Minutes of the July 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, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Charles Vidich, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Jeff Hannan (Intern).

At 9:35 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum. She asked if there are any suggestions or additions to the agenda. There were none. Hall made a motion to approve the agenda as posted. The motion was seconded by Dunbar and approved by all present.

Chair Merrow asked if there are any modifications to the minutes of the June 21, 2017 meeting. Brooks made a motion to approve, which was seconded by Vidich. The motion was approved by all present.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow began by saying that this meeting would be the last to be attended by Jeff Hannan, the Council’s summer intern. She thanked him for the excellent work he had done for the Council, and wished him a good return to school.

Citizens’ Comments

Margaret Miner, Executive Director of the Rivers Alliance, spoke about a proposal to treat Tyler Lake in Goshen with herbicides. She said the proposal was being challenged by users of Woodridge Lake, which is downstream of Tyler Lake and receives 70 percent of its water from Tyler Lake. She reported that the Woodbridge Lake opponents had successfully challenged a similar proposal in the past. Consultants have been hired by both sides.

Ms. Miner expressed concern that similar controversies will appear elsewhere, noting that there is already one at Bantam Lake. She said it points to a shortcoming in the pesticide permit process, since the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) lacks the resources to establish the veracity of claims made on applications to apply aquatic pesticides, one of the points at issue in the Tyler Lake situation.

Ms. Miner said that the issue has many facets. Because Tyler Lake eventually leads to a public water supply, the Memorandum of Understanding between DEEP and the Department of Public Health (DPH) pertains. Brooks said the authority of the wetlands law is sufficient and that DEEP’s claims that a local wetlands commission cannot deny a permit is not rooted in state law. Dunbar asked on what basis and with what expertise would a local wetlands commission deny a permit that had been approved by DEEP? Chair Merrow said that this is complex and deserving of attention in the Council’s report on pesticides, on which staff is working.

Wagener asked Ms. Miner about the extent of public participation in the Tyler lake controversy. She responded that they have been in touch with DEEP and a decision is on hold until both consultant’s reports have been reviewed. Brooks pointed out that the permit process does not involve a public hearing from which an appeal can be made to the courts. This is a procedural difference from how it could be handled if the decision were being made by a wetlands commission. Brooks offered to discuss this point with staff as they worked on the report.

Hilding arrived at this point.

Susan Masino of Simsbury spoke next. A Connecticut State Grange member, she distributed copies of the 2017 brochure for agricultural fairs. She had three policies to discuss: First, she said that the expansion of solar electric generation facilities into forests and farmlands is problematic since it is not good land use policy and the proponents who present it as a temporary land use that can return to farms in the future are misleading the public. Hilding said that electric demand needs to be reduced state wide. Ms. Masino agreed and said that the best alternatives are solar thermal and geothermal combined with better building codes. Wagener mentioned that Representative Hampton of Simsbury had invited the Council to participate in a meeting in Simsbury to discuss the issue of energy sprawl. He said when a date is set he will inform interested Council members. Ms. Masino said that solar facilities could be improved if there were mandatory requirements for pollinator habitat and invasive species control, and displacement of Phragmites would be beneficial.

Second, Ms. Masino said that the state has no designated old-growth forests and asked if state forestry policies and practices could be modified to reduce forest management where it is not necessary. Her questions were prompted in part by management activities on Massacoe State Forest. Kolesinskas said that there is a statewide forest management plan and also forest-specific plans which should govern state forestry practices. He said that much of the cutting that goes on in state forests is to maintain forest health and that often there is more fear of forest harvesting than is warranted. Ms. Masino said that the Simsbury-owned Belden Forest is on the way to becoming old growth and she hopes to get designation for it as such. She is now the volunteer coordinator for the Old Growth Forest Network for Hartford County, which at this time lacks any old-growth forests.

Finally, she asked what the status was of the Council in the state budget impasse. Wagener said that would be the next topic of discussion.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener described the current budget situation, and the status of the Council in the various budget proposals.

Wagener said the information packet sent to the Council before the meeting included two documents relating to the New Britain watershed environmental study: the consultant’s update to New Britain and a letter from Paul Zagorsky, the attorney who had spoken to the Council at previous meetings. Mr. Zagorsky made the point in his letter that the report, to be truly independent, should not be sent to the City of New Britain for review and editing prior to release. Ms. Paula Clarke of Gaffney Bennett and Associates, speaking from the audience, said the City of New Britain had decided to release the draft report to the Water Planning Council and the Council on Environmental Quality simultaneous with its receipt of it, and is drafting a letter to that effect. Hilding asked if there are any interim updates. Ms. Clarke said that those are already being sent to the Council. Dunbar made the point the Council’s job is to evaluate the thoroughness of the report and not weigh in on legal issues surrounding it. Vidich agreed. Ms. Miner said the study would have been more independent if had been conducted by a different organization, such as the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering. She said there had been questions asked at the Water Planning Council about the timing of the wildlife surveys. She said one unanswered question is how much water storage capacity would be lost by excavating the existing watershed versus what would be created in a new reservoir.

Wagener announced that the Council’s June update to the Annual Report resulted in considerable media coverage. Much of the coverage focused on the decline in the state’s bat populations. He said the National Audubon Society referenced the Council’s update to the woodland birds chart in an online article.

Wagener noted that the Council’s website is having a problem currently that is preventing viewing of the charts except in Chrome, and the problem is placing his sanity at risk.

Wagener mentioned the status of potential future agenda items. He said that the comment deadline for the Environmental Impact Evaluation for Seaside State Park had been extended until after the August meeting. He said the State Water Plan Draft Final Report had been released for public comment, which will be accepted until November 20. Mr. Bruce Wittchen of the Office of Policy and Management spoke from the audience to say that the Water Planning Council is planning for public information by creating a standard presentation with add-on modules for specific concerns; they expect to have that complete in early August. Ms. Miner said the Connecticut Fund for the Environment and the Rivers Alliance have been collaborating on a website about it. Members agreed that it should be on the agenda of a future meeting, as should the draft Conservation and Development Policies Plan which has a comment period expiring on October 16.

Discussion of updated compliance data (focus on pesticides)

Using PowerPoint, Wagener provided the Council with an overview of the responsibilities of the Pesticide Management Division of DEEP and the number of regulated people and products. He explained that actual trends in pesticide use could not be obtained because the required records are stored in file cabinets and could not be analyzed with available resources. Dunbar said that regulated companies dislike it when they must submit detailed records that are never reviewed. Wagener noted that similar records in states such as Minnesota are digitized and can be reviewed and searched online. With no hope for pesticide trend data, staff resumed its analysis of compliance.

Wagner asked Hannan to explain the charts showing compliance data.

Brooks remarked on the small number of orders that are being issued, noting that far more were issued, consuming much of her office’s time, when she worked in the Attorney General’s office. Hannan showed the reductions in notices of violations and orders as staffing levels shrunk. Dunbar suggested a chart showing enforcement actions per staff member over time. Brooks said the average annual penalty revenue of $30,000 over the last six years is very low; she recalled when more than a million dollars were received. Wagener described supplementary environmental projects (SEPs) which violators can fund in addition to penalties. Unlike penalties, which go into the state’s general fund, SEPs can be dedicated to environmental projects.

Brooks said that the issue is a serious one, and that in the 1980s the largest contributing factor to drinking water contamination was pesticides. Hilding asked if DEEP is in compliance with federal requirements or guidelines associated with federal funding. Wagener said that DEEP missed its targets last year by a large percentage, as reported in the Council’s annual report. Dunbar said that missing those goals does not necessarily result in reduced federal funding, and probably DEEP would state that federal dollars had been used for the highest priorities. Hilding observed that disposal of household pesticides could be an issue of concern. Brooks noted that if inspections are being driven by complaints, the categories where 40% of inspections result in violations may magnify the magnitude of the problem. Staff confirmed that many inspections were prompted by complaints. There were questions about the certification requirements for state and town agencies that apply pesticides.

Dunbar said that when this inquiry was initiated it was about how staff reductions were adversely affecting compliance actions within the pesticide division. He cautioned against broadening it to an inquiry into pesticides and pesticide use.

Wagener asked Hearn to review the report’s draft recommendations. In response to a question from Chair Merrow, Wagener said a revised draft can be expected in August. Wagener said that staff is making the assumption each regulation has a purpose and that a violation puts the environment or public health at risk.

Discussion of climate change data in annual report

Chair Merrow observed that when the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Agreement, Governor Malloy said the state would adhere to the agreement along with other states; Merrow further noted that the Council’s annual report is a good source for metrics to measure how well the state is doing with regard to climate changes. With that in mind, Wagener presented a list of climate-related indicators and new symbols to identify whether they tracked effects, emissions or mitigation. The Council agreed by consensus to introduce the new information and formatting into next year’s report, and to issue a news release to inform the public that the public can consult for the report for information on climate change effects in Connecticut. Kolesinskas suggested adding “adaptation” to the mitigation category; members concurred.

Hall left at this point.

Review of State Agency Actions

Franklin Sanitary Sewer and Water Main Extension, Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) – Wagener referred the Council to the draft comments he had prepared for this EIE, which had been distributed prior to the meeting. Hilding noted that the deficiencies in the EIE were similar to the ones in the Mansfield Four Corners EIE and urged the Council to take action on this disturbing pattern. Wagener showed a map of the proposed sewer service area which included lakes, streams and forests; he questioned how the EIE could state there would be no fish and wildlife impacts unless it were limiting its analysis to only the actual utility trench or only referring to listed species. Many commented that the project appears to be an economic development project since the EIE reports there were no documented septic failures in the town. Kolesinskas suggested that economic development in Franklin should be agricultural development.

Brooks said she would send some minor editing changes to Wagener for consideration before the letter is sent; Wagener said that Hall had made one editorial suggestion before she left. Hilding repeated her assertion that the issue is bigger than one town and the point needs to be made that this lack of analysis is unacceptable. It even lacked a cost-benefit analysis. Wagener suggested that the Council’s comments could be sent to the Commissioner of Agriculture and to the Office of Policy and Management as well; members agreed to do so. Hilding made a motion to approve the comments with the changes made during discussion; Vidich seconded the motion and all approved.

Brooks left at this point.

Siting Council solicitations – Wagener said staff was not proposing comments for the proposed solar energy facilities in New Milford, Simsbury, Canterbury and Brooklyn. He said the Council’s comments had been given voice in its special report on Energy Sprawl, and the staff did not have any information specific to the sites. In addition, all three petitions projects had been submitted to the Siting Council prior to July 1, which he understood meant that they would be considered under the old requirements of the law, not the law as amended by P.A. 17-218. Dunbar inquired as to whether the Council would comment if the new law were in effect, and suggested that if the answer was affirmative then perhaps the Council should comment on the substantive aspects of the petitions regardless of their legal standing. Members thought there was merit in the suggestion. By consensus, it was agreed that Wagener should submit comments to the Siting Council to 1) recommend that the Siting Council apply the environmental evaluation information included in the petitions, and) notify the Siting Council that the CEQ might submit additional comments after the August 23 CEQ meeting.

Meeting Times, Other Business

Chair Merrow said that at the June meeting a request had been made to have a later start for Council meeting. Brief discussion followed, and it was agreed to take the matter up at a future meeting with all members present. There being no further business Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. Dunbar made the motion, which was seconded by Vidich and approved unanimously. The meeting adjourned at 12:38 PM.