Minutes of the March 23, 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, Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Matt Reiser, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

At 9:30 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum.

Chair Merrow asked for approval of the agenda. Dunbar made a motion to approve that was seconded by Charamut and approved unanimously.

Chair Merrow asked if there were any revisions to the minutes of February 24, 2016. There were none and Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the minutes, it was so motioned by Hilding and seconded by Charamut and approved unanimously.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow announced the appointment of a new member to the Council, Matt Reiser. She welcomed him and asked if he would introduce himself and describe his history. He described his 20 years of experience working as an environmental consultant, after which the members introduced themselves.

Citizen Comment Period

Chair Merrow called on Mr. Bart Halloran, District Council for the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), and member of the Steering Committee of the state’s Water Planning Council. He said he had come to the Council because he had seen that a group of opponents to the proposed bottling plant in Bloomfield had appeared before the Council at its February meeting. He came specifically to make it clear that MDC staff is available to answer any questions that the Council might have regarding that project, or any other water supply questions which the Council might have. In response to a question, he said that there are some important facts about MDC’s capacity that the Council should know. He said that the demand for MDC water has been decreasing since the 1980s. Industrial use has dropped from 18 million gallons per day (MGD) to 2 MGD. Overall use is down from 66 MGD to 47. He said the safe yield is 76 MGD. He said the rate increases, which went into effect to pay for mandated sewer separation projects, have further decreased demand in the city of Hartford. He said the proposal to lower rates for the proposed plant was subject to the public hearing process. In response to Kolesinskas’ question as to whether the MDC could impose restrictions on the proposed plant, he said that the MDC’s charter does not allow it to differentiate among users, even in drought conditions.

Hilding questioned Mr. Halloran regarding the consequences for poor families that are unable to pay the increased usage rates and whether there are subsidy programs for them. He said that water service is not terminated in winter months and that the MDC’s charter has no provision for subsidy programs.

Charamut said the MDC’s supply plan, which is approved by the state Department of Public Health (DPH) could be modified to allow for protection of the environmental resources associated with the water supply system and to permit reduced allocation for industrial and commercial users in times of drought. Dunbar said that any water company that is regulated by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) cannot differentiate among users, while noting that MDC is not so regulated. He added that the climate and rainfall data used to determine “safe yield” at reservoirs is based on DPH estimates, which do not take into account recent climate change patterns.

Chair Merrow thanked Mr. Halloran for taking the time to come to the Council. Mr. Halloran reiterated his willingness and the willingness of the engineers at MDC to provide technical data to the Council and its staff. 

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener reviewed the latest information about proposed budget reductions. He also noted that a proposal by the House and Senate Republican caucuses to reduce the current-year deficit would eliminate the Council effective April 1; however, the document contained an error and inflated the savings attributable to such elimination by 1000 percent.

He reviewed some bills that had been reported out of committee.

SB 422 gives residential water users priority in times of drought and disallows a discounted sewer rate to water bottlers.

SB 300 was approved by the Public Health Committee with substitute language that is a compromise. The bill now would require the City of New Britain to conduct an environmental study prior to permitting a quarry on Class I and Class II watershed lands. The consultant would have to be approved by the Council and the DPH, with the resulting study being reviewed by the DPH and DEEP. The Council discussed at length what mechanisms would need to be in place to “approve” a consultant because determining whether a consultant is acceptable in its qualifications differs from an approval process. It was the consensus of the Council that the Council could accept such a task but that, if possible, substitute language should be sought to change the words “approved by” to the more standard “acceptable to.”

Wagener reported that the land conveyance bill had been approved and that all DEEP parcels were removed from it. He said that the resolution in support of a constitutional amendment to establish a more restrictive process to transfer state-owned conservation and recreation lands was approved on consent by the Government Administration and Elections Committee. Chair Merrow cited the rest of the steps that would necessary for the bill to become an amendment to the state’s constitution.

SB 229 establishes a “shelf life” for EIEs. For a project based on an EIE that is more than ten years old, if a petition with at least 100 signatures is submitted to the sponsoring agency requesting a re-evaluation of its relevance, the Council shall conduct an evaluation and make recommendations regarding what portions, if any, need to be re-done to bring it current. Wagener said that he submitted testimony on the bill, which at the time made no mention of the Council. He said that some federal regulations require similar re-evaluation after three years. Hilding pointed out that the requirement of 100 signatures is unfair to small towns where it could be extremely difficult to get 100 people mobilized. Chair Merrow asked if staff could perform this responsibility. Wagener said yes, as citizen complaints would require staff to look at the old EIEs anyhow. He added that a process for the re-evaluation of “stale” EIE’s could have been included in CEPA regulations, which DEEP is 14 years late in producing.

Wagener reported on other bills. One would require DOT to report to the legislature on its tree cutting activity. Another bill would disallow commercial harvesting of snapping turtles, the only wildlife species in which commerce is allowed. The DEEP wetlands bill (#141) was reportedly withdrawn, and was not acted upon by the Environment Committee.

Charamut said that a Freedom of Information bill is needed for the state water planning process to make progress. Crucial information is unavailable about water supplies, due to security concerns, including information on projected demand and safe yields.

Citizen Complaints

Wagener reported that the State Police are reportedly looking for alternative locations outside of Willington for a firearms training facility.

Comprehensive Open Space Acquisition Strategy

Wagener said that the Council’s comments to DEEP on this plan have not yet been completed. If members have comments they should get them to him soon.

Review of State Agency Actions

Wagener reported that there were no new Siting Council requests for comment nor issues relating to other agencies.

Review of Annual Report Topics

Wagener said that the report, which was sent electronically to the members prior to the meeting, is substantively complete except for the addition of some data for 2015 which is expected within the next few weeks. He said he would like to obtain the Council’s guidance on what topics in the report to highlight in the letter to the Governor, in press releases and in the report summary pages. If that can be accomplished then it would be possible to vote conditional approval of the report, pending agreed upon revisions and final approval by Chair Merrow.

Wagener began a review of each indicator, noting changes in format or display. Among the visual changes he noted were new arrows for the direction of positive versus negative trends on the charts. He showed two new charts depicting declines in the populations of birds that inhabit forests, young forests and shrub lands. He said that the data and methodology used to derive the charts benefited greatly from the input of four ornithologists. Hilding observed that when the forest acres chart is compared to the forest birds charts there appears to be evidence of a delayed response to habitat loss.

Wagener discussed how the topic of lead contamination was added to the page on public drinking water.

He explained the three categories into which all the indicators could be divided.  Council members made many suggestions. Among them were to change the Chart’s “summary circles” from “declined” to “trend worsened” or “conditions worsened” and to  eliminate the phrase “data declined.” It was suggested that the link between temperature and ground-level ozone be better explained. Greater emphasis on goals that will not be met was suggested as well.

Wagener showed how the new goals from the Long Island Sound Study’s 2015 Comprehensive Management Plan were incorporated. Color and text changes were suggested for the chart on surface water quality. It was agreed to eliminate the “human health” indicators and substitute for this year links to other websites that show the same information with greater details. Eventual addition of the New England Cottontail as an indicator species was suggested.

After all the changes were agreed upon, Dunbar made a motion to approve the report with the changes, subject to final approval of Chair Merrow. Hilding seconded and the motion was carried unanimously.

Wagener asked for the Council’s opinion on the utility and format of the summary page. It was the consensus that the table was useful but could benefit from deletion of the last column.

There being no further business, Hilding made a motion to adjourn, second by Dunbar. The meeting adjourned at 12:01 PM.