Minutes of the August 22, 2018 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality held in the Holcombe Room on the fifth floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.

MEMBERS PRESENT: Susan Merrow (Chair), Janet Brooks, Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Charles Vidich

ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst)

At 9:38 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum.

Approval of Agenda

Chair Merrow asked to make some amendments to the Agenda. Because item #6 is a discussion of personnel issues, she suggested that an optional executive session be added under #6, in case it is needed. Brooks made a motion to add that topic to 6c. This was seconded by Vidich and approved by all. Chair Merrow said she would also like to add a discussion of the Council’s budget under the Passport to Parks, and the topic of workload management. Brooks accepted the friendly amendment and modified her motion to be the addition of a discussion of the Council’s budget to #6c; workload management to #9, a new item; and the option of holding an executive session to #10, also a new item on the agenda. Charamut moved to accept the changes. This was seconded by Kolesinskas and approved unanimously.

Approval of Minutes of August 7, 2018 Special Meeting

Chair Merrow asked if there are any changes to the minutes of the Special Meeting of August 7. There were none. Brooks moved to accept the minutes. This was seconded by Charamut and approved by all with the exception of Charamut who abstained due to her absence from that meeting.

Approval of Minutes of July 25, 2018

Chair Merrow asked if there are any changes to the minutes of the July 25, 2018 meeting. Hilding asked that the first sentence of the sixth paragraph on page two be stricken. Vidich made a motion to approve the minutes with the revision. It was seconded by Kolesinskas and approved by all. 

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow reported that a bench will be dedicated in memory of Sandy Breslin on September first. She said that Breslin contributed greatly to the environmental movement in Connecticut and is greatly missed. She will provide the details of the dedication later in the meeting.

Citizen Comment Period

Chair Merrow welcomed Mr. Robert Panko, Vice President of Friends of Pachaug Forest. He had come to update the Council on what has transpired in the efforts of the “Friends” to view the comments that were made at the scoping meeting for the proposed Griswold Training Facility. He reported that he had visited the offices of GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc., the consultant that is drafting the environmental impact evaluation (EIE) for the project, and that received the comments. He reported that he was unable to view the comments and was told he should contact the State Agency that is the project sponsor.

He also said that, when the project was announced, the Friends of Pachaug Forest requested that two scoping meetings be held, and the request had been denied. He was unable to find out who made the decision to deny the request and what agencies will be contributing to the analysis for the EIE.

When asked why they went to the consultant instead of to the sponsoring agency, he replied that instructions in the notice of scoping said “if you have questions about the public meeting, or other questions about the scoping for this project” contact the consultant, which is what they did. He referenced a letter from the Commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services (DAS), the sponsoring agency, requesting that they no longer contact the consultant and contact the agency instead.

Chair Merrow asked about the obligation of the contractor in such circumstances. Hearn said he had spoken to the person at DAS in charge of the project and to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Commission. He said the agency must provide the requested documents, and the DAS representative asked that all requests for information be made directly to him. Brooks said there are two separate issues. A state agency must provide requested documents, and the law allows for time taken to transcribe or duplicate them. The public also has the right to inspect documents, and that does not require reproduction. 

Charamut offered a motion that a letter, to be drafted by Hearn and Chair Merrow, be sent from the Council to the DAS Commissioner outlining the issues with this complaint. Dunbar seconded, and it was approved by all.

Staff Report

a. Report on discussion with DEEP regarding the request to decrease monitoring at the UConn “Chem Pit”.

Hearn summarized a conversation he had with Mr. Warzecha of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) about the request. He reported that Mr. Warzecha said a consultant is preparing a summary of the testing that had been done to measure the contaminants and will provide it to the Council. He said Mr. Warzecha made a number of points. The plume has not migrated in 20 years. New construction will be required to tie into the public water supply and will not withdraw ground water, which could cause the plume to migrate or pose a health risk. Concerns about blasting and stormwater handling are matters for the town and not the state.

Vidich said that control of the pollution at the site involves more than monitoring. The monitoring is part of a system that includes, an interceptor trench, pumping and land-use restrictions. Control of the plume needs to be viewed as a system with many components that support it. Like a stool, removing a support weakens it. Hilding said that there is much development taking place in Mansfield that can affect the ground water, and that potential also must be considered. She said the Town of Mansfield is on the record as opposing a reduction in the monitoring to annual from semi-annual.  Dunbar said he would like to hear from Mr. Warzecha about the problem and the role of monitoring at the site. Vidich said that the site contains nonaqueous phase liquids (NAPLs) that sink into bedrock and are virtually un-removable. The site has shown ground-water flows as high as 190 feet per year with seasonal variations in the contaminant concentration. A change in the variables which affect ground water, like sewage plant discharges can affect the plume. Consequently there is a need for monitoring. He said the monitoring requirement is part of a consent agreement and was to run 30 years, which is the norm for landfill monitoring and is not unique to this location.

Chair Merrow asked if it is the consensus that Mr. Warzecha be invited to the next meeting to discuss the chem-pit monitoring. It was agreed that the invitation should include the Council’s concern about the impact that land-use change and climate change could have on the plume and the necessity to view plume containment as a system not as just a monitoring issue.

b. FOI requirements for contractors to state agencies and proposed changes to the Environmental Monitor

Hearn used a PowerPoint presentation to depict how the Council’s template for scoping notices can be modified to show to the public who to contact with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) inquiries about notices that appear in the Environmental Monitor. He said this is entirely within the Council’s authority since the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) states “the sponsoring agency shall provide notice on a form that has been approved by the Council on Environmental Quality”. He said that additional notice can be posted on the first page of the Environmental Monitor. This would be of value if a submitting agency does not include the FOIA information box that will be in the new template, or if the public has questions about postings that are not scoping notices. Kolesinskas said the box with specific contact details at the end of the scoping notice will be of greater value than the general notice on the first page. Hilding said the notice should specify “sponsoring state agency” not just “sponsoring agency” to eliminate the risk that an inquiry is made to a consultant or contractor. Brooks said it would be more specific if “inquiries” were replaced with “view and or copy documents”. Hearn said there could be a link to the website of the Freedom of Information Commission to educate people regarding their rights. Dunbar said that in some agencies commissioners want to restrict FOIA inquiries to a few individuals. Matt Pafford of the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) spoke from the audience to say that OPM has a designated FOIA contact person.  He recommended including a link to the FOIA Commission. There was general consensus to move ahead with the changes. Chair Merrow noted that the Council still must remind DAS about the misdirection problem that occurred in its last notice.

c. Status of personnel search

Hearn summarized the steps that had been taken to install him in the vacant Executive Director position and to refill his position when it becomes vacant. He said that all the paperwork has been submitted for the vacant Environmental Analyst position. He said he and Chair Merrow received requests this week for additional documentation for the Executive Director slot, and that will be submitted. Brooks and Hilding urged continual reminders of the Council’s urgent need to fill both slots.

Hearn said he asked DEEP what will be budgeted for the Council under the Passport to Parks fund. He was told to expect the same level of funding as in the last fiscal year, with an addition to cover benefits, which will no longer come out of the General Fund.

d. Changes to website

Hearn announced three important changes to the Council’s website. He showed how discontinued projects or land transfers can be identified in bold as “cancelled” and listing them under the same headings as similar notices that were not cancelled. This will eliminate the need for a special category of “cancelled” projects, which had been discussed at prior meetings. It will be equally effective for internet searches, which is how people who are looking for a project would find it.

He said it is no longer necessary to edit in one browser and go to a second browser to view the edits. He said that this should speed the writing and editing of the Annual Report.

He said that the State’s server is being changed to make it more secure. Because the process could result in broken links or pages that don’t display correctly, he encouraged the Council members to look at the Council’s site in the next few days and report any such issues.

Brooks said it is necessary to acknowledge on the website that Karl Wagener retired and that Hearn has succeeded him. All agreed.

Review of State Agency Actions

a. Siting Council solicitation for comments on proposed telecommunications tower in Pomfret

Hearn said this application offered a choice of three sites. Site A has the least visibility impact. Site C is the most visible of the three and has some slight wetlands impacts. In response to questions from Kolesinskas and Hilding, he said the application did not identify any impacts to Connecticut State Scenic Route 244. He said he did not recommend comments on this docket.


b. Siting Council solicitation for comments on a proposed 2MW solar photovoltaic facility at West Farms Mall

Hearn said that notice of this project had arrived, but that the Siting Council had not yet requested comments. He said it is illustrative of what the Council has been advocating as an alternative to putting solar electric facilities on farmland or forestland, so he wanted to show it. It is a parking lot at the West Farms Mall that will be covered with solar panels and will generate 2 MW of electricity.

c. OPM response to DEEP's Record of Decision for Franklin Sewer EIE

Chair Merrow noted the letter from OPM to Commissioner Klee of DEEP indicating that the Environmental Impact Evaluation and Record of Decision for the Franklin Sewer Extension, fails to meet the requirements of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act. In the letter, OPM Secretary Barnes frequently refers to the comments on the EIE and ROD which had been submitted by the Council.

Other business

Chair Merrow passed out a copies of the minutes from the Council’s meeting of October 7, 2015 and the text of the guidance that was adopted to assist staff and members in deciding whether to abstain from actions in which there could be an appearance of a conflict of interest or bias. She said the topic had come up at the last meeting, so she is providing it for those who might have been wondering what course to follow.

Workload management

Chair Merrow asked Hearn how things were proceeding in Wagener’s absence. He replied that he is concerned about keeping up with some tasks, like researching citizen’s complaints. Discussion followed on options to find assistance. These included interns, contractors and temporary staff. The advantages and disadvantages of each was weighed. Chair Merrow said that members of the Council can assist in drafting some of the correspondence discussed at today’s meeting. She volunteered to draft the letter to the DAS Commissioner. Vidich offered to outline the importance of a systems approach to the Chem Pit problem for the invitation to Mr. Warzecha.

With regard to citizen complaints, Hearn said he had received two complaints about a solar facility in Waterford that would clear 90 acres of forest. It is “grandfathered” and will not have to receive a sign-off from DEEP.

He said he also received a complaint that he believed had been resolved in 2015. He said he will need to obtain additional information so it can be addressed at the next meeting.

Hilding asked if there is any news on the proposal to sell the Connecticut Water Company to a company from California. Charamut said the problem with water company sales is that their registered water diversions transfer with the sale of the company. Those diversions allow a company to run a stream totally dry. Dunbar said that the farther ownership is from the state, the less responsive will be the owners to local needs. He said the big out-of-state companies have deep pockets and powerful lobbyists too. Charamut said she would try to learn more about the proposed sale. Dunbar said he would like to see this on next meeting agenda.

Personnel Issues

Chair Merrow said that because this was discussed earlier, there is no need to go into executive session.

There being no further business, Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn, which was made by Dunbar and seconded by Charamut. The meeting adjourned at 11:57AM.