Minutes of the February 22, 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, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Matt Reiser, Charles Vidich (by phone), Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

At 9:33 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum. She asked for approval to add an item to the agenda – discussion of the memo on energy sprawl that Wagener had emailed prior to the meeting. Kolesinskas made a motion to add it to the agenda, which was seconded by Brooks and approved by all.

Chair Merrow asked if there were any revisions to the minutes of January 25, 2017. Hilding said there was a typo that should be changed. Charamut made a motion to approve that was seconded by Brooks and approved unanimously.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow said she wished to acknowledge the oral and written support that has come from organizations and individuals opposed to the elimination of the Council. She said she has noted the many groups that have been publicizing the proposed elimination of the Council and have kept the item on their “watch lists” of environmental legislation and she is grateful for their strong support.

Charamut said thanks is also due to Chair Merrow for the excellent testimony she delivered at the Appropriations Committee in defense of the Council. Hilding agreed. Dunbar said the testimony was excellent and concisely explained the services provided by the Council.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener said the Council’s report on energy sprawl was sent to the Governor and to legislators. He said he testified on related bills to the Committee on Energy and Technology. The bills were discussed, and Wagener said he expects to see more on the subject. He said there has been considerable reaction to the report. It was a major topic at the recent meeting of the Working Lands Alliance, where he was invited to speak. There were a number of articles in newspapers, including a long article in the Connecticut Mirror yesterday. He said that article repeated a concern that he had been hearing frequently: it should not be more difficult to site a solar farm than to build houses or a commercial structure on farmland. Wagener had drafted a response and circulated to the Council in advance of the meeting. He said the erroneous presumption behind this concern is that locating a solar field on a farm precludes another type of development from locating on farmland. He said that construction of a solar facility at a given location only shifts the other development project to another farm field or forest; it does not eliminate the demand for the other project. Kolesinskas agreed saying it is not an either/or choice. He added that Connecticut, being the fourth most densely populated state, needs to be more thoughtful about where it locates commercial developments as well; Wagener said that point can be reinforced in the memo. Vidich added that it should be made clear to the reader that the Council’s recommendations apply only to utility-scale solar, not to residential solar. Merrow said that the consensus of the Council is that the drafted response should be retained as a staff memo to be used as needed, with the additions that were discussed. All agreed.

Wagener reiterated that he and Merrow appeared before the Appropriations Committee on Friday. He clarified that the Governor’s implementer bill proposed the entire elimination of the Council; this had not been proposed since 2004 when it was advanced by then-Governor John Rowland. He said more recent proposals had called for merging the Council with another agency, usually without funding. Wagener said it was clear at the hearing that the committee members had read the testimony and the appendices, as they asked many questions about some of the Council’s reports.

Dunbar asked about the budgeting process, specifically if his belief is correct that the budget is re-drafted by the Appropriations Committee and then sent on to the full legislature. Chair Merrow confirmed that this is the case. Wagener said the deadline for the Appropriations Committee to report out a budget is April 27. He said an intervening step is likely to be an invitation to appear before a subcommittee to discuss the budget. Charamut said it is the budget implementer bill that would actually eliminate the Council. Hall expressed her bemusement that the Council’s tiny budget is so often a target. Chair Merrow said that it represents .00001 of the general fund. Dunbar said that the state benefits from the formidable expertise of the nine Council members who offer their service for free. Extensive discussion followed on the topic, with Chair Merrow expressing the belief that in a time when objective facts and data is more important than ever the information that the Council provides to decision makers is very valuable.

Wagener said that the resolution concerning a proposed constitutional amendment to protect state lands from being conveyed without a hearing and other safeguards has not had a hearing as yet. Wagener said it will go to the Committee on Government Administration and Elections. Wagener noted that the resolution has had bipartisan support, and that every committee has three co-chairs this year, a Republican senator, a Democratic senator and a one from the House.

Citizen Complaints

Torrington Water Company and Sewer Line Wagener said he had begun to investigate the complaint that had been received at the last meeting regarding the proposal to construct a sewer line from Goshen to Torrington that would cross a stream that feeds a drinking water reservoir of the Torrington Water Company. He said that contrary to what had been understood at the meeting, the line had been approved by the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agencies of both towns. The project is not state funded, so an environmental impact evaluation (EIE) is not required. The Department of Public Health (DPH) might have some jurisdiction under its authority to regulate what occurs on Class I and Class II reservoir lands and DPH is looking into that. Given the facts of the situation, Wagener said he was struggling to see a role for the Council in the matter. Hilding mentioned that it had been on the agenda of the Water Planning Council (WPC) Advisory Group; Wagener said that it had been discussed by the WPC Watershed Protection Group, though he did not know what jurisdiction the WPC might have. Dunbar asked whether the fact that DEEP approved the sewer area plan for the Torrington sewer plant would give it a say in this extension of the sewer area. Charamut said that at the Water Planning Council’s workshop for the state Water Plan there was discussion of restoring the former state prohibition on sewer lines crossing drinking water watersheds. Wagener said he would continue to look into the matter.

Review of State Agency Actions

New Commuter Rail Station, Bridgeport – Wagener said that staff had reviewed the Environmental Impact Evaluation for this project and did not recommend any comments.

Letter from the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) the Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) Projects are not subject to the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) – Wagener said that enabling legislation of authorities, including the CAA, declare that they are not state agencies, which in turn means they are not subject to CEPA. The CAA has been posting notices of EIEs in the Environmental Monitor. When the CAA submitted a recent record of decision (ROD) to OPM for approval, OPM responded that CAA is not subject to CEPA, therefore OPM has no role in approving the ROD. Wagener said the CAA is still subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for projects initiated or funded under the auspices of the federal government.

Wagener announced that the new hazardous waste facility at the University of Connecticut (UConn) has opened. The Council had some historical involvement with the facility; having visited the old location in the watershed of the Fenton River. The new one is not in a public water supply watershed. He noted that the relocation effort was directed by Richard Miller, a former member of the Council.

Wagener reported that DEEP’s land conservation strategy, the Green Plan, is now official and posted on its website.

Discussion of Annual Report Topics

Wagener said that the Council could expect a draft of the annual report for discussion at the March meeting, with publication expected in April. He showed the charts and data trends for the data that had been received thus far. He said that no unifying theme among the indicators is apparent and welcomed suggestions. He proceeded to go through the charts that had been updated. Council members suggested a change in the indicator for rivers affected by sewage. There was detailed discussion about the methodology behind the statistic for swimmable streams. Many suggestions were made for a unifying theme. Wagener said staff would incorporate the suggestions and send out a draft to the members before the next meeting.

There being no further business Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn, which was made by Hilding and seconded by Dunbar. The meeting was adjourned at 11:58.