Minutes of the October 19, 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 (by telephone), Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Matt Reiser, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Cassandra Cronin (Intern).

At 9:33 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum.

Chair Merrow asked for approval of the agenda. Charamut made a motion to approve that was seconded by Dunbar and approved unanimously. Brooks and Hilding had not yet arrived and did not vote.

Chair Merrow asked if there were any revisions to the minutes of September 21, 2016. Reiser said he had found a typo on the fifth page, a conflation of plant and plan. Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the minutes with that modification. Dunbar made a motion to approve the minutes with the change. It was seconded by Charamut and approved by all present. Brooks was just arriving and did not vote. Hilding had not arrived, but subsequently asked that the minutes reflect that she had read the September minutes and approved of them, with the correction.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow said it saddened her to have to report for the second time this year on the loss of a giant among Connecticut’s conservationists. Russel Brenneman was a major influence in the land preservation movement who brought civility, kindness and gentleness to the work. She said she was proud to have walked the earth at the same time he did. 

Citizen Comment Period

Mr. Mike Papa of Stamford introduced himself as a practitioner of ecological landscaping for the last 10 years.  He spoke of his concern that, although the free enterprise system is the driver of many innovations, it can put people on the wrong track. He used the example of landscaping practices that depend upon application of synthetic fertilizers and large amounts of irrigation. He said that with the proper soil management practices irrigation could be reduced, saving money and water, important during this period of drought. He said he gives his customers a thick book on organic lawn management. He said that part of the problem is that there is no required training or licensing for landscapers. He added that there are many other water conservation practices he would like to see put into place, like reuse of stormwater. Chair Merrow observed that the drought has brought many related issues to the fore. She thanked Mr. Papa for taking the time to come to the Council with his thoughts.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener introduced Cassandra Cronin of Trinity College, one of the Council’s two interns for this semester. He said she has been working on indicators for the annual report, which would be discussed later in the meeting. He referred the Council to a picture on the smartboard of an angler with a very large carp. He informed the Council about the catch-and-release contest that had just concluded along the Connecticut River. It brings carp anglers from around the world who are interested in the large cash prizes that are put up by the sponsors, and example of tourism based on natural resources.

He said that the budget reduction option had been submitted as discussed in September. He noted that the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters' 16th Annual Environmental Summit will be on Tuesday, December 13 and that many advocates and legislators who attend this gathering will be focusing on the state budget, especially the impacts of reductions at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). 

He said he attended the annual invasive plants symposium and made a presentation on factors affecting Connecticut’s environmental future. He said that Bill Hyatt of DEEP, former chair of the Invasive Plants Council, spoke on that council’s current and future objectives. Wagener pointed out that the sole invasive plants staff position had been eliminated, and that less work would be done on invasive species by all agencies. 

Wagener said that Cassandra Cronin had been researching several data sources for new ecological indicators. While freshwater mussels looked promising, the data proved otherwise. Although mussels could be a useful measure of the health of some environments, data deficiencies make trend tracking impossible at this time. He said that Cronin did have success in research into Ruffed Grouse data. He referred to chart she created that illustrated the dramatic decline in Connecticut’s Ruffed Grouse population. He said the bird is a useful indicator of the decline in certain forest types. The data for one of the trend lines was from the Christmas Bird Count. He said that one must be cautious in using this count for scientific documentation of trends, but experts with whom Cronin spoke endorsed the validity of its use for grouse. The other line on the chart is from the summer count of the Connecticut Ornithological Association. Its track shows nearly the same trend. Dunbar said that the big issue concerning the decline in Grouse is habitat fragmentation. They are not migratory and they do not disperse far, so if they are driven from a habitat they may not come back. Kolesinskas said the Ruffed Grouse is a good surrogate for other species of concern like the New England Cottontail and timberdoodle. Also, hemlock trees are important for providing shelter to grouse. He also mentioned the role of invasive species. Members agreed that the grouse indicator would be a good one to pursue, especially if the report documents the other species that depend on similar habitats.

Environmental study of change of use of watershed lands in New Britain

Chair Merrow said there were people in the audience who wished to comment on this agenda item. The first to speak was Paul Zagorsky, a resident of New Britain. Mr. Zagorsky thanked the Council for its decision on July 27 to rescind its determination that the consultant to New Britain was acceptable, after reviewing the proposed scope of work. He said that decision has slowed what would have been a rushed study, allowing for an in-depth analysis. He reminded the Council that the original proposal for a study in 2007 was never done because of an opinion by the Attorney General that the Tilcon company could not be involved in it due to its inherent conflict of interest.  He expressed concern that Tilcon still is deeply involved in the study process, citing a July 7, 2016 “kick-off” meeting that included the consultant and representatives of New Britain plus Tilcon’s senior management, lobbyist, public relations staff and engineers. He read from e-mails that suggested the intent of the study remains to prepare the way for a quarry and cited wording in the scope of work that refers to a future quarry, with references to quarry filling and water quality. He said that after the expenditure of $180,000 to date, no ecological work has been done. He left copies of the documents to which he referred, noting that Hall had requested copies of all supporting documents at the last meeting. (Copies of all documents submitted at Council meetings are available in the Council’s offices.)

The next person to comment was Ms. Lanette Macaruso, of New Britain.  She said that forests play an important role in purifying water. The statute that requested the study asked for the likely impact of change in use including hydrology, forest ecology, natural land resources and wetland systems. She said there is already an example of what it will do to the environment: the existing quarry. She said Tilcon has to import water to conduct its operation, evidence that the hydrology of the site has been affected.

Mr. Bill Ostapchuk said the scope of study appears inadequate to determine ground water elevations and contours and potential impact on surrounding wells. It proposes no sampling of the current water table or finger printing of sources. He said it is missing important information on other water bodies too. He said the Shuttle Meadow Reservoir is being filled by the same source as is proposed to fill the new reservoir. He said the study’s focus should be on the role of water in the cycle of life, not on calculations of safe yield.

Dr. Martin Dinep of New Britain said he has yet to see a complete map of city land and land that is to be donated as part of the plan. He said he is concerned whether the West Canal will be included in the study and expressed the belief that it should, noting the presence of breeding waterfowl and other wildlife.

Mr. James Ericson, Vice President of Lenard Engineering, spoke from the audience to say he would be happy to answer any individual’s questions.  Chair Merrow thanked him and invited him to participate. First, Wagener reviewed the Council’s role in the scope of study, which led to discussion among the members. Reiser asked if there would be an up-or-down vote; members determined that recommendations would be offered but that such a vote was not required.

Dunbar said that the impacts described in the public act should be distinguished from the ones that might be included by the “including but not limited to” clause. Wagener said there is no statutory authority to approve or reject the scope of work for the study, but since the Council is charged with a final review of the study, it is logical that the Council provide guidance as to what it will look for in the final product.

There was discussion of flood-skimming. Charamut noted that Hilding and others had, at the September meeting, noted the need to define flood-skimming. Charamut described her understanding of it and asked Mr. Ericson questions about it. Mr. Ericson said that Charamut’s description was correct and that the description would be in the study. Charamut asked Mr. Ericson how the threshold for “flood skimming” would be established and about studying its potential effect on downstream wells, and asked if the pumping to the reservoir would include only flood-skimming or would also include volumes allowed by the water department’s diversion registration. Mr. Ericson said that both would be looked at, with the goal of developing optimal scenarios. In response to another question from Charamut, he said the study would extend to minimum releases at Copper Mine Brook and to raw-water and treated-water interconnections with the Metropolitan District Commission’s (MDC) water supply. The minimum-flow analysis would focus on White Bridge Pond Station and Copper Mine Brook. Hilding asked if climate change and its effects on evaporative losses will be considered. Mr. Ericson answered yes; DEEP’s minimum stream flows for the Connecticut River Basin are being used to which anticipated climate change impacts will be added. Charamut pointed out that there is no stream gauge on the Copper Mine Brook and asked from where the stream flow data is derived. Mr. Ericson said that Burlington Brook data has been used to model Copper Mine, such as in 2002, plus there are historical records.

Chair Merrow suggested that the best approach to the next phase of discussion would be to discuss each point from Wagener’s October 5, 2016 memo that summarized the Council members’ comments and as well as comments received from the public at the September 21, 2016 Council meeting and subsequently in writing. The Council asked Mr. Ericson to respond to each point. Regarding the need for specialized expertise, Mr. Ericson said that Tighe & Bond will be performing the water quality components of the study, and that they have added air and noise to the scope. He said that Environmental Planning Services will provide the landscape-scale analysis and will use GIS analysis to do so.

With regard to cultural analysis, Mr. Ericson said that the study will meet the archaeological survey requirements of the state’s stormwater general permit, and will do more extensive field analysis subsequently only if the preliminary analysis indicates a need to do so. Dunbar agreed with this approach. Brooks and Wagener discussed whether or not an archaeological analysis is beyond the scope of an environmental study.

With regard to water quantity, Mr. Ericson said that Leggette Brashears & Graham will provide an analysis of surface and ground water at the site now, during construction and upon conclusion of the project (50 years out) and will include neighboring properties in all three stages. Dunbar said there is dispute among experts over the proper methodology for such an analysis, so the method selected should be made clear.

Kolesinskas said that New Britain has much old housing stock and consequently likely to have leakages and inefficient plumbing fixtures. Mr. Ericson and Mr. Bligh said that New Britain is efficient by industry standards, with less than 15% of non-revenue water, which encompasses leaks and non-metered uses. The study will define how much is consumed, used for purposes other than consumption and how much is lost. Charamut said she would like to see a comparison of the cost of improved conservation and education to the cost of a new reservoir with its interconnections to other water supplies. Hilding supported the idea of improved education about water conservation and added that the analysis should include any losses that might occur due to the geology of the new quarry.

Mr. Ericson addressed concerns about water quality by saying Tighe & Bond will project water quality including after flood-skimming. Hilding elaborated on the potential for chemicals that might be used in, or be a byproduct of, mining to remain in the fractures and fissures in the rocks and, in the future, be released into the water in the reservoir. Mr. Ericson said the study will anticipate the potential effect of any chemicals used in mining.

All data used in the report will be included, not just the conclusions of the study.

Mr. Ericson said that an analysis of invertebrates will not be in the study, which will focus on reptiles, amphibians and birds. There will be a breeding-bird survey. There was discussion of the potential need to study bat habitat, pursuant to new regulatory requirements. Mr. Ericson said the consultants will also be able to address the suggestions submitted by Mr. William Moorhead, including those pertaining uncommon plant species, dry subacidic forest, and mapping of critical habitats and communities of high biodiversity significance.

With regard to effects on the water table, Mr. Ericson said that Tighe and Bond will be studying it, including consideration of the possible effects of climate change in its analysis.

Hilding reiterated the need to study the integrity of the rock after blasting and mining with regard to its ability to hold water efficiently. Mr. Ericson said that the possible impacts of blasting on the rock structure’s ability to hold water and on Wassel Reservoir will be done by Tighe & Bond.

Hilding said that if work is performed at night the possible effects of light and heat on wildlife should be examined. Mr. Ericson said that to his knowledge, there is no night work at a quarry. Hilding also said that the effects of noise on nearby wildlife should be included.

The Council members discussed whether an analysis of potential alternative sources of stone elsewhere is appropriately within the scope of study as a “no build alternative.” Most thought not. The Council agreed that the suggestion for the Council to select and vet the water quality parameters was beyond the Council’s expertise. The Council did not see the need for a literature search for environmental analyses of quarry operations elsewhere, accepting that Tighe & Bond had ample local expertise in this regard. Mr. Ericson noted that New Britain had already submitted the qualifications of the consultants to the Council and they were found acceptable. The Council did not see a need for interim meetings to insure the scope of work is being followed, since the final product will answer that question.

Reiser asked if the expanded scope of work leaves sufficient funds to perform the study. Mr. Ericson answered that some of the work has shifted to the ecological aspects of the work and away from the engineering aspects. He said that it might be necessary for more funds for some analyses to be completed. He said it would be up to New Britain to determine if it wishes to fund a second public meeting about the project.

Chair Merrow also said there were some questions asked by the public today that need to be answered. She asked Mr. Ericson if the West Canal and other reservoirs will be included in the environmental study. Mr. Ericson said the entire system will be examined, including the project’s impact on drinking water. He said that now water is transferred to the Shuttle Meadow Reservoir and that only surplus water would be used to fill a new reservoir; currently, the reservoir overflows during periods of ample rain. Mr. Gil Bligh of the New Britain Water Department, speaking from the audience, concurred.

Hilding said that at the last Council meeting Mr. Vidich had stated his belief that more than one public meeting should be held about the project. Brooks said that because this is a geographically-localized project, not a statewide program, multiple public meetings would be exceptional. Chair Merrow said that Mr. Ericson might not be able to respond to the number of meetings that will be held.

Chair Merrow asked for a motion to summarize the Council’s deliberations and actions. Charamut made a motion to state that

the minutes of the meeting, including the on-the-record commitments made by Mr. Ericson, shall be sent to the Water Planning Council and any other interested parties, that the Council will follow the process, and that the next action by the Council will be to review the final report upon its completion.

Dunbar seconded the motion which was approved unanimously.

Some members of the audience asked for the opportunity to add to the discussion.

Justine Beach of New Britain said she was happy to see the improved scope of work that has resulted from the Council’s intervention, emphasizing the need to examine the property for endangered species. She recommended the “point count with distance” as the best method to conduct the bird survey on the site, a method used widely by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. She said the study should include a bat survey.

Dr. Dinep, commenting on members’ discussion of the need for public hearings, said that this issue should be viewed as an issue of statewide importance rather than a local issue, since if a quarry operation can be conducted on watershed lands, virtually anything can be.

Mr. Ostapchuk urged that the scope of work include invertebrate life, which are key to the ecosystem.

Chair Merrow thanked everyone who presented information.

Review of State Agency Actions

a. Comprehensive Open Space Acquisition Strategy (Green Plan)

Chair Merrow invited Graham Stevens and Jamie Sydoriak of DEEP to take the floor. Mr. Stevens introduced himself as Director of DEEP’s Land Acquisition and Management Unit, which is required by law to consult with the Council in the creation of the Green Plan. He said Ms. Sydoriak spent a good portion of the last two years revising the Green Plan. He suggested a paragraph-by-paragraph review of his office’s response to the Council’s May 3, 2016 comments on the revised draft plan. Prior to the meeting, Wagener had distributed a copy of those comments with notes on where the draft plan had been amended in response to those comments. Mr. Stevens began by saying that his office is focusing next on a five-year operational plan to implement the bigger Green Plan.

Mr. Stevens said that the figures on the preserved land in state hands is accurate. He acknowledged that land protected by DEEP’s partners in conservation is not accurate, but maintained that the estimate in the Green Plan is the best estimate available and will remain until there is a more accurate census. He agreed that Connecticut’s aging population elevate the urgency to act on preservation of farmland, forest and open space, concurring with Kolesinskas that education of landowners regarding preservation opportunities would be of value. With regard to the Council’s suggestion that DEEP develop a process by which other agencies identify and protect their lands of high conservation value, he said that DEEP will be working on identifying such lands, but of course cannot force other state agencies to “surplus” their lands. He said DEEP will follow the statute and come up with a plan to define those lands of high conservation value. Hilding asked what factors constitute high conservation value. Mr. Stevens said that often it is the proximity of other preserved properties. He said that large parcels get more attention, but small parcels important to a plan get high consideration too. Dunbar said that environmental value of a property is not necessarily inherent; it can be increased by habitat management. Mr. Stevens agreed.

Hilding noted that Connecticut is disadvantaged in seeking funding from federal entities because it doesn’t have vast tracts to be preserved. Mr. Stevens agreed, saying that large public and private preservation efforts are often aimed at the west, where land is cheaper and more abundant. Nevertheless, Connecticut did succeed in securing a grant for The Preserve last year, as well as others. Kolesinskas said that Connecticut’s location between Boston and New York makes development pressures more acute and the need for preservation more urgent.

As for DEEP’s incentivizing solar development on open space lands, he said he has spoken to the energy side of the agency and there is agreement that brownfield solar needs to be incentivized. He agreed that more also can be done to utilize former brownfield sites as wildlife habitat or green infrastructure, to filter polluted stormwater.

Hilding asked about the priority given former reservoirs for preservation. Mr. Stevens said that there is a need to catalogue them, since many are unknown. If they exist because of dams they create a special liability and are unlikely to be acquired without detailed analysis.

As for the Council’s suggestion that, in some cases, land with restrictions on public access could be preserved with public funds, Mr. Stevens said that current law does not allow for that and the agency does not anticipate a change. Kolesinskas offered several arguments as to why preservation of land without access could be appropriate; such lands often provide other public benefits through ecosystem services, which are often underappreciated, and access can lead to invasive species which harm the resources for which the land was to be protected.

Mr. Stevens addressed the Councils’ recommendation that DEEP confer with the Recreation and Natural Heritage, Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Review Board about the optimal cost-sharing formulas; Mr. Stevens said he does. With regard to stewardship and management, he noted that potential grant recipients must demonstrate the capacity to manage the land.

Dunbar noted that there were many public comments urging DEEP to provide access to ATV users. Mr. Stevens said that DEEP is required to look for ATV appropriate land, but has not identified any. A discussion followed on the history of the controversy over ATVs on state lands.

Wagener noted that the Plan often said DEEP should take some specified action, and suggested that because it was DEEP’s plan it could instead say what DEEP will do.

Wagener noted that the Council agreed at its September meeting that archaeological features, including stone structures, should be acknowledged in the Green Plan. Mr. Stevens agreed, and noted that he also was in charge of Indian Affairs for DEEP.

Wagener asked if the Council agreed that DEEP had fulfilled its statutory obligation to consult with the Council on the Green Plan; members agreed. Mr. Stevens said that though this obligation has been met, he is willing to keep the dialogue open over the next five years. Chair Merrow thanked Mr. Stevens and Ms. Sydoriak for their presentation and work.

b. State energy policies that lead to loss of agricultural Lands and forest

Wagener said that he and Hearn had met with Tim Sullivan, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, to discuss the possibility of increasing incentives to locate solar farms on brownfields. He said that the Deputy Commissioner was receptive, with no specific proposals discussed. Moe information on this topic would be presented at the November 16 meeting.

There being no other business, Dunbar made a motion to adjourn, which was seconded by Charamut and approved unanimously. The meeting adjourned at 12:28 PM.