Minutes of the February 24, 2016 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, Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding (by phone), Kip Kolesinskas, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

At 9:32 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum.

Chair Merrow asked for approval to move the order of items on the agenda to accommodate some of the guests at the meeting, who had appointments later in the morning at the Legislative Office Building. Charamut made a motion to approve a re-ordered agenda. This was seconded by Dunbar and approved unanimously.

Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the minutes of January 27, 2016. Kolesinskas asked that a sentence be removed that conveyed a misinterpretation of his comments. Dunbar made a motion to approve the revised minutes. Brooks seconded. The motion was approved, with Hall abstaining for having been absent at the meeting.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow said that she and Hearn met Senator Kennedy and Representative Albis, co-chairs of the Environment Committee and presented the Council’s recommendations for legislation.

Citizen Comment Period

Chair Merrow invited Mr. Mike Papa, a Stamford resident, to take a seat at the table. He said he came to discuss his concern regarding proposed cuts to the budget of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. He has worked as a landscaper since coming to the United States and was therefore aware of the important research that is done at the Experiment Station. He said that its contributions have been recognized nationally and internationally. He showed examples of wasteful practices at other agencies, such as mowing a just-mowed lawn, and urged better management to save money that could be put to better use in funding worthwhile research like what is done at the Experiment Station. He also spoke of the importance of maintaining healthy soil and preventing erosion. He showed photos of centuries-old terraced plots in Ausonia, Italy, the town where he was raised. He said that correct practices could help reduce the need for dredging in Long Island Sound by limiting soil loss. Chair Merrow thanked Mr. Papa for his comments and for taking the time to appear. He thanked the Council for the work it does.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener said that much progress had been made on the annual report. A detailed discussion of the report will be scheduled for the March meeting. With regard to the Council’s legislative recommendations affecting stormwater, he said that some of the changes could be implemented administratively. Some recommendations involved the General Permit for Stormwater Associated with Industrial Activities, which had been scheduled for revision by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) in 2016. DEEP has postponed the revision to 2017, so there is more time to work on those recommendations.

He said that there are two resolutions at the legislature to consider a constitutional amendment to safeguard state conservation lands from sale or transfer. He said he testified on the first one regarding the need and did not address the language.

He said that on Monday he attended a meeting at DEEP on a bill (#141) that would amend the state’s inland wetlands and watercourses act. He said that it would relieve DEEP of some of its responsibilities. Currently, if a municipality fails to act on a wetlands application, the applicant can go to DEEP for action. The proposed change would have the applicant seek a remedy through the judicial process.

The bill would also remove the authority of DEEP to take away a town’s jurisdiction over its wetlands when necessary. He said that some at the meeting expressed the opinion that this authority should not be abandoned. Dunbar asked if that is an empty threat. Wagener said revocation had never been done, but Brooks cited examples of towns that were required to undergo remedial education by DEEP to reform poor practices. She said that no town wants to have this happen and the threat helps assure compliance.

In response to a question, Wagener reported no movement on the proposal by conservation advocates for a “Green Fund” bill that would allow towns to impose a real estate transfer tax of up to one percent to raise money for land conservation projects. Dunbar noted that in Florida, mandated land conservation funds were being shifted to cover administrative costs.

He said that on February 10, there was a hearing on the Council’s budget (bill # 5044). The Council was told it would be unnecessary to submit testimony. He said that some representatives of conservation groups submitted comments that included reference to the need to retain funding for the Council. He said that the Office of Policy and Management is requiring every agency to submit a plan as to how it would meet the governor’s proposed reduction for the FY 17 budget; the Council needs to submit a plan for reducing expenditures by about $9,000. He said that the only realistic way to achieve this reduction would be for him to take a voluntary reduction in hours, and recommended that the Council’s submittal to OPM include such a reduction, to be implemented if necessary. Hall made such a motion, seconded by Brooks and approved unanimously.

Citizen Complaints

Bloomfield Bottling Plant – Ms. Lori Brown, of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters and a resident of Bloomfield, distributed handouts regarding a proposal to construct and operate a water bottling plant in Bloomfield. Accompanying her was a group of citizens concerned about the proposal. They introduced themselves as Paula Jones, Val Rosetti, Kevin Gough and Kim Green. Ms. Brown began with an overview of the scale of the proposed operation and the issues that have been raised that tie in to state policies regarding water conservation and transparency of decisions made at the municipal level. She said that environmental groups and Senator Bye have expressed concerns regarding how this project was advanced within the town and its water supply implications. Ms. Rosetti, a member of Bloomfield’s Conservation, Energy and Environmental Commission, spoke next. She said that her committee had not been aware of the nature of the facility when the commission reviewed it. She described possible problems from such a facility. She said the proposed plant would have the capacity to bottle 1.8 million gallons of water per day (mgd). It would generate up to 200 truck shipments for supply and distribution. She said the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) gave the plant a dramatically reduced rate for water consumed after the first 500,000 gallons and a discount on sewer rates. Additionally, an eight million dollar bond will be applied to finance the construction of a new water main to supply the plant. The plant owner, Niagara, will become the largest consumer of water in the MDC service area and will be the beneficiary of beneficial rates not available to other users.

Ms. Jones described an attempt to site the plant in New York State that was rejected. She said that the company is reported to be interested in drawing water from springs in the area, too. She said some streams are documented to have impairment due to low water conditions. Additional withdrawals will only make the situation worse. She said that this amounts to the privatization and commodification of a public resource.

Ms. Green, of West Hartford, spoke next and described how the plant would operate in drought conditions. She said that when water levels lower to 75 percent of capacity, customers are asked to reduce usage. The agreement with Niagara permits the company to continue operating at capacity until reservoir water levels drop to 10 percent.

Mr. Gough questioned the adequacy of the MDC’s capacity. He said that as a consequence of the MDC’s offer to supply nearly the same amount to the University of Connecticut, the legislature mandated a statewide comprehensive water plan to deal with the question of inter-basin water transfers. It is not yet completed. The transfer of an equivalent volume in bottles to be shipped elsewhere is a loophole that was not anticipated. He added that the MDC is giving discounted water rates to this factory while increasing the rates for other subscribers. He said Niagara was also given a discount on sewer rates. Total savings from discounts amount to 1.6 million dollars annually.

Chair Merrow asked the status of the Bye-Baram bill regarding the matter. Ms. Rosetti responded that the town has indicated support for provisions that would repeal the discounts and special treatment during drought conditions. Ms. Rosetti added that the plant will account for eight percent of MDC’s water usage when completed. Opponents would like to stop approval until the state’ water plan is complete.

Chair Merrow asked if there were any questions and what action the Council members thought to be appropriate. The members asked many questions of the group regarding the specifics of the plan and the administrative processes it must pass through. Wagener said staff can explore the many lines of inquiry raised by the group. Chair Merrow thanked the group and asked that the Council be kept informed of developments on the issue.

Comments on Stormwater Permitting

Wagener introduced Catherine Labadia, staff Archaeologist of the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

Ms. Labadia explained that because archaeological resources are considered non-renewable resources, an archaeological review is mandated for projects undergoing review pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA). In addition, state law (CGS 10-387) requires that state agencies review all their programs that could impact archaeological resources and adopt policies to mitigate adverse impacts. She explained that SHPO had many communications with DEEP over time to devise the best way of addressing its policies that affected archaeological and historic sites. She spoke specifically about the General Permit for Stormwater Associated with Construction Activities. It requires self-analysis and self-reporting of activities that might have bearing on historic or archaeological sites. Unfortunately the instructions in the permit (Appendix G, specifically) are a formidable challenge to interpret, even for a professional, let alone a permit registrant. Consequently, an initial analysis to determine historic or archaeological potential takes an amateur quite long and is often incorrect. A professional could do such an analysis in a few minutes.

Ms. Labadia suggested three solutions:

1. DEEP should move to digital submission of applications and include a digital confirmation by SHPO that the site has been reviewed.

2. DEEP could require a sign-off from SHPO that the site was reviewed before an application will be considered complete, as is done in other states.

3. Expansion of the DEEP position in the Office of Indian Affairs to include an archaeological review responsibility.

She said that the only General Permit currently with an archaeological review requirement is the Construction Stormwater General Permit. She recommended that the industrial Stormwater General Permit also include such a review for mining activities. Brooks said that at the January Council meeting, many who were opposed to requiring a SHPO review offered the opinion that SHPO couldn’t handle the additional workload. Ms. Labadia assured Brooks that they could handle it since a review for a site’s potential is done in minutes, when in their hands. She added that the vast majority of sites have no potential for significance. The stormwater permit reviews would constitute a very small percentage of their reviews. Hall suggested that requiring a sign-off amounts to an endorsement, and what would be the public’s opportunity to review such an endorsement? Ms. Labadia said that SHPO would only be providing expert advice, not endorsing projects. If DEEP posted all its stormwater registrations on its website, Hearn asked, would it be possible for SHPO to proactively review and send DEEP an opinion of a site’s significance. Ms. Labadia said yes that would be possible, as she now reviews the Environmental Monitor and Army Corps websites regularly for a similar purpose. Chair Merrow thanked Ms. Labadia for her appearance before the Council and her very useful comments.

Wagener noticed that in the audience was Mary Pelletier of the Park River Watershed Association, who had come to speak about the proposed Bloomfield bottling plant. Chair Merrow invited Ms. Pelletier to the table. She introduced herself and included the fact that she had been a member of the MDC’s “citizen advisory committee”. She said the MDC is not required to have the committee. She has seen many issues in which it would have provided valuable assistance, but was not called upon. Its role would be very valuable, as the 21st century will require a “regenerative economy” and she would like to see the Council request this emphasis in economic decision making – especially at the local level.

Hilding added that the consumption of 1.8 mgd could be acceptable or unacceptable regardless of whether or not it remains within the water basin or the state.

Review of State Agency Actions

Wagener introduced Graham Stevens, Director of DEEP’s Office of Constituent Affairs and Land Management, who discussed the draft of the state’s Land Acquisition Strategy or “Green Plan.” The draft plan had been distributed to the Council by email before the meeting. He said the present Green Plan lists the state’s many resources and treats them equally. The draft plan establishes priorities for preservation. He said he would like to see the state in a pro-active rather than a reactive role in property acquisition. He said that the state has been very dependent on the assistance of partners in its acquisition efforts. He said a proactive strategy will include 1) where the areas are that new acquisitions are desired, 2) who can acquire the properties, 3) how to make the acquisitions happen. Historical suggestions for acquisitions have been parochial in focus. With restricted resources it will be important to think regionally.

In response to questions from the Council, he said the 21 percent goal for open space in the state might be unrealistic given the available resources. He agreed that the current estimates of preserved acres probably underestimate the actual acreage. He said the document is quite long and readers who are pressed for time should be certain to read the summary section and the five year action plan section. The plan will be web-based and the reader can delve as deeply into a topic as desired. He said the wildlife division has worked with his staff to set priorities for critical habitat acquisition. In many ways, it is a “plan of plans” that incorporates the state’s forestry plan, wildlife plan, and others.

Dunbar complimented the plan. He noted that DEEP properties divide into two categories: 1) preservation of animal and plants and 2) recreation. He said acquisitions are most popular where the two objectives intersect. He said that he foresees a problem where other priorities begin to impinge. Things like coastal area preservation or properties that unexpectedly become available are bound to distort established priorities. He said that reaching the goal will be a function of political will and that the plan will have to be very flexible. He recommended considering three paths that would be based on funding scenarios: 1) funding cuts, 2) continuing as has been the case and 3) what is need to achieve goal. Dunbar added that the costs of caring for preserved properties needs to be factored in as well.

Stevens said that the preservation plan is not property-specific intentionally to avoid opposition. He said eventually he wished to be able to have a quantitative index with which to evaluate potential properties.

Kolesinskas said intersections with other programs will be important. For example, state incentives to use Connecticut-grown wood could help preserve forest land. Stevens agreed and referenced a Windsor gravel mine that is being converted to grassland habitat. Charamut urged coordination with federal programs where possible to maximize available dollars. Hilding urged retaining the 2023 goal, even if achieving it is unlikely. Wagener said the plan is better than previous plans. He and Stevens agreed that the estimate of actual land preserved is not accurate. Stevens said that the digitization efforts that are underway will improve the accuracy of the estimates. Dunbar questioned whether the state should be subsidizing the acquisition of water company lands.

Chair Merrow said she found the chart comparing population growth to land consumed to be quite compelling. She asked Mr. Stevens for his thoughts on the “490 forever” concept. He responded that to meet the 2023 goal any creative ideas such as this will be needed. He said that if DEEP is to hold the development rights on properties, it would be DEEP’s preference to have a purchase right of first refusal.

Wagener said that staff will prepare comments based on the discussion. Chair Merrow thanked Mr. Stevens for his very useful presentation.

Review of State Agency Actions

a.Siting Council consultation re: proposed telecommunications tower in Bridgeport. Wagener said this is a replacement for an existing tower and no comments are proposed.

b.Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) for University of Connecticut South Campus Development (Mansfield). Wagener explained that the notice for this EIE refers to a an agreement between the University of Connecticut (UConn), DEEP and the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) on how to handle evaluations for segments of the UConn’s campus development master plan, since an EIE was not authorized for the master plan itself. The South Campus Plan includes the demolition of nine historic buildings. SHPO has not opposed the project. He does not recommend comments. Kolesinskas said he wished an EIE had been conducted for the full master plan because full build-out will most likely have traffic and indirect development consequences.

c.  Environmental Impact Evaluation for Mansfield Four Corners Sewer Extension. Hearn reported that the EIE for this project addressed the appropriate issues but made assumptions that require verification before funding for the project is approved. He recommended comment by the Council to address the following aspects of the EIE. He said that the town zoning overlay, intended to prevent sewer-induced growth is not yet in place. The same is true for the town’s stormwater management plan. He said the EIE presumes their existence so funding for the project should be withheld until both have been approved and adopted by Mansfield. He added that DEEP has established scientifically that when impervious surfaces reach 15% of a watershed, stream quality becomes unacceptable. This project is planned for areas where there are a number of high quality watercourses. It is the appropriate location to make the maximum 15 % cover a condition of funding. Dunbar, Hilding and Wagener said that the threshold should not be reached, and an 11% or 12% target will be needed to stay below the threshold. The consensus was that a 10% impervious cover should be the Council’s recommendation.

Hearn said the number of parcels in the sewer area that contain prime agricultural soils or soils of statewide significance appears to exceed 25 acres. In such cases, state law (CGS 22-6) requires that the Commissioner of Agriculture sign off on the project. This should also be a prerequisite for funding.

He said although the EIE discusses visits that were made to the parcels along the sewer line, it appears that potential wildlife impacts were assessed only via the state’s Natural Diversity Database. This data base is intended only as a guidance on what to look for. It is not intended to be a substitute for actual site surveys. Completion of those surveys should be a prerequisite to funding. Wagener added that the sewer lines will extend into areas of undeveloped wetlands and assessments of development impacts in those area are needed along with assurances that wetlands will not be inappropriately developed. In short, the Record of Decision should commit DEEP to specific mitigation efforts, not just a list o potential mitigation measures. The Council agreed to the submission of comments to reflect the points that were discussed.

d.  Proposed Amendments to Hunting and Trapping Regulations (including snapping turtle regulations), Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Wagener told the Council that current regulations in Connecticut limit the capture of Snapping turtles to a maximum of 30 per year. DEEP has proposed a reduction to no more than 10. He said that the Snapping turtle is the only wildlife species in the state for which there is permitted commercial harvesting. He recommended that the Council support the proposed reduction as a step in the right direction. He added that there is a bill proposed in this session that would exclude snapping turtles from commerce altogether.

There being no further business, Dunbar made a motion to adjourn, second by Charmut. The meeting adjourned at 12:11 PM.