Minutes of the June 24, 2015 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 P. Brooks, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Julius Graefe (Intern)

At 9:34 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting that a quorum was present.

Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the agenda. Hall so motioned, second by Dunbar; approved unanimously.

Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the May 27, 2015 meeting. Brooks moved approval. Dunbar seconded, and they were approved unanimously.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow noted that after legislative approval of a state budget, deliberations and negotiations continue between the executive and legislative branches. Budget information would be discussed later in the meeting.

Citizen Complaints

Glastonbury Boathouse and Boat-Launching Facility. Wagener said the Council had received complaints regarding the newly-built facility. Before beginning the discussion, he requested guidance from the Council on the appropriate extent of his participation in discussions of the issue. He explained that he is a resident of Glastonbury and when the question of whether or not an environmental impact evaluation (EIE) was required for the project came before the Council in 2010 and 2011, via a citizen complaint, he recused himself. His reason at the time was that he had spoken at a town commission meeting on certain details of the proposed project. While he had expressed no opinion pro or con on the project, he did not want to create an appearance that he was using his state position to influence a local project. Hearn did all of the staff work on the complaint at that time. The planning phase of the project is long over, Wagener explained, as the project is built. The current question relates to potentially more environmental impact to correct the structural deficiencies, a topic on which he has no local involvement. Though a resident of the town, he would have no personal advantage or disadvantage from whatever solutions are implemented. Discussion followed on whether his participation could create the appearance of a conflict, even though he has an ex-officio role with the Council without voting powers. It was the consensus that to be consistent with his prior recusal, he should not participate in discussions if the topic relates to the previous EIE discussions.

Hall noted that this type of question arises from time to time and suggested that the Council schedule a discussion on this topic at an upcoming meeting. Members concurred.

Wagener explained the current status of the project. The town determined that work must be performed to prevent the project from sliding riverward. The biggest component of the proposed work is to place thousands of tons of rock in the Connecticut River. The town received emergency authorization from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) in April and authorization from the US Army Corps of Engineers on June 19. The latter authorization includes a mitigation component, the removal of a dam on the Blackledge River, a stream that flows to Salmon Brook which in turn flows to the Connecticut River. He said monitoring for invasive species will be required for five years at the mitigation site. Eventually the town will need to apply for a regular permit from DEEP to maintain the emergency-authorized work.

Wagener said that citizens expressed concern, even anger, that the impacts to the river will be greater than what was originally planned and permitted. They wanted to know what deficiencies in state oversight could result in this outcome. They also raised questions about the proposed remedy, such as the efficacy of rocks and their resistance to ice scouring. In short, they wondered how they could know that this planning was any better than the original plans.

The Council discussed whether this is an environmental issue or an engineering issue. Wagener said that if a facility can be constructed on a riverbank and receive all necessary approvals and then fail, it is evident that a deficiency exists. It was agreed that if there was a problem with the approval process then a memo outlining what could be done differently would be an appropriate role for the Council. If the problem were due only to construction or engineering miscalculations there probably would be no role for the Council. Hall made the point that preventing recurrence of similar mistakes in the future is what matters and it has not been the Council’s role to review every permit. Chair Merrow suggested that the task will be to make an assessment of what would be required to explore this question. Members concurred, and it was determined that Hearn would produce a “scoping” memo outlining the possible lines of inquiry. She added that the Council is obligated to respond to the citizens who contacted it about the problem, and said the Council also needed to consider its role in future actions regarding this project. Wagener noted that another aspect of the regulatory oversight to watch going forward is whether the measures that were required in the original permits to protect and enhance habitat will remain in place. Chair Merrow summarized by stating that the Council will monitor the regulatory oversight going forward and that no immediate action by the Council is warranted at this moment.

Staff Updates on Various Complaints

1. Wagener summarized a referral from the United States Attorney’s Office regarding allegations of mismanagement and violations of wildlife laws by a state agency. He said that staff had responded that the allegations of contract fulfillment and mismanagement are not within the purview of the Council and should be referred to the State Auditor or Attorney General, and that the claims regarding improper disposal of wild game had been received by DEEP, which has authority in such matters.

2. The Council had received a complaint at an earlier meeting regarding potentially improper use of open space land that had been acquired by the Town of Newington with a state grant. He said that DEEP was aware of this complaint and is investigating.

3. The special report regarding stormwater is progressing.

4. Wagener said he had spoken with Barkhamsted First Selectman Donald Stein, as directed at the previous meeting, to discuss the plans for a trail on MDC property along the Farmington River. Wagener reported that there were no plans as yet, but that what is being discussed does not include pavement. He characterized it as a good discussion.

5. Wagener reported that the office had received correspondence regarding the state police firearms training facility that is proposed to be located in either Willington or East Windsor. Citizens had asked if they could speak at a Council meeting. He said he replied that they could always speak briefly during a citizen comment period at the beginning of any meeting, or could request time on an agenda, but that no action is imminent as the scoping period just ended. The Council agreed that the citizens should feel welcome to communicate with the Council, but did not anticipate Council involvement until an EIE is published for review.

6. Wagener said that, following the presentation in May from residents in Suffield, staff had begun research into the question of how sand and gravel mines are regulated in Connecticut. Graefe and Hearn, using slides, presented an overview of state and local regulations of gravel mines in Connecticut and a few other states. This led to a discussion of protections for aquifers. The Council asked for more information regarding the volume and geographical extent of sand and gravel mining in the state. Brooks asked if it would be possible to determine how many towns regulate sand and gravel mining, other than through zoning and wetlands regulations. Wagener added that staff met with DEEP staff on Monday and were given a copy of a model mining regulation that had been produced by the Southwest Conservation District with a DEEP-administered grant. Several members asked for copies, and Hearn said he would send them by email. There was considerable discussion of the topic, including Hilding’s comment that there might be comparisons with commercial forestry regulation. Wagener said staff would continue to dig into this issue.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener reported that the General Assembly approved a budget in early June that kept funding for the Council at its current level. He said that the budget issue is not completely settled until passage of the “implementer” bills, which are now the subject of further negotiation. Discussion followed on the possible effects of the discretionary budget cutting authority requested by the governor. Wagener reported on the funding for state parks, soil and water conservation districts, the Community Investment Account, and other items. There was discussion of overall funding for environmental protection.

Recalling the presentation of DEEP’s adjudications staff at a previous meeting, he reported that the legislature adopted and the governor signed a bill authorizing electronic filing for administrative proceedings and requiring exemptions for hardships.

He said the Long Island Sound Blue Plan had passed and the bill requires that notice of the draft plan be published in the Environmental Monitor.

Wagener reported on public acts affecting grants for land conservation and claims of adverse possession of lands subject to conservation easements. He said that the bonding authorization had not yet been taken up, but the version adopted by the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee during the regular session included little money for land conservation.

Wagener reported that staff has been working on an indicator of forest health that would be based on population trends of specific songbird species. He mentioned that the data might also reflect a changing climate. Dunbar recounted his recent experience with an expert from Audubon Connecticut who visited his woodland and who commented that climate change is indeed affecting bird distribution.

Wagener said that he had spent a little time providing input to the new state website. He encouraged members to visit the new ct.gov and see the new methods of navigating to agency websites, including the CEQ’s.

Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. Hilding made the motion which was seconded by Hall. The meeting adjourned at 11:45 AM.