Minutes of the May 27, 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, Michael Klemens (attending by conference call), Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Julius Graefe (Intern)

At 9:35 AM, Chair Merrow noted that a quorum was present and convened the meeting.

Klemens made a motion to approve the agenda that was seconded by Dunbar and unanimously approved.

Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the May 6, 2015 meeting. Hilding suggested several changes, including two spelling errors and three clarifications, the latter pertaining to clarifying the specific towns that had been discussed with regard to water supply (Haddam and Chester), revisions to inland wetland permits issued by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) (which no longer will require reports from the permittees), and the role of DEEP Hearing Officers if the (future) web-based document system malfunctions). Dunbar moved approval with those changes, Hall seconded, and they were approved unanimously.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow reported that as the budget deliberations progressed at the legislature many environmental advocacy groups considered full funding of the Council to be among their top priorities.

Citizen Complaints

Regulation of Mining – Chair Merrow recognized Ms. Shannon Watson and Ms. Christine Papka of the Congamond Lakes Environmental Protection Organization who came to speak about an issue in their town that has regional, statewide and interstate implications. They said that although their immediate concern is a sand and gravel operation that has received a permit, the case raises the question of the adequacy of regulation of these operations that potentially can be destructive of habitat and aquifers. They have a court case pending to prohibit the reopening of a gravel mine in Suffield. Though the Council has no jurisdiction over the issue, they wanted to point out the problems inherent in allowing exclusive town jurisdiction over an operation that could affect adversely the water supply for 600 homes in CT and thousands in Massachusetts. They said that one of the Massachusetts towns dependent on the aquifer did not know about the approval of the mining prior to approval. In addition to their concern for the potential damage to the aquifer, they described potential for habitat damage, noise, dust and traffic. Council members asked many questions about the property, its surroundings and the process by which the mine was approved. Klemens said that the Natural Diversity Data Base appears to show the possibility of listed species in the immediate area, and he questioned how that information could have been ignored. Dunbar said that leaving these decisions to local officials means that decisions will be made by people who do not have the necessary information or expertise to make them correctly. Klemens' telephone connection was lost briefly.

Chair Merrow said the problem raises many questions that the Council will look into, including regulation of interstate water supplies, regulation of mining in other states, and other related relevant issues. Hall added that staff should make clear the distinction between regulation of existing operations and proposed ones.

Margaret Miner of the Rivers Alliance spoke from the audience to add that some mining operations are closely regulated, but others seem to operate with few apparent safeguards. She expressed surprise that no one raises the water classifications, as water is diverted and affected by projects, which can in turn affect water supply. Ms. Miner suggested that DEEP should keep a database of extractions and how water has been affected. 

Chair Merrow thanked Ms. Watson and Ms. Papka for their presentation, and said that the Council will continue to investigate.

Tylerville – Wagener reported that DEEP had denied the request for an extension of the deadline for a site investigation at the Sibley property in Tylerville. He had reported at the May 6, 2015 meeting that DEEP was awaiting documentation to support the request for the extension; that information was never received by DEEP.

Newington Open Space – Wagener said that the Council had received a complaint regarding a parcel of land that had been acquired by the town with a state grant in 1998 for open space use. Part of the property reportedly had been used for staging of equipment and supplies for a sewer project, as illustrated by an aerial photograph, and it was reported that topsoil has been removed. Wagener referred the Council to the open space agreement, which required filing of a conservation restriction in the land records. He did not know yet if the restriction was filed or what it might say. He will report at the next meeting. He reported that DEEP is aware of this issue, as is the Attorney General’s office. In response to a question from Brooks he said that this is not the agreement currently used for state open space grants. Hall asked for a copy of the contract that would be used now; Wagener said he would obtain it.

Others – Wagener described a letter from a resident who was alarmed by the volume of boats and fishing activity, particularly weekend bass tournaments, at Amos Lake in Preston. He said that staff learned that the lake is a bass management lake and the regulations that restrict catch are suspended for tournaments. He said that staff at DEEP monitor the bass population and can make changes should it appear that the population is being stressed by the activities. This information was passed on to the resident, along with information about what to do if he suspects illegal activities.

Potential Trail along the Farmington River – Klemens rejoined the meeting. Wagener referred the Council to a letter, distributed in advance of the meeting, which described a citizen’s concerns about a proposal for a trail on MDC property along the Farmington River in Barkhamsted and New Hartford. Klemens said there is ample documentation of at least four state-listed species in that area and there is documentation of the adverse effects that even a simple walking trail can cause. It is reasonable to expect that a more intrusive trail could cause more destruction to habitat and to the animals, and he said that these projects must be handled very carefully. Discussion followed and it was decided that since there is not a formal proposal and the trail is only in the discussion stage the Council is not in a position to make a recommendation. Staff was directed to learn more about the specifics and to determine, if possible, how it would be paid for, who would pay, the scale of the trail, and the role of the towns in the process, and to contact the first selectman of Barkhamsted. Wagener said he would report back on this at a future meeting. At this point Klemens had to leave the conference call. Hall said another point to investigate is how a trail is monitored for potential adverse effects after it is built.

Stormwater: East Lyme Erosion Problem, Cultural Resources review and related issues – Wagener recounted the stormwater and erosion issues that had been brought before the Council in recent months. Staff’s investigations continue, but he had prepared a PowerPoint presentation to highlight what has been learned thus far. At this point he introduced the Council’s summer intern, Julius Graefe, who had already begun working with Hearn on these issues.

Wagener reviewed the history of the construction stormwater general and what appeared to be the original intent regarding posting public notice of the registrations and the plans. He described which projects received DEEP review and which required review by a qualified independent party. He made the point that the public expectation of the process is very different than what actually happens. He discussed what staff has learned about how the projects are monitored and how enforcement is conducted. During the discussion, the storm that caused the erosion problem at East Lyme was raised. Wagener showed data that made it clear that a storm of that magnitude was predictable. Ms. Miner spoke from the audience to emphasize her belief that the 1961 Rainfall Frequency Atlas needs revision to bring its estimates for storm events current with contemporary reality. Dunbar said that a change will would require hearings and a formal permit review process.  Hall said it is an appropriate role for the Council to call attention to issues like this and to lay the groundwork for revisions to the next revision of the general permit when the current one expires. Discussion turned to the enforcement process and what sanctions are available. Brooks said that the permit revocation process is specified in the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act. Dunbar said that one reason for the convoluted wording in the permit is the attempt to balance public participation requirements of the federal Clean Water Act with the need to create a streamlined permitting process.

There was unanimous agreement that staff should pursue the seven stormwater-related topics enumerated in the presentation – public participation, inaccurate submittals, enforcement, technical requirements, siting council projects, cultural resource review, and endangered species review – for inclusion in a special report.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener said that the proposed revised Towantic power plant, discussed at prior Council meetings, was approved by the Siting Council in a five-to-two vote.

With regard to the Council’s status and budget for the coming fiscal year, he said that he had no new information since what he reported at the last meeting: the Appropriations Committee of the legislature voted to retain the Council in its current status.

He reported that the pending land conveyance bill was particularly contentious this session, with environmental advocates very concerned about proposed easements across state land for sand and gravel mining operations and about transferring a portion of Silver Sands State Park to the City of Milford. Members agreed that these decisions should be made on solid scientific and natural resource information, as recommended by the Council in its 2014 special report, Preserved But Maybe Not.

Having reached the end of the agenda, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn if there was no further business. Dunbar made a motion to adjourn that was seconded by Hall, and the meeting was adjourned at 11:57 AM.