Minutes of the February 26, 2014 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room on the fifth floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.

PRESENT: Susan Merrow (Chair), Janet Brooks, Lee Dunbar, Alison Hilding, Michael Klemens, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

GUEST: The Honorable Edward Meyer, State Senator, 12th District.


At 9:35 AM, Chair Merrow called the meeting to order, noting that a quorum was present. She introduced Senator Meyer, Chair of the General Assembly’s Environment Committee, and said that because the Senator had to get to the 10:00 session of the Senate she would like to rearrange the agenda to hear from Senator Meyer before any other business. Senator Meyer said he was pleased to come to the Council to discuss Raised Bill 70, An Act Concerning Preservation of Lands Under the Control of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Department of Agriculture.

Senator Meyer recounted recent history of land conveyance legislation, which has led directly to a grassroots movement for legislative action to protect state parks, forests and other lands with conservation value. He said that after the Haddam land swap was enacted he heard from many who said they would never make a gift of their property to the state after such a precedent.  He said the Bill is the highest priority of the Environment Committee. He reported that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) expressed opposition to it due to the absence of a definition in the bill for lands of “high conservation value” as well as for the personnel cost associated with the task of implementing the bill. He said that Commissioner Klee of DEEP had appointed a high-level staff person to work on language acceptable to DEEP and to his committee. He added that he could not be certain that legislative leadership would support the bill even if a version acceptable to DEEP is drafted, but consensus is essential.

Chair Merrow thanked Senator Meyer for taking the lead on this bill. She added that the Haddam land swap controversy contributed to the loss of a senate seat for his party in the last election. Brooks referred the Council to a memo she had circulated to interested groups at the time the bill was being discussed by proponents. It urged 1) a definition of “lands of high conservation value”, 2) specific criteria for de-listing such lands, 3) clarification that agricultural uses can continue when consistent with the conservation status. Klemens said he believes most of the data needed to determine the conservation significance of a parcel already exists, much in DEEP databases. He does not think it would consume extraordinary staff time at DEEP to pull it all together. He listed the factors and methods he would use to determine a parcel’s conservation value. Dunbar said the term “high conservation value” is problematic, as “high” is not an objective factor. He said the fact that a park or forest has been established should by default meet the definition until there is a more scientific measure.

Wagener said Public Act 12-152 directs DEEP to develop a strategy for identifying state lands of high conservation value, which implies the need to define them or identify criteria. Klemens said that if this has not yet been done by DEEP that there should be a moratorium on disposing of state lands until it is completed.

Senator Meyer urged the Council to meet with DEEP and the other parties interested in this issue, as the bill would not succeed if it lacked the support of the executive branch. Chair Merrow said the Council will be in communication with the person at DEEP who is responsible for working on this bill to offer input and assistance. Senator Meyer emphasized that time is of the essence. He thanked the Council and excused himself to return to the legislature, which was going into session at 10:00. Chair Merrow and other members thanked Senator Meyer for his very informative and strategic comments.

Chair Merrow said it was time to return to the agenda and asked for a motion to approve it. Brooks so moved and Hilding seconded. It was approved unanimously.

Chair Merrow asked if there were any additions or modifications to the minutes of the January 29, 2014 Council meeting. There were none. Hilding made a motion to approve them, which was seconded by Merrow and approved unanimously with Brooks abstaining because she had not been present at the January meeting.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow stated that an important item that was put on the “bike rack” for future action was the issue of how public input is handled at DEEP’s public hearings. She said she hopes to invite the head of the adjudications office of DEEP to a future Council meeting. Brooks suggested that the public might be invited to provide comments about the process.

On the topic of public participation, Dunbar noted that the public comments on stream classifications in eastern Connecticut recently finished by DEEP were online. He said the classification criteria used were scientific, but many parties based their comments on other factors. There could be lessons in this when defining lands of high conservation value.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener gave a brief update on the budget.

Wagener reported that two Council members and one staff person (Hearn) attended the conference on water planning that was held at the Law School of the University of Connecticut (UConn). Chair Merrow said it was the first meeting she attended that had instantaneous electronic polling of the attendees, which she said was interesting to participate in. Lori Brown of the League of Conservation Voters of Connecticut spoke from the audience to say there are essential elements that need to be put in place for effective water planning in the state; the Water Planning Council needs to be restructured to be the vehicle for planning and it needs funding to do the job, and a voice for environmental considerations must be added.

Recommendations for Legislation - Updates

Wagener said that at least six bills had been raised that deal directly with Council recommendations, and that he delivered written and oral testimony the previous week on three bills. He said the bill regarding outdoor wood furnaces had broad support, including from the Department of Agriculture. The bill regarding transfers of state conservation land was broadly supported by dozens of people submitting testimony. He said this topic will come up again later in this meeting and he will postpone discussion until then. He said the bill to restrict planting of running bamboo had far more supporters than opponents.

Wagener said there will be hearings later in the week on the bills that have been submitted to prohibit or regulate fracking waste in the state. He said that a bill has been raised on alternative treatment systems, of which the content was unknown, but said the Council’s report on alternative treatment systems, previously approved, is in the final editing and proofreading stage. 

Wagener said the Program Review and Investigations Committee released a report on the underfunding of state parks; its major recommendation was to authorize DEEP to retain some of the revenues generated by the parks to increase staffing. Representative Mary Mushinsky, Chair of that committee, had hoped to attend today’s meeting but was thwarted by a schedule change at the legislature.

The Council returned to discussion of Raised Bill 70 concerning the preservation of lands. Wagener said that he had discussed the bill with several parties and, as Senator Meyer had indicated, he had heard repeated concerns about the lack of definition or criteria for lands of high conservation value. He had prepared a short Powerpoint presentation to illustrate why the term was important, as it appears in P.A. 12-152 and Raised Bill 70. There was much discussion about the proposed bill. Brooks said definitions were needed. Klemens objected to the lack of scientific rigor in determining which lands would be considered to be of high conservation value. Brooks, Dunbar and Wagener agreed that the addition of a requirement to impose a conservation restriction on lands retroactively creates a cost to implementation that would not be as great if it were a permissive provision and/or prospective requirement. Klemens pointed out that some legitimate uses of state land such as agriculture and forestry could negate a designation of high conservation value but nevertheless those lands need to be preserved, as do areas used for recreation. Dunbar said a requirement to keep lands in a natural scenic condition raises the potential for legitimate dispute. He said that the purpose should be to preserve the land, not what might be on the surface currently. Members agreed that disposition of lands and management of state lands are two separate matters and should not be combined in this bill. Hilding added that the bill, as written, could be easily misconstrued to suggest intent to restrict farming or hunting, when that is not the case; she said a public education effort will be needed to avoid a misinformed opposition from forming. Members agreed.

Wagener said that the last section of RB 70 lists procedural requirements for the conveyance of land of high conservation value. He asked the Council if it wished to make a recommendation regarding whether the definition of lands of high conservation value should be in the statute or should be defined by DEEP, or should the statute establish a process for creating a definition. Klemens said it must be scientifically based. He suggested four criteria for identifying lands of high conservation value: 1) is part of a 2,500 (or 1,000 or 5,000) acre or larger unfragmented habitat matrix,  2) contains habitat for state-listed biodiversity, 3) contains examples of exemplary ecological communities (as per NDDB) or unusually vibrant or locally significant representatives of more abundant habitat types, or 4) have the ability to increase CT’s resiliency by a) allowing natural migration of habitat due to climate change, b)  enhance and restore habitat connectivity to achieve the 2,500 acre threshold, or c) can be managed for target species of greatest conservation need (State Comprehensive Wildlife Plan). The Council discussed these criteria. In response to questions from other members, Klemens clarified that the size threshold pertains to the ecological system, not the parcel in question, which of course might be much smaller. There was considerable discussion of potential processes for defining and classifying or declassifying lands of high conservation value. The Council directed Wagener to contact DEEP to discuss the possibilities for resolving the challenges inherent in the bill prior to attending the next meeting with legislators.

Wagener added that the Connecticut Forest and Park Association will be holding a public meeting to discuss the idea of amending the state constitution to protect state lands on Friday, March 7.

Review of State Agency Actions

Draft of revised Environmental Conservation Document (ECD) – Wagener referred the Council to the draft ECD that had been distributed prior to the meeting. It had been circulated by the Office of Policy and Management (OPM). He said he regarded the proposed amendment as an improvement because it increases the information on potential environmental impacts that must be provided in a scoping notice. Bruce Wittchen, of OPM, spoke from the audience to say that since this information would have to be prepared anyhow if a public scoping meeting was requested by the public, and it was thought best to include it upfront in the Scoping Notice. Wagener said he would like to see the addition of a requirement that a scoping notice include information about all agencies’ roles when a project involves the sponsorship of more than one agency. The Council agreed with Wagener’s comment that the process should be in the regulations, not the ECD, and to express the Council’s comments at the upcoming interagency meeting.

Discussion of State Land Conservation Strategy (Green Plan) – Part One – The Council proceeded through the first two pages of a workbook prepared for the meeting to help clarify the Council’s input on the new Green Plan. It will be finished at a subsequent meeting. Dunbar said he would like for the person(s) at DEEP who are in charge of this plan to appear at a future Council meeting to answer some questions. Wagener said he had been told to expect progress from DEEP on an inventory of conserved lands, and perhaps DEEP would like to present that to the Council. 


Discussion of Annual Report Indicators – Wagener said the data is beginning to be available from the agencies that supply it and is being collected by staff. He said that the Council has been approved by the Department of Public Health to receive data on asthma incidence, after submitting guarantees of a rigorous confidentiality protocol.

There being no additional business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. Dunbar made the motion, seconded by Klemens. The meeting adjourned at 12:01 PM.