Minutes of the meeting of the April 25, 2018 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Russell Room on the third floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.

MEMBERS PRESENT: Susan Merrow (Chair), Janet Brooks, Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall (part of meeting, by phone), Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Matt Reiser, Charles Vidich (by phone)

ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Karl Wagener (Executive Director,) Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Blair Frantz (Intern), Paul MacGillis-Falcon (Intern)

At 9:35 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum and asked for a motion to approve the meeting’s agenda. Dunbar made the motion, which was seconded by Reiser and approved by all.

Chair Merrow asked if there were any modifications to the minutes of the March 28 meeting. There was none, and she asked for a motion to approve the minutes which was made by Kolesinskas, seconded by Reiser and approved unanimously.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow said the Council wished to acknowledge the very valuable work of the two interns, and noted that Paul MacGillis-Falcon would be finishing his internship before the next time the Council meets. The Council expressed its appreciation.

Chair Merrow asked that the Council consider a change of date for the June Council meeting from June 27 to June 20th. She said a decision on this request can be made at a later time.

Chair Merrow said the Council usually sets aside time at the start of its meetings for the public to bring forth concerns about issues that are not on the agenda. She said that because many in the audience had come to comment on the New Britain Quarry proposal, those comments will be welcome when that topic is taken up later in the meeting. She asked if anyone wished to speak about a topic not on the agenda; there was none.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener said the legislature still is considering different approaches to the “Passport to Parks” fund. One bill structure the fund as an appropriated fund, the other as a non-appropriated non-lapsing fund.

He said the Council’s statement on the public trust in natural resources had been submitted with testimony on the State Water Plan to the four committees of the General Assembly that held a joint hearing on the plan.

Wagener said that MacGillis-Falcon had continued to analyze DEEP enforcement data that related to the topic of a bill, still alive in the General Assembly, which would shield first-time environmental violators from penalties. Wagener said that the analysis reveals that very few first-time violators are penalized, and any such penalties are modest.

Wagener discussed the status of other bills discussed at previous meetings.

Wagener noted that 2018 has been declared the Year of the Bird by numerous organizations. This is the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, one of the nation’s most successful conservation laws, which is now being undermined in unprecedented ways by the current administration.

Review of the New Britain Watershed Environmental Study

Chair Merrow began by noting that the Council has no decision-making authority in the matter of the proposed quarry; it had been tasked with the responsibility of reviewing the environmental report prepared for the project. At this meeting, the Council would consider draft comments that would be discussed and made final at its May meeting. The comments would be submitted to the City of New Britain. In August, the Water Planning Council (WPC) would consult with the CEQ and submit recommendations to two legislative committees. The legislature will have the final say on the matter.

Chair Merrow called upon the members of the public who had signed up to speak. Paul Zagorsky of New Britain said the environmental study’s analysis of actual and potential safe yields neglected inclusion of the Patton Brook well, which had been leased to Southington until recently but no longer was. He said many comments, including those of the Connecticut Botanical Society, identified the site as having significant ecological significance, as does the Davison study that was part of the environmental study; he said the report does not reflect the significance of the habitat as observed by the biologist.

Ray Esponda, Acting Director of the New Britain Water Department, spoke next. He said that when he started in this position the city was facing a drought which was the worst in 50 years. The proposed reservoir will nearly double the city’s capacity and allow a reserve, as well, for Berlin, Kensington and Bristol. It also offers flood control benefits and support for streams that now run dry. Alternatives discussed, like Lamson Corner would have far greater adverse environmental consequences. Built into the plan is a provision for conserving 300 acres of land, now owned by Tilcon.

Charamut asked what is being done to reduce the non-revenue water loss, as a means of managing demand. Mr. Esponda said the city has not been able to track down any major leaks. Responding to a question from Charamut about water conservation education, he said that during the drought there was a public education effort with voluntary conservation, in conformance with the city’s drought management plan, which is now being improved. Kolesinskas noted the obvious tension inherent in having to fund conservation education out of revenue from water sales. Dunbar asked about minimum flows in Coppermine Brook, which often dries up. Mr. Esponda explained that the brook in not technically subject to minimum stream flow regulations.

James Ericson, of Lenard Engineering, answered a question from Dunbar about Mr. Esponda’s statement that capacity would almost double when it appeared that the safe yield increase was only about ten percent? Mr. Ericson said that the proposal would not increase the area of watershed but would capture more water, making more efficient use of the water in the watershed. He said that diversions to the brook were not discussed in the study because the Whites Bridge pump station is not an impoundment, and because there is no dam there, it is not subject to streamflow regulations, as they had been informed by DEEP. Dunbar said that, should the project move forward, blending of water from multiple sources could require less treatment than if the reserve were solely derived from skimmed flood water, which is the dirtiest water source. Responding to questions from Charamut, he said he was not sure if a change in the pumping regime would trigger a change from a diversion registration to a permit.

Sigrun Gadwa spoke next. Referencing comments previously submitted by the Berlin Land Trust and the Connecticut Botanical Society, she described the many critical habitats that exist at the site with their consequent biota, including a fir-moss which had formerly been presumed extirpated from Connecticut. She said that disruption of these acres disrupts the 1,000 acres to which it connects. She said that one should not assume the habitat is degraded because of its closeness to the existing quarry; it gets less recreational traffic and that might have helped preserve its uniqueness and protect certain populations, of which she gave examples. She said the report should have more analysis of why the area was so rich in those species. She said the lack of analysis of alternatives is a weakness of the study. She also expressed concern about drying of associated wetlands once the new reservoir is constructed, as has been documented in similar circumstances. She listed other deficiencies including no discussion of water conservation strategies, no consideration of other sources of stone and no consideration of the value the plants at the site have as seed in a future, dryer climate.

James Ericson spoke again to address statements regarding omissions in the study. He reviewed the original legislative scope of the study and the additions that were made at the request of the Council and of the WPC. He said these topics were addressed in the study. Suggestions for additional areas of inquiry or analysis were beyond the scope of what was proposed and agreed to. He said the population projections were based on those of the Connecticut Data Center. With regard to the need to evaluate the impacts of installing the infrastructure to conduct more flood skimming, he said that most of the infrastructure is in place and only a minor pipe extension would be required. A discussion of alternatives could be a useful next step, but that was not part of the scope of study required by the act.

With regard to the biological survey of the site, he said that the consultant who performed the biological survey was not available this day, but had submitted a letter, read by Mr. Ericson, in which he explained why he was not willing to offer his field notes as some had requested. The letter said that the purpose of the study was to focus on species most likely to be adversely affected, which is why not every species on the site was identified.

Hilding asked if the biological inventory had been peer reviewed. He said he was not aware of that, but if it was he will find out.

Charamut asked about his quote in an article saying the project would be of no cost to the city; Mr. Ericson said that statement was based on the 2009 safe-yield study; there could be costs going forward.

Hilding asked about the quality of the water in a former quarry, which would be expected to harbor residues of blasting materials. He said the analysis done by Leggette Brashears and Graham indicated no negative effect on water quality is to be expected.

Chair Merrow thanked those who spoke and asked for the Council’s revisions to the draft comments that had been sent out prior to the meeting. Brooks offered specific points about the text, and suggested that readers of the comments should be able to determine if assertions in the comments were contained in the report itself or if they were the Council’s conclusions. More broadly, she questioned whether the issues of purity and adequacy of the water supply should be addressed by the Council, as those are specialist topics on which the Council is not necessarily expert. Charamut said that having spent 18 months working on the state water plan, she felt qualified to offer an opinion on the question of whether there is a need for the reservoir and on the accuracy of the projections within the study. Kolesinskas said he is concerned about the study’s narrow focus, which by failing to look beyond the site demonstrates a poor understanding of forest ecology. Wagener said staff reviews many environmental impact documents and often must prepare comments, along with the Council, on topics on which they are not expert; he said staff uses the test of whether or not the document presents the information that is required to be presented, in a way that is understandable to the ultimate decision-makers, and whether or not the content stands up to basic skeptical scrutiny. Dunbar said that is why the study should be crafted in language that can be understood by laymen. Hilding said that some of the deficiencies could be presented in the comments as questions, thereby avoiding the impression that the Council is claiming expertise on the topic. Wagener said the audience for the Council’s report is the legislature, which must read it and make the final decision, and many of the legislators should not be expected to be technical experts. Merrow said that the effect of water conservation in mitigating the need for the reservoir is an area on which there appears to be agreement that should be considered in the study’s analysis. Hearn said he agreed with Brooks and that many comments in the draft need better attribution or documentation and that could be easily accomplished. Dunbar and Hilding recommended moving some of the content of the introduction and starting with the Council’s conclusions. Both Dunbar and Reiser agreed that the volume and nature of comments received need to be included in the final report. Reiser and Dunbar said the tables need to be presented differently, perhaps summarized without the documentation. After considerable discussion, Chair Merrow concluded that the subcommittee has direction on how to move forward to a next draft that can be considered at the May meeting.

At this point, Hall joined the meeting by phone, and at the same time Vidich’s phone connection was lost and could not be re-established.

Review of State Agency Actions

a. Siting Council Solicitation of Comments – Wagener said that the Siting Council had solicited comments regarding a proposed 1.5 MW solar photovoltaic facility in Durham about which staff recommends no comments.

b. Stormwater Permit – Wagener said the Industrial Stormwater General Permit has been proposed for another one-year extension with no revisions, which follows the two-year extension on which the Council submitted comments in 2016.

c. Proposed Revisions to Connecticut Environmental Policy Act Regulations – Wagener put up a diagram showing the routes for public notice under the current CEPA process contrasted with the new proposed regulations. Hall said she is in favor of the changes, and that she would urge that the new public notice forms be required, as the existing forms are now, to be approved by the Council. Wagner referred the Council to the draft comments he had prepared for their consideration. After discussion, several changes were agreed upon: the comments shall suggest specific language for the new regulations; recommend strengthening and clarifying the sections on purpose and need, traffic, and water resources (to include water supply adequacy for proposed projects); commend the addition of soils and agricultural resources as categories for inclusion in consideration of environmental impacts; and add the wording about public notice forms per Hall’s recommendation. Hilding made a motion to approve the revised comments, with the final text to be circulated for review to determine their consistency with the agreed-upon changes, with final approval of the revised text to be made by the chair. The motion was seconded by Charamut and approved unanimously.

Discussion of annual report topics

Wagener discussed important changes to the report, including the introduction of a prominent section on invasive species. The Council reviewed data prepared by Frantz and MacGillis-Falcon. Hilding offered a motion for conditional approval of the report with the final text to be circulated for review to determine their consistency with the agreed-upon changes, with final approval of the revised text to be made by the chair. Members agreed that any significant disagreements would result in postponement of publication until after the May meeting. The motion was seconded by Dunbar and approved by all.

Chair Merrow thanked everyone for their willingness to work through the long meeting. She asked for an adjournment motion, which Hilding made and Dunbar seconded and all approved. The meeting adjourned at 12:45 PM.