Minutes of April 26, 2017 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, Charles Vidich (by phone), Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

At 9:37 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum and the traffic problems that caused delays for members. Chair Merrow asked if there were any suggestions for changes to the agenda. Since there were none she asked for a motion to approve the agenda as published. This was offered by Dunbar with Charamut seconding. The motion was approved.

Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the minutes of March 22, 2017. Hilding made a motion to approve that was seconded by Dunbar and approved by all voting. Reiser and Kolesinskas abstained since they had not been present at the meeting. Brooks did not vote because her arrival had been delayed.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow reported on the press conference that accompanied the release of the Council’s annual report. It was held in a conference room at the Legislative Office Building. Representative Mike Demicco had kindly arranged for the event and hosted it. It was followed by a separate press event by Representative Demicco and many of the state’s most prominent environmental groups to support environmental policies, including protection of the Council from budget cuts. She said both events were well attended by press and public and that some very good and challenging questions were raised by reporters.

Citizen Comment

Susan Masino of Simsbury said she wished to report on the April 17 Forest Forum held in Simsbury. The conference was organized to help the town as it shifted its focus from land acquisition to land management. It was attended by representative of many area towns and statewide organizations. Dr. Edward Faison, Senior Ecologist from Highstead, presented his perspectives on management for the short-term, mid-term and long-term. She reported that an important insight was that invasive species need only be eliminated when they become disruptive or pose a problem to habitat; he said that doing nothing can be a valid stewardship strategy (though not, Dr. Masino assured the Council, to be applied to the dreaded Phragmites). It might be more beneficial to focus management on native rare and endangered species that depend on habitat in this area. She said she hopes to see some of these insights included in the town’s open space management plan.

Dunbar asked if the focus on management rather than acquisition was due to an inability to manage what they have. She said no. It is because the town had achieved its acquisition goal of thirty percent. Kolesinskas noted that Highstead has been very effective in encouraging regional conservation partnerships.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener said the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee prepared a budget that included the Council, fully funded, for the next two years. The committee adjourned without voting on the budget. He said the funding for fiscal year 2018 was to come from the general fund and for 2019 from a yet-to-be-passed license plate annual renewal fee of $5 that would also allow the plate owner free access to state park parking lots. Revenues would support the parks as well as trout hatcheries, pheasant stocking, soil and water conservation districts and environmental review teams, in addition to the Council.

Wagener reported that many state employees are expected to receive lay-off notices in May, but that there is no agency-specific information at this time. Hilding made a motion that, in the event the Council’s staff is affected, that the Chair and Executive Director be authorized to investigate and pursue all steps available to preserve employment for the staff; Charamut seconded the motion and all voted in favor.

Turning to non-fiscal legislative matters, Wagener said two bills dealing with siting of solar facilities had been reported favorably by the Environment Committee, and described the bills. Wagener said that conflicting bills had been adopted by the Environment Committee regarding the bottle deposit law. One would increase the handling fee for redeemable bottles; the second would repeal the existing bottle law and replace it with a four cent fee on all bottles until 2025 when it would sunset. Discussion followed on the pros and cons of each proposal. The Council agreed that the General Assembly should not repeal the bottle law until the evidence is researched thoroughly. Wagener said the resolution pertaining to a constitutional amendment to protect state lands remains on the Senate calendar.

Wagener distributed the most recent update by the City of New Britain and Lenard Engineering on the work being done with regard to the proposed New Britain reservoir.

Updates on the Annual Report Publication and Distribution

Wagener said that there was a flurry of last minute data for indicators that were incomplete when the Council met last. These included petroleum consumption, fish, lobster, nitrogen discharges, recycling and compliance. He summarized the latest information for those indicators and used PowerPoint to illustrate some. Discussion followed.

Hilding suggested a wording change in the report’s summary letter. She encouraged distributing the report to municipal officials throughout the state. Reiser suggested that the NEMO and MS4 permit lists might be available.

Review of State Agency Actions

Wagener said the only Environmental Impact Evaluation under review by staff is for the renovation of the State Office Building. He said the lead agency implemented an obscure provision of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act regulations that allows work to begin on components that will have no environmental impact. Staff had reviewed the EIE and did not recommend any comments.

Wagener reported that, in response to the Council’s request at its March 22 meeting that staff follow up with DEEP on the letter that the Council had sent to DEEP in September regarding the agency’s statutory responsibilities to protect archaeological and sacred sites on its lands, he had written to Commissioner Klee in the previous week. While there has been no response to the Council’s letter, he understood that DEEP is working on one. He said that the issue continued to get attention. Wagener passed around a book, Ceremonial Stonework: The Enduring Native American Presence on the Land, that had been sent to the Council by the Nipmuc Indian Association of Connecticut and that arrived the day before. Members were impressed by the photography and rich information in the book, and asked the Chair and Executive Director to thank the Association. Members and staff would read it individually. Wagener noted the important role of Doug Schwartz, who had been twice a guest of the Council in 2016, in the production of the book.

Also on the topic of the state’s role in preserving archaeological sites, Wagener asked Hearn to summarize recent correspondence between the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and the Connecticut Siting Council (CSC). The SHPO had expressed concern to the CSC regarding plans by Eversource to replace a number of transmission towers statewide. SHPO cited examples of Eversource projects that had negative consequences and expressed concern that similar actions could damage or detract from historical or archaeological assets. The CSC responded that the examples cited were not under CSC auspices but were under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Citizen Complaints

Wagener said that a complaint had been received from Westport regarding bridge reconstruction on I-95 over the Saugatuck River. The concern is that drainage from the bridge surface will go directly into the river, untreated. He said that the person who brought this to the Council’s attention suggested that there should be a state policy on this rather than decisions made case-by-case. The Council thought the issue to be worthy of further inquiry.

Other Business

Kolesinskas said that he spoke in March at the National Association of Conservation Districts Northeast Leadership Meeting on the topic of solar arrays on farmland and forests, using the Council’s slides; he said there was considerable interest.

There being no further business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. Charamut made a motion to adjourn which was seconded by Dunbar and unanimously approved. The meeting was adjourned at 11:30 AM.