Minutes of the meeting of the February 28, 2018 Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe 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, Charles Vidich, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Blair Frantz (Intern), Paul MacGillis-Falcon (Intern).

At 9:34 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum. She asked if there were any changes to the agenda. Vidich asked that there be a discussion of permission that had recently been issued By the Department of Environmental Protection (DEEP) for the University of Connecticut (UConn) to tap the Fenton Wellfield. Chair Merrow asked if there were any other suggested modifications to the agenda. There were none. Dunbar made a motion to approve the agenda as modified. The motion was seconded by Hall and approved by all present.

Chair Merrow asked if there were any modifications to the minutes of the January 24, 2018 meeting. Charamut and Hilding pointed out some wording that could be changed to be more exact. Dunbar moved to approve the corrected minutes; Brooks seconded. The motion was approved by all.

Chair’s report

Chair Merrow introduced Paul MacGillis-Falcon, a current student at UConn who is an intern with the Council this semester.

Citizens’ Comment Period

Chair Merrow invited Paul Zagorsky, who had signed up to speak, to address the Council. Mr. Zagorsky reviewed the procedure for review and public participation, as outlined in statute. He urged the Council to consider visiting the site, and passed around some photos of the property. He noted that the Water Planning Council would meet on March 6 and that this item likely would be on the agenda. Chair Merrow thanked Mr. Zagorsky for his remarks and said that further discussion would ensue under the executive director’s report.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener said that the Lenard Engineering report on the environmental impact of a proposal to expand quarrying operations into New Britain’s reservoir land had arrived in the office on Tuesday afternoon, in the form of one 450-page report in paper and digital format. He said staff had not yet had time to review it.

Discussion about the law that mandated the study followed. Hall parsed the law’s wording to determine what exactly the next steps are for the Council. Dunbar said the premise of the legislation seems to be that the project will proceed after an analysis of its potential for environmental damage or effect on the city’s water supply.

Wagener outlined the next steps and time frame in which the Council and the Water Planning Council have to analyze the report and make recommendations to the city of New Britain and to the Legislature.

Members discussed the need to have an electronic version available to satisfy requests from the public. Vidich volunteered to divide the large PDF file into smaller documents. Members asked to receive the executive summary by e-mail. Merrow appointed a subcommittee of Charamut and Kolesinskas to review the entire report and make recommendations to the Council for discussion at the next meeting. The recommendations should include options for soliciting and receiving public input. Staff would attempt to obtain paper copies for the subcommittee. Members not on the subcommittee expressed interest in reading the report, and agreed to send comments or suggestions to staff for forwarding to the subcommittee. Notice of any meeting of the subcommittee will be posted for the public.

After considerable discussion, it was decided that the Council would need to be specific regarding exactly what type of input it is looking for; Vidich expressed a preference for written comments. Kolesinskas said that a field visit would be of value for him as he evaluates the proposal.

On other subjects, Wagener said that the US EPA and Amazon recently agreed to a settlement regarding the sale of unregistered pesticides on the Amazon website. Wagener noted that the EPA used the same investigative technique used last year by Hearn to determine if restricted-use pesticides were available to Connecticut customers who were not certified to use them (which they were). In the Amazon case, the pesticides were not only restricted for sale in Connecticut, they were totally unregistered for sale in the United States. As part of the settlement agreement Amazon agreed to provide training to its sellers.

Wagener said that the Appropriations Committee held hearings on state agencies’ budgets. The Council was not asked to appear, but DEEP was. The DEEP Commissioner was asked questions about the specifics of the Passport to Parks program and the questioning was expected to continue when an Appropriations Subcommittee meets with state agency heads to delve further into the specifics.

Updates on Legislation

Wagener updated the Council on SB 102 which would change the wording in the current law mandating a review by the Commissioner of Agriculture for siting applications to place solar facilities on prime farmland and core forest. The current wording requires a determination by the commissioners as to whether a proposed project would materially affect the resource. The proposed wording would change “materially” to “permanently”. Wagener said that he testified, noting that last year’s law does not prohibit or restrict solar facilities on prime farmland or core forests, but only alters the route for approval from a petition to an application, which requires a higher level of review.

He said there are a number of bills concerning invasive species. One would establish a lakes license plate, with proceeds going to support efforts to control invasives.

A hearing was held on the topic of pesticide misters, about which Nancy Alderman of Human Health and the Environment Inc. spoke to the Council.

Wagener said that a bill had been introduced – as a concept, with no language yet – that would address penalties for small businesses after just one violation. He said that as an outgrowth of the staff’s ongoing review of compliance and enforcement data, he expects to be able to answer the question of whether or not first offenses ever result in penalties other than in serious cases. He suggested that the data would make useful testimony, and the Council agreed, authorizing Wagener to present the data to the committee. He said that it is also expected that there will be a bill relating to the public trust issue. In response to a question from Hall about that, he asked Lori Brown, Executive Director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, who was in the audience, if she could provide any more information. Ms. Brown speculated that the letter from Senators Martin Looney and Beth Bye, stating the state’s waters are a public trust, might have taken the steam out of the drive to assert that they are not.

Chair Merrow asked Ms. Brown which bills she would identify as the most significant. She said the constitutional amendment to prevent state lands from being transferred out of state ownership without public review is a priority, since it must pass in this legislative session to get on the statewide ballot. She said that advocates are urging adoption of the State Water Plan without changes.

She said a bill has been proposed to allow a pilot program to implement municipal property transfer taxes to fund land conservation and water protection. Numerous towns have asked to be included.

Ms. Brown described proposed changes to the state’s bottle-deposit law. One would eliminate bottle deposit requirements and replace it with a 4 cent tax on some containers. Another would expand it to include juices and teas and liquor bottles. Liquor bottles would be assessed a heftier deposit of 25 cents.

She said the law, adopted last year, that required DEEP to approve a number of permits within 90 days is expected to see some revisions, as might the state’s sewage-right-to-know law. Wagener said that the sewage-right-to-know, as implemented by DEEP, is not what its proponents had expected to see. The web site is not easy to read and the public remains generally unaware of its existence. Charamut said the bill will require electronic filing of reports for more timely public notification.

Other bills discussed by Ms. Brown were the establishment of an interim goal for greenhouse gasses for 2030 of a 45 reduction from 2001 levels and a state-wide ban on handling or treating fracking wastes. Chair Merrow thanked Ms. Brown for her very useful information.

Discussion of the Public Trust in Air Water and Other Natural Resources

Charamut brought up the decision in Washington vs. Waterbury, which she said water companies are referencing as supporting their rights to control water supplies. Brooks who was an attorney who worked on the case explained it. She said that the State Supreme Court held that compliance with an existing regulatory scheme is sufficient to demonstrate that the pollution or harm is not unreasonable. A long discussion followed regarding the public trust doctrine and the draft paper that Wagener had circulated prior to the meeting. Vidich said the doctrine is timeless and the example of the State Water Plan, which is a current topic, should be minimized to avoid the impression that the paper is tied to a current topic. All agreed that the paper should be edited to make it clear that it has broad applicability, perhaps by placing some of the paragraphs into footnotes. Hilding made a motion that the paper, once revised by staff according to the direction just given, and approved by the Chair, be used should the Council be asked, or have an opportunity to comment on the public trust doctrine. Charamut seconded and all approved. Wagener said that members would have a chance to review the final version to check for consistency with the approved changes.

Review of State Agency Projects

Tylerville Water Main Project – Wagener said the State Bond Commission approved funds for a new water line to service the Tylerville homes effected by pollution of their ground water. Hearn said 7.3 million dollars were approved and that construction is expected to begin by the end of 2018.

DEEP permit for modifications to Connecticut River in Glastonbury - Wagener said that the Council had submitted comments regarding the permit application to install riprap in the Connecticut River in the vicinity of the Glastonbury Boathouse. He said DEEP issued the permit, and responded to the Council’s comments. The response did not accurately address the comments and referred back to vegetation surveys that had been conducted in preparation for the 2011 permit; however, the Council was commenting on the 2016 application. DEEP was aware of the Hydrilla infestation at that time. Council staff requested the reports that were required to be submitted as a condition of the earlier permits. Staff was told the files are in storage and it could take weeks to retrieve them. He said he has serious doubts if the conditions of permits for the facility were complied with and the case illustrates serious problems with the permitting process. He asked if the Council wishes to pursue a more timely compliance with its request for the files. After some discussion, Chair Merrow suggested a communication to the Commissioner explaining the problem and the unsatisfactory response, which would not be acceptable had the Council filed the same request under the Freedom of Information Act.

Comprehensive Energy Strategy – Wagener reported that DEEP has published the final report, and summarized DEEP’s responses to the items on which the Council had submitted comments. DEEP is recommending a working group be established to optimize siting of solar energy projects, with emphasis on state properties and other priorities. He said the Council had urged skipping the working group and moving ahead with the goals. Wagener said that to save time he will send additional information to Council members by e-mail.

Discussion of UConn’s Fenton Wellfield – Vidich expressed concern regarding the process whereby UConn had received DEEP’s permission to withdraw additional water from wellfield #4 in the Fenton River watershed. He said the permission was granted without consultation with downstream property owners, or the town of Mansfield. He questioned whether UConn was the correct party to apply, since its water supply is operated by the Connecticut Water Company. Dunbar said it will need to be determined if this is the consequence of a prior agreement between UConn and DEEP. He said the precision of the stream gauges used to determine flow levels will also need to be determined. The Council asked staff to pursue answers to some of the questions about the process. Vidich said he would share what he learned as well.

Citizen Complaints and Concerns

Wagener said that Leo Smith, active with the Dark Sky Association, had intervened in the Eversource rate case at the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, with the aim of requiring utilities to comply with laws pertaining to outdoor light installations. After discussion, the Council directed staff to respond indicating the Council’s interest in the matter but that timely comments were not possible this time.

Discussion of Annual Report Topics

Wagener asked Hearn and Frantz to summarize the 2017 annual report. Frantz showed the charts completed for the indicators with new data. Discussion followed on the significance of the Air Pollution Index, possible reasons for the drop in bus ridership and the lack of change in sea level.

There being no other business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn, which was made by Charamut and seconded by Vidich. Adjournment was at 12:25 PM.