Minutes of the July 24, 2013 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room on the fifth floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.

PRESENT: Janet Brooks (Temporary Chair for the Meeting), Lee Dunbar, Alison Hilding, Michael Klemens, Karyl Lee Hall, James O’Donnell, Richard Sherman, Susan Merrow (participating by conference call), Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

At 9:05 AM, Acting Chair Brooks called the meeting to order, noting the presence of a quorum. Acting Chair Brooks explained that Chair Merrow was out of the state due to a longstanding prior commitment and asked Brooks to chair the meeting.

Approval of Minutes

Chair Brooks asked if there were any suggested additions or modifications to the minutes of the June 26, 2013meeting. There being none, Dunbar motioned to approve them as written. The motion was seconded by O’Donnell and approved unanimously by the Council.

Chair’s Report

Chair Brooks said that she wanted to remind Council members to be aware of the state’s ethics and freedom of information laws so as to not inadvertently run afoul of their requirements. She and Wagener explained that there is a requirement that meetings must be open and noticed and that substantive communications among groups of members, even by email, could constitute a meeting. Therefore, when responding to a request for suggestions or revisions of a document approved at a Council meeting subject to a final edit, suggested changes should not be too substantive. If members wanted to see major substantive changes to a document, she suggested, they should ask to revisit the topic at the next regular meeting. Wagener reviewed the code of ethics for state officials that could apply to members, who are public officials. As public officials, they are restricted regarding the value of gifts they can receive and from whom they can receive gifts. He said there is a good summary of the details of the code on the website of the Office of State Ethics. Sherman arrived at this time and Merrow joined the meeting by telephone.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener reported that the letter approved at the June meeting regarding the two complaints involving Hammonasset State Park had been sent to Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection Daniel Esty.

He reported that the ATV bill that had been discussed at the June meeting had been vetoed by the governor.

Environmental Indicators and the Measurement of Environmental Conditions

Wagener said that at the June meeting it was clear many members wished for a discussion of indicators to determine which were strong, which were weak and what other changes needed to be considered. Sherman recounted the history of indicator selection and modification. The month by month discussion went well in the past, but he believes a comprehensive meeting to discuss all indicators is warranted. Klemens suggested all put their thoughts on paper and send them to Wagener before the next meeting for circulation to the members. Hall agreed. Hall said that in past decades the precautionary principle seemed to inform environmental policy more than it does now; the Council’s annual report needs to be scientifically accurate but its primary purpose is to inform the public. Chair Brooks said that there is value to the monthly examination of individual indicators, but agreed there is a need for a meeting to examine the big picture. Members agreed to a schedule of tasks culminating in a detailed discussion at the August 28 meeting which would be devoted almost exclusively to this topic. Sherman said that it would be of value to identify which indicators are within the ability of Connecticut residents to affect and which are primarily a consequence of global forces. Klemens said he would like to show how each links to the other.

Dunbar said he had concluded that DEEP has not yet made much tangible progress in designing the metrics that will be used to measure performance. He said there would be value to discussing with DEEP what measures will be available in the future. Members agreed.

Indicator of the Month: Beach Closings

A long discussion followed on the “beach closings” indicator. Dunbar and others noted that it is not readily evident which of the contributing environmental causes is being measured. Merrow said that closings are closely correlated with rain after a dry spell. Hilding said there is a value in this indicator that is independent of the reasons for the closings. The beach is the interface where the general public encounters the environment of the Sound. As with air pollution the public is more concerned with the total impact than with each contributing component. Klemens suggested a geographic division that would identify which beaches are most affected by bacteria induced closings. He expected the results would closely correlate with impervious land cover and storm drains. Dunbar said a frequency distribution would provide insights into causation. Chair Merrow said she would like to see a link to the summary data for each town. Wagener said this could be done easily.

O’Donnell said that a goal of having all beaches open all the time might be misleading; even in pre-Columbian time there would have been occasions of high bacteria levels. Klemens said that identifying natural background pollution levels would be valuable for all indicators, as would identifying the limitations in establishing causation. Wagener said that it is possible to identify some causation in this indicator. He says the data from which it was derived shows a decline in closings due to marine sewage discharges and an increase from storms. Wildlife causes can sometimes be distinguished. O’Donnell said that the measure is an important indicator of economic opportunities on the shoreline. He also said that the number of samples itself would affect the number of closings. Sherman noted that these considerations apply to many of the report’s indicators, and that they should be taken up during the broader discussion in August. Members concurred.

Review of State Agency Actions

Letter from DEEP regarding regulations pertaining to hydraulic fracturing – Wagener reviewed the Council’s history on this topic, explaining that a representative from Environment and Human Health, Inc. came before the Council in 2012 asking the Council to recommend legislation to ban fracking in the state. The Council asked staff to determine what existing laws or regulations, if any, would govern fracking. Staff determined that fracking appeared to be prohibited under state regulations that prohibit most underground injection wells. The Council wrote to Commissioner Esty to ask if he concurred with that analysis. Commissioner Esty responded in April 2013 that in the opinion of DEEP fracking is prohibited by Connecticut regulations but cautioned that the regulations had never been applied or challenged. Hall said she had researched this and believes the regulations could be easily challenged because the Energy Policy Act of 2005 repealed the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration’s (EPA) authority for the regulation of fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act, which is the federal law under which the EPA approved Connecticut’s regulations. Brooks and Hall discussed the statutory authorities on which the regulations could be defended. Klemens said that true protection can be achieved only when statutes are specific regarding prohibited activities, and that the difference of opinion between the attorneys on the Council is evidence that there should be specific legislation to ban fracking and disposal of fracking wastes in the state. It was the sense of the Council that, at this time, the Council should acknowledge the April letter without identifying any specific future course of action.

Citizen Complaints

Hammonasset State Park – Deputy Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection Susan Whalen was in the audience and offered to brief the Council on recent actions. She said that she and parks staff would be meeting with representatives of bird-conservation organization later in the day, and that she planned to improve communications between parks managers and relevant wildlife staff as well as outside organizations with expertise. There has been a lot of turnover in staff. After some discussion of the anticipated conveyance of some park land and the need for a natural resources inventory, members thanked Deputy Commissioner Whalen for her action and information.

Alternative Wastewater Treatment Systems – Margaret Miner, Executive Director of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, asked the Council to update its 2007 report on DEEP’s regulation of these systems, including measures of system performance and DEEP enforcement of noncompliance. Ms. Miner also raised the importance to the state of a continuing and improved Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and discussed ongoing water planning efforts and the difficulties of it; it is on top of her organization’s agenda. The need for regional or statewide water planning is evident in three recent cases: the proposal to take water from the Pootatuck River in Newtown to supply Brookfield, the proposal to sell the town of Bethel’s reservoirs with their lands to a private water company, and the plan to send water from the Farmington River Watershed to Storrs to supply UConn’s expansion. She suggested tracking the frequency with which DEEP waives the requirements of public hearings on permit applications to determine if it is on the increase. She also said there is a need for everyone to incorporate new storm and precipitation data into all programs, and referenced data on the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s website. The recent examples of the Haddam land swap and the transfer of Hammonasset property to Madison point clearly to a need to reform the Conveyance Act, which several groups are discussing. She also made reference to an ongoing DEEP study of pesticides. She said sustainable growth was an issue for UConn and mentioned a conference set for later in the year. Chair Brooks thanked Ms. Miner for her input.

Other Complaints – In deference to the time constraints of two people in the audience who came to discuss developments at the proposed Tech Park at the University of Connecticut in Storrs (UConn), Acting Chair Brooks invited them to speak next.

Pat Suprenant introduced herself as a 26 year resident of Mansfield and editor of the Mansfield Independent News. She described the plan to bring new sources of water to the UConn as a continuation of a history of unrestrained expansion in contravention of the state’s Plan of Conservation and Development. She said the water reclamation facility dedicated the previous week was a fix for a problem of the University’s creation. She objected to the lack of transparency and resistance to consideration of residents’ opinions. She read a list of actions which she would like to see from the Council to impose some accountability for UConn. UConn, she said, should lead by example, and that there should be no expansion of water supplies until there is a statewide water plan. She said political considerations should not trump the State Plan of Conservation and Development, and suggested making UConn a regular CEQ agenda item. She also suggested that he Council hold meetings in eastern Connecticut and that it advocate strongly for the wildlife and natural resources of Connecticut.

Betty Wassmundt, a resident of Storrs, spoke of her concern that the planned expansion of the University and the creation of the Tech Park will bring an end to the rural character of the “last green valley”. She described impacts on water supply, roads and housing that these projects will create. She urged a requirement that hearings on projects with such major regional impact be publicized regionally, or be held regionally. She read from a letter from a Mansfield resident, Winifred Gordon, which had been distributed to the Council. In it were suggestions for alternative locations for the Tech Park and a concern that some of the data used in the environmental assessment is outdated.

Chair Brooks thanked the speakers for their presentations. Wagener briefed the members on the rescheduling of the public hearing for the wetlands and water diversion permit applications related to the road to the proposed Tech Park, which had caused some confusion and consternation. Sherman reminded members of the Council’s role in the original agreement to allow UConn to complete an Environmental Impact Evaluation on a conceptual plan for the north campus with the provision that all future developments be reviewed for consistency with that plan, and suggested that staff look at whether or not that process is being followed. Members concurred.

Remediation in Tylerville (Haddam) – Wagener summarized the Council’s involvement in this case as a result of citizen complaints, and its ongoing study of the case to gain insights into the glacial pace of remediation. Hearn updated the Council on the status of investigations and litigation regarding TCE contamination in Haddam. A trial date is set for November in the case against a property owner that had been a user of TCE. Phase 2 and Phase 3 studies of the area could produce preliminary results by December. Hearn also described the status of town sources of MTBE.

Introduction of non-native fish species – Wagener explained how the channel catfish came to be stocked in Uncas Lake, the topic of a complaint the previous month. Hearn said he had reviewed the environmental assessment prepared under federal requirements which concluded that channel catfish would not have a negative impact on Connecticut lakes. DEEP fisheries staff, he said, had stated that they would communicate with the Wild and Scenic Watershed Committee in future cases. Klemens and Dunbar said that although the introduction of new species to a water body should not be undertaken cavalierly, the fisheries biologists in DEEP are highly competent and there is no need for action by the Council in this case. Members concurred.

Others – Wagener said a complaint had come to the Council regarding a perceived reversal by DEEP on two permits to construct docks longer than normally allowed by DEEP guidance. Members agreed that there was no need for Council involvement in the proceedings as all parties were well represented, but wondered if a policy change was underway.

A discussion followed regarding the time constraints that had been set for each topic before the meeting. The suggestion was made to have a time at the beginning of each meeting for brief citizen comments on non-agenda items, with guidance for citizens on the CEQ website.

There being no other business, Chair Brooks adjourned the meeting at 12:18 PM.