Minutes of the March 28, 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 (by phone, Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding (by phone), Kip Kolesinskas, Matt Reiser, Charles Vidich, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Blair Frantz (Intern), Paul MacGillis-Falcon (Intern)

At 9:30 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum. She asked if there were any changes to the agenda. There was none. Dunbar made a motion to approve the agenda as modified. The motion was seconded by Charamut and approved by all. Chair Merrow asked if there were any modifications to the minutes of the February 28, 2018 meeting. None was suggested. Hall motioned to approve the minutes as submitted. Vidich seconded and the motion was approved by all, with Reiser abstaining for having been absent at that meeting.

Chair’s report

Chair Merrow commented on the four nor’easters the state had endured in March.

Citizens’ Comment Period

Chair Merrow invited Mr. Robert Panko, who had signed up to speak, to address the Council. Mr. Panko identified himself as Vice President of Friends of Pachaug State Forest. He said he is retired from a career with the National Park Service; as he was involved in law enforcement, he understands well the need for ranges for firearms practice. He said his organization believes the proposed location proximate to Pachaug State Forest is problematic on many counts. Using slides he showed concerns regarding the potential impacts that the range would present for recreation, natural resources and the residents. He said five towns contain the forest. Overwhelming opposition to the firing range has already been voiced in Griswold, where 87 percent of those who voted expressed opposition. Because of the anticipated volume of opponents, he said it is likely that hundreds will wish to attend a scoping meeting about the proposal, more than can reasonably heard in a single evening. His group is recommending multiple meetings, including one in Hartford.

Mr. Panko said the proposed range will be the largest in the nation, yet the State Police have not yet identified specifically what their needs are. He believes there are alternative sites that have not been considered, including an existing training site in East Haven. Wagener said that when the scoping notice and environmental impact evaluation are released, staff will examine it carefully.

Chair Merrow thanked Mr. Panko for his informative and professional presentation.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener reported on bills and pending legislation. He said that differences in relevant bills makes it uncertain as to whether the Passport to Parks fund will be a non-appropriated fund or whether the annual allocations will need to be appropriated every year. Reiser noted that the fees are already being charged when vehicle registrations are renewed.

Wagener said the Council’s document on the public trust was included in the testimony submitted regarding the State Water Plan. He said it is also posted to the Council’s website. Dunbar said that a Deputy Commissioner of DEEP described it as an excellent explanation of the doctrine that he believed had an impact on the legislature’s deliberations. Wagener said the document was the product of collaboration among all members and staff and was well-received.

Wagener said that March had been a very busy month and that work on some issues, such as the Fenton River and the Connecticut River at Glastonbury, had to be slowed down but would be resumed.

Updates on Legislation

Dunbar asked about the status of the proposed constitutional amendment on state land conveyances. Wagener said the bill’s sponsors elected to go with a revised resolution that would apply the supermajority provisions only to properties controlled by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the Department of Agriculture. The modification will require a three-quarters majority of both legislatives houses to get on the ballot.

He said the proposed modifications to last year’s solar siting law did not survive in the bill approved by the Environment Committee. He described a subsequent informational hearing held by the Environment Committee wherein committee members sought further information about the application procedure solar facilities. He said the bill to restrict pesticide misters only requires a 20-foot setback from adjoining properties. He spoke about the bill that would give a pass to businesses with fewer than 200 employees for their first violation of environmental laws. He said staff submitted testimony pointing out that under current regulations, first violations normally receive a “notice of violation” that carries no penalty if the offender agrees to comply. DEEP also opposed the bill, which was approved unanimously by the Commerce Committee.

Wagener spoke next about a bill that would require a review of certain state projects – those subject to the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) requirements and costing more than 200,000 dollars – for their consistency with the State Plan of Conservation and Development before going to the CEPA scoping stage. Matt Pafford of the Office of Policy and Management (OPM), spoke from the audience in response to a question from Hilding; he said that OPM supports it because it could prevent a situation where much time and resources is spent on a project that is not consistent with the state plan, but could be consistent with some modifications if the review is held early. Vidich said the bill would be improved if it specified when in the process the OPM review must occur. Wagener said it might be possible for the Council to require the OPM determination in what is required to be included in scoping notices.

Wagener said the bill banning commerce in snapping turtles had been approved by the Environment Committee; the bill also prohibited the sale of red-eared sliders. The bill provided that commerce could be allowed if DEEP developed regulations.

Chair Merrow said the bill allowing the creation of a pilot municipal “green fund” from a one-percent conveyance tax on real estate sales did not pass despite eleven towns volunteering for the pilot program. Charamut said the “bottle bill” to increase deposit amounts for returned bottles ended up reducing the redemption fee paid to consumers from five cents to four. 

Discussion of Council’s Plan and Schedule for Reviewing the New Britain Watershed Environmental Study

Kolesinskas and Charamut reported on the results of the subcommittee meeting. The Council will call for submission of public comments and that any members of the Council can submit individual comments should they wish. She said that a draft version of the Council’s comments will be available for review by the Council by the April meeting.

She said the next meeting of the subcommittee will in mid-April and there will be a site visit, organized by the WPC, which members can attend. Kolesinskas noted that Wagener had prepared a schedule for the Council with all the required Council actions and corresponding deadlines highlighted in red. Chair Merrow said the subcommittee had decided on April 10 as the deadline for comments from members. Staff will create a first draft of comments, to be presented to the subcommittee for review and creation of a discussion draft to be presented to the Council at its April meeting.

Hall pointed out that public comments should be in before a draft is created. There is also a need to clarify if the Council wants comments on the report or on the Council’s draft comments. Wagener clarified that the Council probably will not approve a final version of comments until its May 23 meeting, so the draft discussed in April will be subject to change. Vidich asked if the Council is sending its comments to the WPC for final submission to the General Assembly in August, does that mean that the WPC has the final say; Wagener said the WPC makes the final recommendation in consultation with the CEQ. In response to a question, Wagener said he would send out a news release regarding the opportunity to submit comments to the Council, and would work with the subcommittee on the notice. Dunbar made a motion to accept the report of the subcommittee and adopt the proposed plan of actions, which was seconded by Vidich. All were in favor.

Review of State Agency Actions

Wagener said staff recommended no comments on the solicitations received from the Siting Council.

Citizen Complaints and Concerns

Complaints had been received, Wagener said, but none required action at this time.

Discussion of Annual Report Topics

Wagener used slides to present a summary of the trends in annual report indicators. After discussion it was determined that the causal linkages to climate change appeared to be the common thread among them, and should be a theme for the report.

Wagener said that once the draft text is ready he will send a link to the report so the Council could potentially approve it at the April meeting.

Dunbar and Merrow commented on the large number of retirements from DEEP and its inevitable effect on efficiency and productivity. She asked if that might be a topic for a special report.

There being no other business, Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn, which was made by Hall and seconded by Dunbar. Adjournment was at 11:35 AM.