Minutes of the December 5, 2013 public forum of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in Hearing Room 1B of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

PRESENT: Susan Merrow (Chair), Janet Brooks, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Richard Sherman, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

A video recording of the entire public forum can be viewed on the Connecticut Network (CT-N).

Many written comments were submitted to the Council from speakers and from people who could not attend the forum; those can be read here.The originals are available at the Council's office.

Chair Merrow convened the forum at 9:30 AM and explained how such forums have helped the Council fulfill its statutory responsibility to analyze state environmental programs and recommend legislation to correct deficiencies. She said that the Council’s draft recommendations for legislation are available on the Council’s website and that printed copies had been brought to the forum for any who had not yet seen them.

Chair Merrow said anyone who wished to speak should put his or her name on the sign-up sheet and each would be called in order of sign-up. The following is a brief summary of each speaker’s comments. A video of the entire forum can be viewed on CT-N (see link above). Written comments were also received; those are on file in the Council’s office and will be posted to the Council’s website.

Summary of Oral Comments

Louise Fabrykiewicz of New London spoke of her concern about the property damage being done by the spread of running bamboo. She advocated it be declared a nuisance with a mandatory 40’ setback from a property line in which no bamboo would be allowed.

Theresa Groff of the Institute of Invasive Bamboo Research said she has documented 187 stands in eastern Connecticut. Current law allows a lawsuit against neighbors whose bamboo is causing damage to an individual’s property. This solution doesn’t work well.

She referred the Council to handouts, with photos, that she had prepared illustrating the extent of the problem. She recommended Bozrah’s ordinance as a model to be copied.  It allows for enforcement with a lien, fine and town removal if there is no action by the owner. She said running bamboo can reach a height of 40 feet. Removal must be done by trained removers and legislation is needed for training, certification and licensing. She said herbicides don’t kill it due to semi-permeable membranes that separate the plants’ segments. She showed examples where physical barriers failed to stop its spread. Other states have banned or declared it an invasive species. Sherman asked how a buffer zone would work. She answered that the homeowner would be required to keep the zone free of bamboo. Hall asked what is wrong with the legislation passed in Connecticut last year. Ms Groff said it only applies to plantings after October 1, 2013.  She said the most valuable part of that law is the requirement for education when the plant is purchased. Dunbar asked if rhizomes are the only means of propagation. Ms. Groff said yes, and that they can spread naturally in floodwaters and other means; she has documented it growing in several places where it was not planted.

Gabriele Kallenborn, of Westport expressed concern about bamboo spread and natural dispersal. She agreed with prior speakers and reported significant damage on her property. Rhizomes are dense and grow 2 ft underground. It has grown into her beehives and is threatening her deck and house. She has identified 80 properties in Westport with bamboo. She said it is a threat to the Metro North railroad tracks as well. Spraying won’t get rid of it. She and others will be looking for property tax abatements due to loss of use of their property. She advocated either a mandatory 40-foot setback requirement or a total ban. She said the plant robs the soil of its nutrients. After the plant is three years old the physical barriers don’t contain it. Hilding asked if there is documentation of damage to sewer, gas, or water lines; Ms. Kallenborn said she could provide that. She also described how membranes that segment the plant prevent the spread of herbicide throughout the plant.

Herb Gram, of Citizens for a Clean Hammonasset River said he wants the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to raise the water quality classification of rivers even for small segments as they improve. He said there is a need to reduce the effect of residual pharmaceutical drugs on the environment. Elevating water quality will restrict encroachment by septic systems and thereby also reduce drugs flowing into streams and water bodies. In response to a question from Hilding, he said the state should require pharmaceutical companies to reformulate drugs for shorter half-lives, as was done with pesticide manufacturers. Now there is no motivation for the drug companies to do that.

Sandy Breslin of Audubon Connecticut agreed with the Council’s draft legislative recommendations, especially in the “basics” category. She expressed interest in nongame wildlife preservation, noting that in the last two weeks the arrival of the snowy owl and the forked-tail flycatcher brought tourists to the state to see these rare avian visitors, highlighting the importance of wildlife in the tourism economy. She said she is also concerned with preservation of state lands in perpetuity.  She said there is a need for heightened awareness of micro habits in the management of state parks, noting that a pothole can also be a pool for migratory shorebirds. Hilding asked if running bamboo offers any birding habitat; Ms. Breslin said not for native species.

David Boomer of the Kowalski Group was representing Central Boiler, a manufacturer of outdoor wood furnaces (OWF). He said he supports decoupling current Connecticut law from the federal new source performance standards. He said new models are very clean. Many states have adopted OWF particulate standards and Connecticut should consider this as well. He added that a slightly higher stack requirement might help the situation. Finally he noted that local health departments have authority to abate as a public nuisance any boilers that are creating a problem and this could be made clear in legislation.

Eric Hammerling, Executive Director of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association supported the Council’s legislative recommendations and said he wished to add and expand on some. He said there are 107 state parks staffed with 72 full-time employees, of whom 15 are eligible to retire. Only one in five vacant positions is being refilled. A 2003 study recommended 204 full time staff and 1094 seasonal staff. A study by the University of Connecticut in 2011 reported that parks contribute two billion to the state’s economy and are responsible for 9,000 private-sector jobs. He said the budget for the state parks is twelve million dollars and the parks take in six million in revenue. He said that the cost to the state to bring the parks up to the maintenance threshold recommended in 2003 is four million, a small investment in light of the economic benefits produced by a well functioning parks system.

He added that staffing for personnel in DEEP’s forestry division and the Environmental Conservation Police is also too low. He reminded the Council that it pointed out the fact that Connecticut is number one in the nation in the “wildland-urban interface” ranking of population proximity to forests and related habitats. He said that the Forestry Division has 19 positions, of which 11 are eligible to retire in five years.  Only seven are available to manage forests. Only four and a half are tasked to help the private landowners who own 85 percent of the state’s forests. In 2008, Yale University completed an analysis that determined the state’s forests could yield three times the timber now extracted. Revenues from timber sales are now at half a million dollars annually and could be much higher if staff were available to manage the forests.

With regard to the Environmental Conservation Police he contrasted the 34 police assigned to cover the entire state with the hundreds of police on the force of a single city (Stamford, for example, with 315 on staff) to make the point that there are too few to do the job adequately.

He endorsed the recommendation to bring together the agencies now sharing jurisdiction over invasive plants. He added that a system of incentives for landowners to control and remove invasive species would help. In response to a question from Wagener, he cited Maryland as a state where this was being done.

He also advocated better education for town officials responsible for decisions about roadside trees. This could reduce storm damage to utility lines from plants that grow too close to overhead lines.

Eileen Grant, President of Friends of Connecticut State Parks, a coalition of 23 “friends” groups, said the groups she represents comprise approximately 6,900 people who volunteer 79,000 hours in the parks. This is equivalent to 41 full-time employees. They have contributed eight million dollars in cash and goods to support the state parks. She said the parks are victims of thirty years of inadequate funding. The most critical threat is that the number of full-time personnel has fallen below the minimum needed to keep up with the task. The average age of the work force is very high for the nature of the work and there are inadequate numbers of younger workers being hired. She said there are too few managers and little opportunity for advancement. She said a consequence of too few workers is that misbehavior and vandalism often are not addressed. She said that only seventy-two full time personnel are expected to maintain the widely-spaced parks; 205 positions were recommended by the 2003 study performed by Clough-Harbour Associates, when there were six fewer parks. Currently “friends” groups contribute labor equivalent to 50 percent of the work done by paid staff. She does not see how a greater effort could be sustained. She recommended a hiring to bring the work force up to an adequate level; 25 could be added yearly until the adequate level was reached.

She added that she is also concerned with the issue of securing public lands so they cannot be transferred without notice. Wagener asked her if she had documentation regarding the issue of misbehavior such as littering and trash disposal in state parks; Ms. Fielding said the problem extends to violence in the parks and that she could provide documentation.

Henry W. Talmage, Executive Director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association said maintaining a budget for farmland protection is key to sustaining agriculture in the state. Preservation of 2000 acres per year provides confidence by landowners that the funds will continue to be there and people will continue to enter the program. This is especially crucial now that less federal money will be available for this purpose.  He said he supports adoption of cleaner burning technology for outdoor wood furnaces and a gradual phase out of the old units. He would like to see the use of Clean Air Funds to assist with conversion to less polluting units. He supports restrictions on ATV use due to the damage they have caused by trespassers on farmlands. He urged consideration of agricultural needs in state water planning.

Lou Burch, Program Coordinator, Citizens Campaign for the Environment referred to prior submitted testimony that supports investing in improving infrastructure for sewage treatment through clean water funds. He urged the expansion of green infrastructure to manage storm water instead of having the runoff go to combined sewer overflows. He wished to see a requirement of a minimum percentage of Clean Water Funds for those “green infrastructure” techniques. He supported efforts to reduce exposure of children to pesticides on playing fields. He said that a ban had been successful for children below grade nine, but older children, who are engaged in sports, can have more contact with pesticide treated fields. He also endorsed efforts to reduce dispersal of pharmaceuticals through wastewater to the environment. He said flushing of drugs is a common practice at institutions. Alternative disposal methods are necessary because those drugs are not removed by sewage treatment. He supported funding for parks and supported legislation to protect Connecticut from fracking wastes. He called for an end to the state’s moratorium on wind energy, pointing out that Connecticut is the only state with such a restriction. Sherman asked about the impact of wind turbines on bird fatalities. He said there is evidence that birds learn to avoid turbines and the problem might be overemphasized and that coal, oil and gas take a toll on birds and their habitat.

Hilding asked if there is evidence that exposure to toxic chemicals during puberty creates greater risk for breast cancer. He said he is not familiar with that study but confirmed that toxic exposure is believed to be one of many factors that can contribute to cancer. Hilding asked if he had a position on the export of Connecticut water for fracking. He said his group had not adopted a position on that but it generally supports regulations that encourage prudent use of water resources.

Amy Patterson, Executive Director of the Connecticut Land Conservation Council, an umbrella organization for land trusts, said it is interested in guaranteeing permanency of preservation. She has reviewed a portion of the deeds and documents of preserved state lands and found many lack strong safeguards to keep them preserved. She added that there is a need for further investments to meet the state’s 21% preservation goal. Dunbar asked if private and municipal preserved lands also need better guarantees to protect their preserved status. She said yes and the situation for municipal lands is more important because the lands held by land trusts, which are charitable organizations, have more restrictions guarding against selling the lands than do publicly-held lands. She noted that that the next annual land trust conference was going to emphasize the economic benefits of open space as its theme, and that the CEQ’s recommendations also fit into that frame. Sherman asked if, apart from the economic benefit of preservation, wilderness has intrinsic value as argued by John Muir in debating Gifford Pinchot; she thanked him for the question and agreed strongly that it does.

Margaret Miner, Executive Director of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut said land preservation has a salutary effect on water. She said she endorses the Council’s recommendations regarding clean water and protected lands. She expressed concern about alternative treatment systems, which can be wild cards in land-use planning, and about their permitting and oversight. She agreed there is a need for statewide water planning and for reduction of pharmaceutical pollution. She is also opposed to the importation of fracking waste for disposal in the state and is unsure that existing controls are sufficient to prevent it. She said it is time to begin using updated data regarding extreme storm events in infrastructure planning.

Representative Matthew Lesser, representative from Middletown, said he will be sending in written comments but wished to highlight some points. He supports continuation of funding the Clean Water Fund to reduce pollution to rivers and the Sound. He said the possibility that fracking waste can be brought to the state needs examination. He said he would appreciate the opinion of the Council on whether the recent proposed transfer of land at the Southbury Training School could be a good model for preservation of other state lands with conservation value.

Wagener summarized the written correspondence received prior to the forum: There were 25 letters about running bamboo, and the points were articulated earlier in the forum. Rick Canavan, a senior scientist with a consulting firm commented that the recommended action on alternative treatment systems should not distract from traditional in-ground septic systems, which are not monitored, are far more numerous, and are believed to cause more pollution. Nancy Alderman of Environment and Human Health Inc. recommended that DEEP be required to adopt emission limits for all wood burning technologies. She advocated a ban on fire retardant chemicals for infant and toddler clothes and a ban on importation of fracking wastes. Mark Branse, a land-use attorney who advises municipalities, nonprofit organizations and development companies, wrote that he has observed reluctance by land owners to convey land to the state and towns due to recent publicity about proposals to exchange some of those lands in recent years. He suggested that legislation is needed to restrict the situations in which state or local open space or conservation easements are waived, modified, exchanged or released, and recommended requirements for insurance against encroachments for land trusts and municipalities. Organizations receiving open space grants should be obligated to defend those lands, if necessary. Dave Kozak, who works in DEEP’s Office of Long Island Sound Programs, recommended some general guidelines for inserting into the standard procedure that the Council was recommending for all proposals to exchange conservation lands, including a determination of how a parcel fits into the general surrounding ecology and a plan for preservation. He endorsed an analysis by an independent, third party as a tool in the analysis of any land exchanges, and he suggested some incentives for municipalities to help determine the legal status of preserved lands.

These and other written comments are available on the CEQ website.

Herb Gram took the floor a second time to say, in response to the comment from Mr. Canavan, that he would not like to see attention diverted from alternative treatment systems just because traditional systems might be responsible for worse situations; members agreed that would never be the intent.

Chair Merrow thanked all who came or sent in comments and said the Council’s final recommendations will be submitted to the governor and General Assembly after the Council meets to discuss them at its December 18 meeting. She adjourned the forum at 11:40 AM.