Minutes of the July 25, 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, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Matt Reiser, Charles Vidich

ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst)

At 9:30 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum.

Approval of Agenda

Chair Merrow asked to move items on the agenda to accommodate the schedule of Eric Hammerling, Executive Director, of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association (CFPA), who had to leave to attend a meeting at 11:00 AM. She would like Eric to speak before the “citizen comments”. She said that she would like to add the topic of “workload management” under “other business”, to address how the Council can help with the office workload until a second staff person is hired. She added that Hilding wished to add discussion of a proposal to reduce the frequency of monitoring at the closed hazardous waste disposal area (the “chem pits”) at the University of Connecticut. Chair Merrow suggested adding both items under “other business” on the agenda. Dunbar moved to approve the agenda with those changes. The motion was seconded by Hall and approved unanimously.

Approval of Minutes of June 20, 2018

Reiser offered recommendations for punctuation and capitalization changes in the draft minutes that had been emailed to the members in advance. Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the revised draft minutes. This was made by Dunbar, seconded by Vidich and approved by all.

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow said that she had received affirmation from the Governor’s Office and from the Commissioner’s Office at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) that they are in agreement that the Council’s founding statute allows the Council to select its own Executive Director, the position is not a gubernatorial appointment, nor is it subject to the provisions of Chapter 67. She said this will need to be discussed in greater detail in executive session at the end of the meeting.

Eric Hammerling, Presentation on Constitutional Amendment

Mr. Hammerling thanked the Council for the invitation and thanked the Friends of Patchogue Forest, who were present in the audience, for their support of the parks. Using visual aids, Mr. Hammerling reviewed the history of the amendment, and its importance. He cited dramatic examples of park lands that were nearly lost by legislative fiat. He explained how land transfers can be inserted into legislation in the closing hours of a legislative session and never receive a public hearing. Even a procedural “rule” to prevent it would not matter because, in the final hours of a legislative session, the rules may be suspended to move bills forward. He said the only solution is a constitutional amendment, which is what Connecticut’s neighboring states have done. He acknowledged the hard work of the many environmental groups that helped to advance the concept and he credited the Council’s report Preserved, But Maybe Not for inciting action to solve the problem.

Mr. Hammerling said most people assume State park land is protected, when in fact it isn’t.  The amendment would require that all proposed transfers of State land receive a public hearing before the transfer can be executed. Conservation lands would require a two-thirds vote of approval in the legislature before the transfer can proceed.

Mr. Hammerling said that the CFPA is a 501(c)(3) organization and can advocate for a ballot initiative because it is an issue that is compatible with the organization’s purpose. He said supporters have formed “Protect CT Public Lands Coalition”, a 501(c)(4) specifically to advocate for the amendment since a 501(c)(4) does not have the restrictions on lobbying of a 501(c)(3). Chair Merrow asked for details about the campaign to support the amendment. Mr. Hammerling said that polling is being done now and that the organization has a website that is going live today.

Dunbar asked if a vote in favor of the amendment will be indicated by “yes” on the ballot. Mr. Hammerling said it would. Dunbar then asked if the amendment included transfers among state agencies. Mr. Hammerling said those transfers will remain unchanged. Dunbar asked if there are restrictions on land trusts that are 501(C)(3) organizations, regarding advocating in support of the amendment. Mr. Hammerling said that CFPA and the Connecticut Land Conservation Council are putting together information regarding what land trusts can do, which will include information from the Trust for Public Land on what is permissible for a 501(C)(3) with regard to advocacy for a ballot initiative.

Vidich asked if the polling will include the exact wording of the amendment and if it will test whether people understand it. Mr. Hammerling said it would. He added that the Government Administration and Elections Committee is meeting today to discuss the language that will appear on ballot and on the Secretary of State’s website.

Brooks offered her expertise to assist others who are trying to develop a website to promote or explain the amendment. She asked to what degree the Council can be involved in education about it. Hearn said he asked this question of the legal staff at the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) and at DEEP. It appears that the controlling statute is CGS 2-30a (b) which states “No expenditure of state funds shall be made to influence electors to vote for or against any such proposed constitutional amendment.” He said that an attorney at SEEC said that an agency would not be required to remove material that had been previously posted to its website, as part of its requirement to keep the public informed. Hall said that the statute should not be construed to imply a bar to an agency posting purely factual material on its website, which is not advocacy. Dunbar said it is best not to skate close to that line. Brooks said it will be best to refer questions about the amendment to the website of the Secretary of State. Hall said it is the purpose of the Council to provide facts. All on the Council thanked Mr. Hammerling for his informative presentation.

Citizen Comment Period

Chair Merrow welcomed Mr. Ryan Snide of Friends of Pachaug Forest. He said he had come to inform the Council of his inability to obtain the public 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 said the person who is handling the project was not in the office and he was unable to obtain the comments requested. The follow-up letter he received from that person made no reference to the request. He provided copies of that letter. He said he called to follow-up and did not receive a response.

This led to a discussion of the responsibility of a consultant to a state agency to adhere to the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Brooks said that the documents held by those consultants are public documents and are subject to FOIA disclosure. Hearn said he had inquired of the Department of Administrative Services (DAS), after this topic came up at the last Council meeting. He showed screen shots of the DAS website that has a link on how to file an FOIA request, as well as information on the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act. He said the generic contract for environmental consultants is also posted to the DAS website. It clearly states “all materials associated with the bid and the contract are subject to the terms of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act”. He said he asked an attorney at DAS if the FOIA would also apply to material not associated with the “bid and contract”. He was told that any record that the State is entitled to receive from any of its contractors is something that DAS would be required to obtain and provide under the FOIA. The request should go to the agency administering the contract.

In the discussion that followed it was agreed that there should not be obstacles to obtaining such information. Staff was requested to inquire of DAS whether the contract for the Griswold project has a provision describing the procedure to be followed by the consultant with regard to FOIA requests. Staff was also asked to find out from the Freedom of Information Commission if it has offered rulings or guidance as to the process to be followed by consultants under contract to state agencies. The Council thanked Mr. Snide for informing it of the matter.

Staff Report

Hearn used a PowerPoint presentation to show and describe DEEP’s new “Forestland Habitat Impact Map” which was created in response to PA 17-218. He said that Public Act requires DEEP to represent in writing that a solar electric facility will not “materially affect the status of such land as core forest”. He said “core forest” was defined, but “materially affect” was not. This new, interactive, map gives definition to the term. It adopted the definition used by the University of Connecticut’s Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) for medium size core forests and shows forests that are at least 250 acres and 300 feet or greater from the boundary between forested land and non-forested land. Kolesinskas said that other areas such as riparian corridors and connective parcels are also to be included in the map. He said that a data layer showing prime farmland soils would be of great value for complying with PA 17-218.

Proposed New Britain Reservoir Update

a. Board of Water Commissioners Meeting of June 26

Hearn said he and Charamut had attended the presentation by Lenard Engineering Inc. that was held prior to the meeting of the New Britain Board of Water Commissioners on June 26. He said that a number of mitigations and adjustments to the proposed reservoir project were proposed to address some of the objections raised by opponents. The changes included a possible reduction in the size of the mining operation.

b. Joint Comments with Water Planning Council on the New Britain proposal

A draft of the proposed recommendations had been sent to the Council prior to the meeting. Council members offered a number of modifications. Dunbar said the Council’s recommendation regarding the proposal should be moved up to the beginning of the document and be put in bold. He made a motion that the draft be revised as indicated by the Council and be sent to the legislature, with the revisions subject to the approval of the Chair. The motion was seconded by Vidich and approved unanimously. Hilding said she had additional comments which she would go over with Hearn after the meeting, rather than take time from the meeting.

Review of State Agency Actions

a. Siting Council solicitation

Hearn said staff recommended no comments on the proposed solar photovoltaic facility in Waterford. It was submitted prior to the July 2017 date that would require a sign-off by DEEP and the Department of Agriculture. The project will occupy 100 acres and it is claimed there will be no damage to prime soils or core forest.

b. OPM comments on Scoping for the Griswold Training Center

Hearn said he had sent this to Council members only because it had been a topic of discussion at the previous Council meeting. He said the Office of Policy and Management had raised a number of points in its letter to the contractor for the EIE that had not been addressed in the scoping and must be addressed in the EIE. He listed a number of them.

Other Business

Hilding said that she wished to bring an issue before the Council which she had spoken about at a town meeting. She said she is not personally affected by the problem and that she wished to be sure that the Council agreed that there will be no conflict of interest in bringing the matter before the Council for action. Brooks said it is up to each member to decide that for themselves. Hall said the test should be whether the person would benefit personally or financially. Brooks said she has recused herself from votes to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. Hearn said that the Council had discussed this at a past meeting. He will find the minutes and report the results of that discussion.

Hilding described the issue. She said that the University of Connecticut (UConn) had requested to reduce the frequency of monitoring at its closed hazardous waste disposal area (the “chem pits”). She described the importance of the monitoring in the past and the possibility that future development in the area could cause the contamination plume to migrate. Chair Merrow asked if there was a deadline pending on the request. Hilding said that a deadline had not been specified. Dunbar suggested that staff should get the details from DEEP on the process necessary to reduce the monitoring. All agreed.

Brooks asked that the Council address the issue of how it is to continue the same output with only one person on staff at this time. The discussion should include how Council members can assist. She would like to see, at each meeting, a description of any tasks that were not completed. She said that it is important not to create an impression that all is going well with half the staff. She said that there will be a need for the Council to prioritize the work load. Dunbar said securing the second position must be the top priority. Now is a slow time for the Council staff. He said the process for advertising, interviewing and selecting a replacement staff member will take months. It will involve writing a job description, reviewing applications, assembling an interview panel and writing reports. Hearn agreed, saying that the Environmental Monitor will not be affected by the staff shortage. He said that the data for the annual report becomes available in January and it becomes very busy from then until May. Dunbar said that citizen complaints need to be given high priority too. Hearn agreed and added that those complaints are the basis of many of the Council’s special reports. Hearn expressed his concern that having all the institutional knowledge about the operation of the Council in one person puts the Council’s operation at risk, should that person become incapacitated.

At this point, it was suggested to move to executive session. Hilding made a motion to do that. It was seconded by Dunbar. At the conclusion of the executive session, the decisions of the session were specified by Chair Merrow. The Council decided to establish a process for choosing the new executive director that would involve an interview, followed by a recorded vote. It was decided to hold a special meeting of the Council on August 7 for that purpose. Reiser moved that the Council should adopt the recommendations from the executive session. Dunbar seconded and all voted in favor.

Hearn said there are many aspects of the executive director position that are unknown, beginning with the salary. It was recommended that Chair Merrow meet with the representative of DEEP who could answer the administrative questions associated with hiring a new executive director and bringing on a second staff person.

Citizen Complaints

Hearn said he had received a complaint from someone who had brought a problem to DEEP and then to the Council and who now wished the Chair to know of it. He said he could discuss it with Chair Merrow after the meeting.

There being no further business, Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn, which was made by Reiser and seconded by Dunbar. The meeting adjourned at 12:15.