discussion followed on how to submit it and when.

Citizen Complaints

Wagener followed up on three prior complaints that had been received by the Council.

1) Wagener said that staff had responded to the citizens whose property had been contaminated by an adjacent gas station in Westbrook. He said that the citizens expressed disappointment. Wagener and members expressed understanding of their frustration, given the long time of inaction and bureaucratic activity, but agreed that the Council had reviewed the case to the limits of its authority. Members agreed to watch the case, and noted that it might be another good example to illustrate the weaknesses of state remediation programs.

2) The Connecticut Land Conservation Council, which spoke to the Council in April, has been in touch with DEEP to encourage a more active role for the Natural Heritage, Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Review Board, and Wagener had participated in a meeting with interested parties.

3) The consultant for the Sibley Company has responded to DEEP’s request for more test samples and samples from greater depths at the site. DEEP is reviewing the response.

Other Business

Brooks expressed interest in having the Council look at the issues surrounding bike trails. Wagener said that the Connecticut Greenways Council has this responsibility. A short discussion followed about improvements the Department of Transportation has made in the way it approaches projects involving alternative modes of transportation.

There was a discussion of the urgency of replacing Council members to fill existing vacancies.

The meeting adjourned at 11:16 AM.