Minutes of the January 24, 2018 meeting of the 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, Matt Reiser, Charles Vidich, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Blair Frantz (Intern).

At 9:33 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum. She asked if there were any changes to the agenda. Hilding asked that there be a discussion of water as a “public trust” in the context of the draft State Water Plan. Chair Merrow said that the topic had been planned for inclusion in the Executive Director’s report and that Margaret Miner of the River’s Alliance had come to speak about it during the Citizens Comment portion of the meeting. 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 posted. The motion was seconded by Hall and approved by all present.

Chair Merrow asked if there were any modifications to the minutes of the December 13, 2017 meeting. Vidich pointed out that “sound” was typed when “found’” was intended on page 2. Charamut moved to approve the corrected minutes; Dunbar seconded. The motion was approved with Hall, Kolesinskas, and Reiser abstaining for not having attended the December meeting.

Chair’s report

Chair Merrow introduced Blair Frantz, a recent graduate of Trinity College who is an intern with the Council this winter and spring.

Citizens’ Comment Period

Chair Merrow introduced Margaret Miner, executive director of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, who had come to speak about two issues. Ms. Miner said that residents from two towns had come to her about inland wetlands issues which they did not believe were being appropriately handled by their inland wetlands commissions. In both cases the towns had inland wetlands commissions that were combined with the planning and zoning commissions. They were concerned that such combined commissions are a bad idea and she referred them to the Council’s report, Swamped, which showed that such arrangements resulted in a higher rate of wetlands loss. Ms. Miner suggested that an update to the Council’s Swamped data would be useful.

She said the concept of water being a “public trust” resource became a topic of discussion at the Water Planning Council (WPC) when it was included in the executive summary of the draft State Water Plan. She said the concept that water is a public trust is embodied in the law of many states and also in Connecticut’s Environmental Protection Act (CGS 22a-15).  Representatives of water companies, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the Homebuilders Association, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Department of Public Health (DPH) all objected to the inclusion of this language, as did some state senators. Upon learning of the dispute, other senators sent a letter supporting the retention of the language in the draft. Ms. Miner said the WPC adjourned without making any changes to the document. The next step will be for the Legislature to adopt it. Discussion followed on the concept of “public trust” in law, its origins as well as where it appears in Connecticut’s statutes. It was agreed that people be alert to bills that would redefine the public trust concept in general or with regard to the draft water plan. Charamut and Ms. Miner explained the next steps in the process to adopt the plan. It will go to the four committees of cognizance. The final product will not be a law; it will be a plan. Charamut said that if the plan is not adopted by the legislature within 24 months of submittal, it goes to the Governor.

Hilding said the Council should go on record as supporting the concept of the waters of the state being a public trust.

Dunbar said that there is a simultaneous Water Utilities Coordinating Committee (WUCC) planning process underway and suggested any comment by the Council on the topic should be preceded by a communication to the Department of Public Health (DPH) regarding its position. He asked “if water is not a public trust, what is the alternative? Would one have to own land to have a right to water?” He said the concept is already enshrined in CGS 22a-15.

Hall agreed, adding that resources as a public trust is a foundational principle for the Council’s mission. Brooks said she would like to review all the documents before commenting. Charamut said there is time for deliberation. Wagener said it could be an item for the February agenda. Hall said a Council policy statement on the public trust concept would be more appropriate than joining the debate on where reference should be in the draft water plan. Vidich said it is an ancient doctrine in common and case law and that should be pointed out.

Chair Merrow summarized: the Council wishes to be prepared to go “on the record” with regard to the important role of the public trust concept in state environmental policy, and it wished to discuss a document that explains and affirms the principle. Wagener said staff could have a document by the next meeting, but clarified, after Kolesinskas and Reiser pointed the enormous breadth and complexity of the topic, that it would not be a comprehensive report but would be, hopefully, a clear statement. Dunbar and others agreed with that approach. Chair Merrow asked that any suggestions or resources be sent to staff in ten days, so staff would have time to prepare and distribute the document in advance of the February meeting. Brooks suggested consulting with DPH as to the reasons behind its position.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener said that the Passport to Parks program, which adds an annual $5 fee on vehicle registrations in exchange for unpaid admission to state parks has run into a technical snag. The Office of Policy and Management (OPM) has sent a letter pointing out that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) cannot access the funds to operate the parks until the money is appropriated by the legislature. OPM said it will prepare a solution in February for the legislature’s consideration. This will have implications for the Council for next fiscal year.

Wagener said that there was discussion at the December meeting about state projects which go through the Scoping process, and are withdrawn without public notice of the discontinuance. No response had been received from DEEP to the letter sent on this topic. He said the current issue of the Environmental Monitor has a notice of such a project. He said that posting those decisions in a post-scoping notice is an appropriate venue.

Wagener said that the final New Britain environmental study report is reported by the consultants to be 50 percent completed. It will not be ready for consideration by the legislature this session.

Discussion of Potential Legislation

Wagener reported that the Governor’s Council on Climate Change has recommended a new interim goal for reduction of greenhouse gasses. The new interim goal is a 45% reduction from 2001 levels by 2030.

Wagener reported that there had been a Consumer Packaging Task Force charged with looking at ways to reduce packaging waste. He said that members of the task force did not appear to be working in support of that goal. He said that Blair Frantz, the Council’s intern, attended the Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC) meeting on Tuesday and it included discussion of packaging and related issues. He asked her to update the Council.

Using PowerPoint, Ms. Frantz discussed extended producer responsibility (EPR). She said it is an approach whereby consumer goods companies are required to pay some, or all, of the costs for managing packaging materials; and also to assume primary financial responsibility for managing the goods at the end of their useful life. She described Connecticut’s successes in EPR programs for electronics, thermostats, paint, and mattresses. The packaging task force did not embrace EPR.

Ms. Frantz described “Sustainable Connecticut,” a project that was presented at the meeting. It is a voluntary recognition program for municipalities that wish to initiate sustainable practices. A community must complete at least one action from each of nine action categories to receive certification.

She said other topics covered at the SWAC meeting were improvements that were being made to Connecticut’s electronic waste (e-waste) recycling. She said the anticipated consequence of China’s ‘National Sword” initiative to ban inferior recyclables is expected to be less in Connecticut than it will be in western states. Vidich confirmed this, saying that far more waste from western states is shipped to Asia than is shipped from eastern states that tend to ship eastward or process within the US.

Several anticipated topics of legislation were discussed. Wagener said that a bill amending last year’s law on solar siting could potentially be introduced and heard before the Council’s February meeting. Dunbar made a motion that if testimony is requested or appropriate prior to the February meeting, then the Chair would be authorized to express the Council’s support of the current meaning of the law. Hall seconded and all were in favor.

Dunbar asked that the February agenda include discussion of the proposed constitutional amendment to protect public conservation lands from sale or gift by the legislature, without public review.

Wagener said that as a consequence of the Council’s report on pesticides, there might be a bill introduced to advance some of the report’s recommendations.

Review of State Agency Actions

Tylerville Water Main Project- Hearn said there is a post-scoping notice in the current edition of the Environmental Monitor for the extension of a water main from Chester to the parts of Haddam that had been affected by ground water contamination for over 30 years. Funding for the water main will need to be approved by the state Bond Commission. Hearn reviewed the most recent history of attempts to deal with the problem. He said the court-ordered site investigation and remediation plan, which the suspected polluter submitted to DEEP, had not been accepted because of its deficiencies, so remediation has not progressed.

Solar Facility in Wallingford – Wagener said the staff recommends no comments on this proposal for a 19.99 MW solar facility located on town property, an old landfill, in Wallingford.

Telecommunications Tower in Farmington – Wagener said that, after the agenda was posted, the Siting Council solicited agency comments on a proposed tower in Farmington. Staff is not recommending comments.

State Transportation Plan – Wagener said the Department of Transportation’s Long-Range Statewide Transportation Plan has been released for public comment.

Seaside State Park – DEEP submitted its Record of Decision for the Seaside property which is proposed to be a hotel with public access to the property during the daytime.

Solar Siting – The solar energy facility that had been proposed for Simsbury has been approved by the Siting Council, a decision that is expected to be appealed by the town. The Candlewood solar project in New Milford was reduced in size to avoid some vernal pools and approved.

Citizen Complaints

Wagener said that staff had been busy with many complaints. None require Council consideration or action at this time.

Discussion of Annual and Special Report Topics

Wagener listed four topics that were being considered for “Compliance, Part II” and said any other suggestions are welcome, for future deliberation. He also said he welcomes any suggestions for additional environmental indicators in the annual report, which will be discussed in February.

Chair Merrow asked if there is any other business. There being none, she asked for a motion to adjourn, which was made by Dunbar and seconded by Hall. Adjournment was at 11:49.