Minutes of the January 23, 2013 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in Conference Room 6C on the sixth floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.

PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Janet Brooks, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Richard Sherman, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Courtney Robishaw (Intern).  

At 9:10 AM, Chair Barbara Wagner called the meeting to order. She said she would like to postpone the vote to approve the December minutes until the arrival of a member who had called to report a delay due to traffic.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener said that the proposed state’s budget is due to be released on February 6. He said he did not expect to have any insight into its contents until then. Discussion turned to the need to fill vacancies on the Council.

At 9:30 AM, Hilding arrived and Chair Wagner, determining that a quorum was present, asked for a motion to approve the December 19, 2012 minutes. Hilding noted that the minutes did not indicate that a vote was taken on the motion made by Brooks near the end of the meeting regarding a letter to be sent to the University of Connecticut. Hearn consulted the staff’s meeting notes and confirmed that Brooks made the motion and it had been seconded by Hilding and approved by a unanimous vote. Brooks made a motion to approve the December 19 minutes with the amendment that at the December meeting the Council had voted unanimously in favor of a motion made by Brooks and seconded by Hilding to have the Council write to the University of Connecticut (UConn) recommending that comments from the public on environmental impact evaluations should be treated as public documents and should be made available on the university’s web site. This motion to approve as amended was seconded by Sherman and approved unanimously, with Hall abstaining because she had not attended the December meeting.

Returning to the executive director’s report, Wagener said that a member had asked if Council members are obligated to mention their membership on the Council when speaking in a public forum as individuals, not as representatives of the Council. After discussion about situations when it would be and would not be appropriate, it was decided that staff should inquire of the Office of State Ethics to determine if there is a relevant ruling or authority regarding this question.

Wagener referred to the proposed bill (HB 5330) concerning hydraulic fracturing that had been distributed prior to the meeting. After considerable discussion on the potential role of the Council specified in the bill, the consensus of the Council was that staff should offer any assistance with the matter that might be requested.

Citizen Complaints

Wagener said he had received inquiries and copies of correspondence from citizens who believe that two potential developments in Litchfield should be subject to the requirements of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act because of the degree of state involvement. No council action was required at this time, but staff would follow the matter.

Review of State Agency Actions

Extension of Public Water System from Middletown to Durham, Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) – Wagener reported on this EIE for a water line extension from Middletown into Durham that will provide potable water to the town center where wells have been contaminated. He said staff recommends no comments on the EIE. Brooks noted that she had worked on the contamination case in 1987.

Conservation and Development Policies Plan 2013-2018 (C & D plan), Office of Policy and Management’s (OPM) Response to Public and Agency Comments – Wagener referred the Council to the summary that had been distributed prior to the meeting. Each response was discussed. After discussion of “Growth Management Principle # 5” the Council decided that the wording in the current plan would better meet the objective of protecting environmental integrity than does the wording in the proposed plan. Brooks added that the proposed plan fails to fully address planning for the state’s drinking water needs. She stressed the importance of the plan because the appellate court had recently affirmed use of the C&D plan to guide local governmental decisions. Wagener said the revised C & D Plan has been sent to the Continuing Legislative Committee on State Planning and Development. Hilding made a motion to submit the Council’s comments, as discussed, on the proposed plan to that committee. The motion was seconded by Sherman and approved unanimously.

Staff Updates on Projects

Wagener reported on the status of the EIE for the UConn Water Supply. He noted that the MDC stated at a public forum that there are no current plans to supply water to towns through which its proposed pipeline would pass on the way to Mansfield, a statement that he found to be inconsistent with the EIE. Hilding added that the MDC’s charter mandates that it provide water to the towns through which its water lines pass. Hilding said that it would be worth exploring a proposal, made in the past by the late Mansfield resident and authority on water supply Bill Thompson to raise the Eagleville Dam by up to two feet to increase the availability of ground water in the well fields. Hilding gave a brief report on the public hearing she attended that was held by UConn on the EIE the previous night in Farmington, which was well attended.

Wagener reported on the status of the state’s building code for energy conservation, which Sherman had raised at a previous meeting. Wagener said the 2009 model energy conservation code had been adopted, and the 2012 model code is to be adopted by July of 2013. Adoption of these model codes was required for the state to be eligible for federal stimulus funds. He said states are required to audit their compliance rate. Compliance was estimated to be 80% by Massachusetts and 70% by Rhode Island. In Connecticut, local building officials were asked by the Department of Construction Services, via the Institute for Sustainable Energy, to participate in an audit, but none responded. He had been told that another attempt will be made to conduct a compliance audit. Sherman described an interactive online site that makes it very simple for a builder to determine if a building’s plan conforms to the energy code. Members agreed that this is an issue worth following.

Discussion of Annual Report Topics

Wagener said that the governor’s working group on modernizing recycling had published a report that revealed a lower recycling rate than had been reported in earlier estimates. Wagener said he was also surprised by the lower than expected return rate for redeemable bottles.

He said the data received from the Center for Land use Education and Research at UConn showed less than 1,000 acres of farmland were lost to development between 2006 and 2010. Unfortunately, Acquisition of development rights slowed in 2012.

Wagener said that staff had followed up on the discussion at a previous meeting on the adequacy of the inland wetlands indicator, and distributed a graph comparing the number of inland wetlands permits issued for home improvements compared to the number for all other development categories. In 2003, the home improvement category surpassed in number all the other categories combined, and stayed at a higher rate. Analysis done by staff confirms that the area of land affected by the average wetlands permit for a home improvement project is, as expected, far less than the other categories. He said that removing the home improvement category from the “acres disturbed per permit” indicator in the annual report will more accurately reflect the true impact of new development and dampen the distortion created when economic recession results in fewer new developments but homeowners continue to make small improvements. The Council concurred in this change.

Chair Wagner asked if there was any additional business. There being none, Brooks made a motion to adjourn which was seconded by Hilding. The meeting was adjourned at 11:35 AM.