Minutes of May 24, 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), Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall (by phone), Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Matt Reiser, Charles Vidich, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

At 9:35 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum. Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the agenda as published. This was offered by Dunbar with Vidich seconding. The motion was approved unanimously.

Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the minutes of April 26, 2017. Wagener said Hilding had noticed a typo in the last paragraph of the minutes and communicated it to staff, who had made the correction. Dunbar made a motion to approve the corrected minutes, which was seconded by Kolesinskas and approved by all voting. Hall abstained, having been absent at that meeting.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow began by saying that she wished to restate her appreciation, which she had noted at prior meetings, for all the support from numerous individuals and organizations across the state for the continuation of the Council in the next fiscal year’s budget.

She asked if a change in the date of the Council’s next scheduled meeting from June 28 to June 21 would be acceptable to the Council members. All present were receptive to the change, and it was agreed that the new June meeting date would be June 21.

Citizen Comment

Attorney Paul Zagorsky of New Britain asked to speak about the ongoing environmental study by Lenard Engineering (LEI) of the New Britain reservoir property. He is concerned that LEI’s monthly progress reports indicate that many elements of the environmental analysis had not been completed, and the window for much of the analysis of categories such as vernal pools and breeding birds is closing rapidly. He reported that the state Water Planning Council (WPC) expressed some concerns about the environmental elements of the study and asked LEI to bring its environmental consultants when it reports next to the WPC. Vidich asked if there is a deadline for the report. Mr. Zagorsky said there is no statutory date for its conclusion. There was discussion of the potential consequences of an incomplete study.

Dunbar said it would be helpful to know how much of each task completed was field work vs. desk work, since it is the field portion for which the window is closing. Mr. Zagorsky noted that the final report must provide the data, such as dates of field surveys, to back up its conclusions. Members directed staff to place this item on the June agenda and to invite representatives of the consultant.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener began with a report on the budget proposals being debated at the legislature. He echoed Chair Merrow’s statement that many conservation groups have been urging legislators to not eliminate the Council’s appropriation. Chair Merrow asked him if he has a sense of how and when the decision-making process will proceed. Wagener reported what he had gleaned from news reports, and asked notable lobbyist TJ Casey, who was in the audience, if he might share his insights into the likely process; Mr. Casey advised everyone to prepare for a long summer.

Wagener updated the Council on the status of some non-budgetary bills, including the resolution regarding the constitutional amendment to protect state conservation lands, solar siting, and the bottle bill. Chair Merrow said the proponents of the current bottle law made an excellent case as to why the deposit requirement is a better financial alternative than others that were proposed.

Wagener said that he has notified municipal planners and chief elected officials of the annual report’s publication. He said he received an excellent letter from a high school student who questioned why invasive species were not discussed at length in the Council’s annual report. He said he replied to the student that, although the problem is very serious, there is insufficient data to include a numerical indicator in the report at this time.

Wagener showed two slides to update the current annual report. One was of gasoline consumed per capita. He said that in answering an inquiry from a reporter, staff discovered an error in the Federal Highway Administration figures for 2014. FHWA agreed there is a published error, though has not yet corrected it online. The new chart corrects for this error. The revised chart does not change the conclusion that Connecticut drivers have been using more gasoline per capita since 2013, but it shows that the trend changed in 2014, not in 2015 as previously stated. Discussion followed on the greenhouse gas emission goals for 2050 and what is needed to achieve them. 

The other chart was of forest bird populations in Connecticut. The 2016 data just became available and showed an alarming decline in both mature forest birds and young forest species. He said the data points are rolling averages and do not show the actual 2016 levels, which are the lowest in decades. Discussion followed on possible causes, including climate change, habitat fragmentation and the use of pesticides that kill caterpillars, which most songbirds feed to their young. Members concurred that the update showing the decline in bird populations warrants a news release that would tie the evidence and possible causes together.

Dunbar said measures of environmental infrastructure should be considered for next year’s annual report. He suggested disruptions of public water supply, sewer overflows and spills, and coastal flooding frequency as environmental indicators to be examined. Wagener said staff has begun looking at one of those and, depending on the results, could add it, and others, next year.

Wagener said that the picture of the Saltmarsh Sparrow that was up on the “welcome” slide at the beginning of the meeting was there to underscore the fact that the annual report also has been updated with a link to a 2016 report that predicts the species’ extinction before 2050. Dunbar said the inclusion of additional data on birds dependent on tidal marshes in the annual report would be a useful addition.

Review of State Agency Actions

Wagener said staff reviewed the Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) for the railroad station in Orange and did not recommend any comments.

He said staff responded to the Office of Policy and Management's (OPM) request for input on the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Mansfield Sewer Project. He said that in his response that, based on prior Council discussion, the Council did not concur with the ROD’s conclusions regarding indirect impacts and the boundaries of the sewer service area.

Staff also responded to OPM’s request for input on the ROD regarding the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) EIE for the parking garage at Union Station in New Haven. He said that staff noted the decision to not incorporate design features that would enhance pedestrian traffic and public transportation, but the DOT did respond to all the comments submitted during the review process.

Members asked for copies of the RODs and staff correspondence regarding both.

Wagener said that there are independent state authorities whose projects are not subject to the requirements of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA), unless there is a significant state financial expenditure. One such authority, the Connecticut Airport Authority, has submitted projects to the Council for publication in the Environmental Monitor. He said this is beneficial to the extent it improves public notice, but he is concerned that it could create an expectation on the part of the public that the project will go through a complete CEPA review when it might not. He said he is looking for suggestions on how the Council wishes to deal with this. Consensus was that those submissions should be included in the Environmental Monitor, but in a special category of submission. Hilding related this to the question or whether the proposed privatization of federal bridge and highway projects would circumvent environmental reviews.

Wagener said that the Siting Council solicited the Council’s recommendations regarding cell towers in Bridgeport and Easton. Neither appeared to create severe scenic impairment or environmental disruption. No comments were recommended.

Wagener noted that the Siting Council denied a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need for a proposed natural gas powered electricity generation facility in Killingly. He said that because ISO New England rejected the company’s bid to sell its electricity to the regional grid, the Siting Council determined there is not a public need for the project, and made no determination on the environmental impacts.

Citizen Complaints

Hearn said the Middletown company that received a Notice of Violation (NOV) from DEEP regarding stream diversion had responded that it was not conducting the activity described in the NOV and that DEEP has closed the NOV. He said staff would monitor the situation for changes in the status of the complaint. A municipal order is still unresolved.

There being no further business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn. Dunbar made a motion to adjourn which was seconded by Vidich and approved unanimously. The meeting was adjourned at 11:12 AM.