Minutes of the January 29, 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), Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Michael Klemens, Richard Sherman, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

GUESTS: David Sutherland and Nathan Frohling of The Nature Conservancy.


At 9:40 AM, Chair Merrow called the meeting to order, noting that a quorum was present.

Chair Merrow reviewed the agenda and asked for a motion to approve it. Hall so moved and Sherman seconded. It was approved unanimously.

Chair Merrow asked if there were any additions or modifications to the minutes of the December 17, 2013 Council meeting. Hilding noted that the reference to reduction in environmental pollution from pharmaceuticals was not as thorough as the discussion about it, which included contamination by disposal in trash, human elimination and the need for shorter half-lives for these drugs. However, she did not recommend changing the wording and made a motion to approve them, which was seconded by Sherman and approved unanimously.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow reported that she and Wagener met with representatives from the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) and the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) to discuss the proposed development in Windsor Locks, “Governors Station,” which was on the agenda for later in the meeting.

She said that Commissioner Dan Esty of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) had resigned to return to his teaching position at Yale, and the Governor has named Robert Klee, the current DEEP Chief of Staff, to replace him. 

Chair Merrow said that the Council has instituted a formal citizen comment period at its monthly meetings. She asked if there is anyone in the audience who wished to address the Council regarding items not on the agenda. There was none.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener said that the Council’s report, “Preserved But Maybe Not,” had been delivered to Governor Malloy and had received considerable attention in the news media, including editorials, letters and radio interviews. Wagener reported that he met with Governor Malloy’s staff to discuss the report. He then discussed a letter from the Town of Fairfield Conservation Commission that asked if the absence of strong protections for state lands had implications for lands acquired by municipalities with state funds. The Council discussed the many facets of the question and concluded that, while the council cannot offer legal opinions, it did not conclude that municipal lands purchased with state assistance are particularly at risk, and that Fairfield’s specific situation is a matter best analyzed by the town attorney. Graham Stevens, Director of the Office of Land Management in DEEP, spoke from the audience to state that conservation easements are hard to negate and the Attorney General has defended them; Klemens said that implies that it is easier to dispose of state park land than conservation easements.

Wagener said that the Chair of the legislature’s Conservation Committee, State Senator Ed Meyer, hopes to attend the Council’s February meeting.

Recommendations for Legislation

Klemens said he understands that the Siting Council has concerns about the Council’s recommendation that residences with views of a proposed cell tower be notified of the application. He said that the size of the task would make it nearly impossible to implement. Wagener said that applications routinely identify the residences within the visibility analysis area that will have a view of the tower. He said that notifying those residences should not be much of a challenge. Wagener said that a regulation could be drafted to state that a failure to notify an individual residence would not be fatal to the application provided a good-faith effort was made. Members discussed the benefits of informing the public. Chair Merrow said that Wagener will contact the Siting Council to discuss the recommendation.

Klemens asked how the Council will address the concern of many members that the hearing process at DEEP fails to take into account comments made by citizens who submit written comments on applications. Wagener said DEEP is in the process of revising the “rules of practice” which govern the conduct of hearings. He said this concern was included in detail in the Council’s letter to DEEP regarding outdated regulations. Sherman said there is urgency to make those revisions considering the amount of public construction planned for the University of Connecticut (UConn) in Mansfield. Wagener said that DEEP is creating a web portal to allow the public to follow a docket through the hearing process, and that the appropriate DEEP staff will be invited to a future Council meeting.

On the topic of bamboo, Klemens said he wished to report that he observed running bamboo growing wild in a wetland in Windsor, something that was believed to be unlikely by some invasive species experts.

Chair Merrow announced that said she wished to rearrange the agenda slightly to accommodate the schedules of guests.

Review of State Agency Actions

State assistance for development project in Windsor Locks – Wagener said that the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) regulations require coordination among agencies when multiple agencies are participating on a project. In this case, the DOT also had to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because there would be federal funding for the project. He said that DOT had not yet pursued its obligations under CEPA and NEPA when the DECD scoping notice appeared in the Environmental Monitor. Chair Merrow noted that the two agencies have different “Environmental Classification Documents.” These are the documents that define when an environmental impact evaluation (EIE) is required. Wagener added that it is not certain that the project will receive federal funding since the funding being sought is not usually available for anything other than clearly defined traffic improvements. The project is awaiting a determination regarding federal funding.

Sherman said this is a variation of project segmentation that the Council has seen so often with DOT projects that are presented in small bites, disguising the total impact and its cumulative effects. Some members of the Council expressed skepticism that the project fell through the cracks, with Sherman asking if the error was willful or incompetent. Chair Merrow said that she and Wagener attended the meeting to discuss the process as much as the individual case; she said that OPM appeared interested in avoiding this situation in the future. Among other potential changes, she said that OPM will be amending the Environmental Classification Document used by most agencies; Hall said the Council should review the proposed document, and other members agreed. Hall said there should be improvement, and the Council should attempt to evaluate patterns of agency behavior.

Wagener said that one topic at the meeting was an agency’s obligation to pursue an EIE if no scoping comments are received. Public comments are not a substitute for environmental analysis, and no agency is required to submit scoping comments, and DEEP rarely submits comments based on field study. Members asked if perhaps agencies should be required to respond to scoping notices. There was considerable discussion of CEPA and the proper relationship of development to environmental resources. Klemens repeated his comments from earlier that a healthy environment is the foundation of all human endeavors. Chair Merrow said the Council will continue to watch this project as well as the current, and fairly new, CEPA process.

Marine Spatial Planning for Long Island Sound – David Sutherland, Director of Government Relations at The Nature Conservancy (and former CEQ intern), introduced himself and Nathan Frohling, that organization’s Lower Connecticut River Program Director. He provided a brief overview of Marine Spatial Planning, explaining that it is intended to determine where critical resources are situated and thereby suggest where new development can be appropriately sited and places it should avoid. He referenced its use in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to allocate areas for wind energy projects. He said the goal is to come up with a process for planning and ultimately for a plan to allocate uses. He said that there will be legislation proposed to assign a state agency to oversee the process. Council members asked many questions about the relationship between planning and anticipated climate change. Hilding asked about the frequency of plan review given expected alterations in animal life and coastal contours. She wanted to know what projects besides submerged cables were at issue. She asked if the Nature Conservancy was coordinating this with the recently established institute at Avery Point. Hall asked if and how the planning was being coordinated with New York State, since planning for 50% of the Sound would be pointless. She asked about mechanisms to enforce a plan. Messrs. Frohling and Sutherland explained that they are collaborating with New York but that the plan is independent of New York and it is hoped that New York will start its own planning process and will collaborate with Connecticut. It is expected that a changing environment will be factored into the plan and a five-year review would be an appropriate interval.

Klemens said that it is good to see environmentalists getting ahead of issues by helping to decide “where and how” rather than having to say “no” to ill-conceived projects. He added that he hopes this will not result in all development being allocated to the western sound, which is already more developed than the east. He said that the plan should be mindful that species and natural features can have great local significance even if those species have their main strongholds elsewhere, using diamond-backed terrapins as an example. Hall said the makeup of the advisory committee might be determinative of the plan’s focus and she would like to know more about how that group will be selected, as planning involves many value choices. In response to a question, Mr. Sutherland estimated the cost to complete the plan to be $200,000 to $300,000. Chair Merrow thanked Messrs. Sutherland and Frohling for their informative presentation.

Staff Update on Other Projects - Hearn brought the Council current on the state’s efforts to require sampling and analysis at the Sibley property in Haddam. He said that in November the court approved a stipulated judgment that requires the Sibley Company to sample and analyze for suspected contaminants at the site. The judgment stipulates that the company is subject to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the jurisdiction of the court and must conduct the remediation assessments which were initially ordered by DEEP.

Citizen Complaints

Wagener noted the presence of Jason Coite of UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy and noted that there are three UConn projects published in the current edition of the Environmental Monitor. One is a comparative evaluation that contrasts the actual plans for construction of the Innovative Partnership Building (IPB) with what had been anticipated when the North Campus EIE was approved in 2001. Mr. Coite listed the other projects published in the current Environmental Monitor. Hilding had a number of questions for Mr. Coite regarding the relationship of the notice to the 2001 and 2013 planning documents done by UConn. Hilding asked if the current IPB differed in size from what was proposed in the previous plan; he answered no. She asked about other buildings being proposed; Mr. Coite said that CEPA would apply. She asked if the traffic studies had been adjusted in the new document from what had been done when the first EIE was completed, and was told they had been updated. She also asked for information about the location and size of a pedestrian overpass and whether a traffic study had been done for that.

Hilding said that the 14-day comment period in the announcement is too short and asked that the Council support a motion calling for an additional 14 days. After discussion, the Council decided that it lacked sufficient information to act on such a motion. Chair Merrow thanked Mr. Coite for his helpful explanations.

Annual Report Indicators

Klemens reported that he had been in discussions with staff of DEEP regarding species whose numbers could be useful measures of environmental conditions in the state. Overall, trends in endangered or other listed species could be reported at five-year intervals. There could be more frequent indicator data for fresh water mussels, bats, bald eagles, New England Cottontail habitat, bees and selected bird species. After discussion it was decided to have staff work with Klemens on those and present possibilities at the next meeting.

The meeting was adjourned at 11:33 AM.