Minutes of the October 7, 2015 special 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).

At 9:36 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting that Hilding had called to say her arrival would be delayed, and said that all votes would be postponed until Hilding was present.

Chair Merrow asked if there were any questions or suggestions about the meeting’s agenda. There was none.

Chair Merrow asked if there were any corrections to the minutes of the September 7, 2015 special meeting. She said that she had been informed of an error in the draft minutes; in the description of the point system used by the Rivers’ Alliance to score the compliance record of hazardous waste treatment plants, the reference to a 150 percent exceedance of a permit limit should actually be 100 percent. There were no other corrections.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow reported that she had been in touch with the Governor’s Office about filling vacancies on the Council and was told that some action was anticipated.

She said that she will be unable to attend the meeting scheduled for November 18. Dunbar added that he will be absent that day also. Wagener said that he had not yet developed a schedule for meetings and/or a public forum at the Legislative Office Building because of the uncertainty about new appointments.

Citizen Comment Period

Tony Mitchell of the River’s Alliance of Connecticut said that he had presented the summary of the Rivers’ Alliance report on hazardous waste treatment facilities, presented previously to the Council at its September meeting, at the Watershed Conservation Network semiannual conference in September and it was well received. He will be speaking about it again in Windsor.

Stephanie Summers, President of unWillington, Inc. spoke about the proposal to locate the State Police Firearms training facility there, focusing on three major environmental concerns of Willington residents:

All Willington residents depend on private wells, which have no oversight by any state agency; the proposal is inconsistent with the priority conservation designation in the State Plan of Conservation and Development; and there has not been documentation of the biological, historical and archaeological resources of the site. She also mentioned the noise impacts, noting that the expected use of large-caliber weapons would create excessive noise. She also noted that the property does not match the site-selection criteria as presented at the public scoping meeting, and said that the 327 acres of the property far exceeds the area needed for the proposed facility and a buffer, which raises questions about future expansion.

Ms. Summers gave the Council written comments from herself and from Donna Cook of Willington, as well as a photograph of two pileated woodpeckers taken at the site the day before; all are on file in the Council office.

Chair Merrow asked Wagener to review the history of the Council’s role in this matter. He said the office had received considerable correspondence from residents and elected officials. He said an environmental impact evaluation (EIE) is being prepared by the sponsoring agencies and staff will review it, paying particular attention to how well it takes into consideration the concerns expressed during the scoping process. Ms. Summers asked if the Council ever recommends the “no action” alternative; Wagener replied that the Council has occasionally made such a recommendation on alternatives, though it generally focuses more on the adequacy of the EIE. Chair Merrow reiterated that all of the Council’s advice is advisory to the decision-making agency.

Chair Merrow thanked Ms. Summers for her presentation and information.

Report of the Subcommittee on Guidance for Members

Chair Merrow introduced the report by explaining that this policy is an attempt to supplement the existing state ethics code for public officials in order to respond to some occasional uncertainty as to when Council members should recuse themselves from discussions and votes for reasons other than potential financial conflict of interest, such as a member’s prior involvement in an issue at the municipal level. It creates a simple process for members and staff who, if they are concerned that their participation in a particular discussion or vote could create a perception of bias or lack of objectivity, could describe their prior involvement in the issue and their reasoning as to whether or not they can be unbiased. While the Council could offer advice if requested, the Council’s advice is not required nor can the Council require anyone to abstain. Brooks said that the wording needs to be clear that the policy addresses discussion, not just voting; members agreed.

Citizen Complaints

Silver Sands State Park 1993 Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE)

Hilding arrived.

Wagener recounted the Council’s previous discussions of the 1993 EIE and said that State Senator Gayle Slossberg had called the office recently to say that this project, and any project of this nature, should undergo an up-to-date EIE. Wagener recalled that the Council had discussed the question of a “shelf life” for EIEs several times in the past; each time, the Council resolved to pursue this matter when DEEP revises the decades-old regulations of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA). He said that a federal agencies, or state agencies using federal funds, must re-evaluate environmental impact documents if years have elapsed and the project has not been initiated. In the case of federally-funded transportation or airport projects, the requirement kicks in if three years elapse. The re-evaluation is an internal review conducted to determine if the original evaluation of conditions and the project is still valid or if a new or supplemental evaluation is required. No such requirement exists in statute or regulation for state agencies using state funds. Wagener said that in the case of Silver Sands State Park, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) staff produced a memo for the file in 2013 that looked at the new element of the current plan, the boardwalk shortcut, and concluded that the boardwalk shortcut did not require an evaluation under CEPA. Wagener noted that the review described in the short memo did not follow any actual administrative process; if any such process existed, it probably would have required the internal review to have been done differently. 

There was considerable discussion of the park, the improvements and the EIE. Old and new plans were displayed on the screen.

Hall and Dunbar asked about the reasons for the delay in implementation of the plan. Wagener said there is a memo in DEEP files from the 1990s that says the Department expected the project to take ten or twenty years. He said that it had long been a DEEP priority and that funding has finally become available. The Council was in general agreement that the park is an important asset. Potential impacts were discussed along with ways in which the current plan takes coastal resiliency into consideration. Brooks asked if the work of volunteer birders would be looked at as part of the evaluation. Wagener said that it might be part of the permit process, which is where DEEP says it will evaluate wetlands and related resources. There was general agreement that the permit process is not a substitute for planning. Wagener added that DEEP had met with a group of ornithologists and wildlife advocates to discuss impacts to bird habitat; those groups are concerned about the impact of several components of the project.

In response to a question from Hall, Wagener said that evaluation of the boardwalk by itself might be construed as project segmentation, and that this project illustrates the need for a formal mechanism to require a re-evaluation of old an EIE where such re-evaluation is warranted. Hilding said that a private developer would never get away with submitting a 23-year-old EIE. Chair Merrow outlined possible actions for the Council. It was decided that, in the absence of any requirements regarding re-evaluation, the best course would be to draft a letter to the Commissioner recommending, once again, action on revising the 1978-era CEPA regulations, and that the regulations include a formal process for re-evaluating aged EIEs. Dunbar made a motion to send such a letter, subject to the Chair’s approval of the language; the motion was seconded by Hall and approved unanimously. Dunbar said that the members of the public who oppose the project should be informed that DEEP is within its authority to go forward with the EIE as written.

Brooks added that she has reservations about the mitigation plan for relocating endangered species. Hilding added that such mitigations should be required to be demonstrated to be effective before construction can proceed.

Other Votes

Chair Merrow returned to items that had been discussed but not voted on earlier in the meeting.

A motion to approve the meeting agenda was made by Dunbar, second by Hall and approved unanimously.

A motion to approve the September 9, 2015 minutes with the modification discussed earlier was made by Brooks, seconded by Dunbar and approved unanimously.

After a brief discussion, Dunbar made a motion to approve the policy drafted by the subcommittee on guidance for members, with the minor addition suggested previously by Brooks; seconded by Hilding and approved unanimously.

Staff Update on other Citizen Complaints

Wagener reported that Daniel Pidgeon, the Council’s intern from Trinity College, reviewed the opacity measurements from the past year of the emissions from the jet turbines at the South Meadow power plant in Hartford. These tests were required by the plant’s Title V permit when it was last renewed, a renewal in which the Council had been involved. He reported that of 26 starts, 15 were for testing of the turbines and no opacity measurements were taken. All of the 11 actual runs received a passing score, except that no measurements were taken on one day because of overcast skies. In summary, Wagener said, it appears that the plant is being used less frequently than in past years, and compliance seems good.

He said that Pidgeon is also working on a map of the distribution of bad-air days in the state that could appear in the annual report. He said he did not yet have a full answer to Hilding’s question from the last meeting about the geographical distribution of air monitors in the state.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener said that Dunbar and Hearn attended the Watershed Conservation Network conference, at which Hearn spoke briefly about the Councils’ research on stormwater, mining and archaeological resources.  Wagener attended the annual meeting of the Connecticut Audubon Society on Tuesday night; he said that David Foster of the Harvard Forest made a very interesting presentation on the importance of the New England forests, and compared Connecticut’s land-conservation efforts of those of other New England states, most notably Massachusetts. Dunbar agreed about the importance of New England forests to the hemisphere, noting that no forests here would mean no birds migrating north and south.

Discussion of Mining and Stormwater Issues

Members discussed the draft report that had been distributed prior to the meeting. Members agreed that they wished to review another draft, after inspection data is added and after staff meets with the State Historic Preservation Officer, before the draft is sent to other organizations for comment.

Discussion of Annual Report Topics

As a follow-up to Dunbar’s comments at the September 9, 2015 meeting about the challenge of meeting the state’s land-conservation goals when the average forest parcel size in Connecticut is low, Wagener presented data from recent reports confirming the huge gap between the number of acquisition projects needed to reach the goal and the number DEEP is capable of completing. There was some general discussion of the need to refocus and re-define goals. Hilding asked if lumber can be taken from preserved lands; Wagener said yes. In response to members’ requests, Wagener said he would send copies of the reports that were the source of his data.

Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn which was made by Hilding, seconded by Dunbar and approved by all, ending the meeting at 12:10.