Minutes of the May 23, 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, Matt Reiser, Charles Vidich

ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Karl Wagener (Executive Director,) Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Blair Frantz (Intern)

At 9:35 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum.

Chair Merrow asked for a motion to approve the agenda. Dunbar made a motion to approve the meeting’s agenda, which was seconded by Reiser and approved by all. (Hilding and Vidich were not present for this vote)

Chair Merrow asked if there were any modifications to the minutes of the April 25, 2018 meeting. Brooks made a motion to approve the minutes of April 25, 2018, which was seconded by Dunbar and approved by all. (Hilding was not present for this vote and Vidich arrived just after it was taken.)

Chair’s Report

Chair Merrow said it appears that the Council’s funding has survived and it can continue its work. Chair Merrow asked if the Council had any objections to her previous suggestion that the June meeting date be changed to June 20. There were no objections, and the consensus was to change the meeting date.

Citizen Comment Period

Chair Merrow asked if there is anyone present in the audience who came to speak about an item not on the agenda. There was no one.

Executive Director’s Report

Wagener said that this would be the final meeting for Blair Frantz, the Council’s intern for the spring. He said he wished to acknowledge that she demonstrated exceptional thoroughness in her work and unusual dedication by staying until the annual report was complete. Members thanked Frantz for her excellent work.

He said that the Council did not appear in the budget adopted by the General Assembly and signed by the governor earlier in the month because its funding will now come from the “Passport to Parks” account which now will be a non-lapsing, non-appropriated account. He said the legislation was silent on how the amount for the Council will be determined.

Wagener said that he submitted the Council’s comments on the proposed changes to the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) regulations and also testified at the public hearing, where he was the only speaker.

He said that the General Assembly acted on many important bills affecting the environment, and recommended the website of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters for a comprehensive list. For this meeting, he would present updates on bills in which the Council had some involvement. Highlights: the proposed constitutional amendment to restrict the transfer of state properties will be on the ballot; the current language of the solar siting law remains unchanged; the bill that would have prevented the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) from imposing penalties on small businesses for their first violations did not pass, though the agency is required by another bill to report to the legislature on the number of investigations for which no fine was imposed; the 2017 law that required automatic approval of many permits within 90 days of application was limited, in the recent session, to 29 categories and, more importantly, amended to remove the automatic-approval provisions from the law; the bills that would have affected the proposed firearms training facility in Griswold failed; the proposed ban on pesticide misters was adopted but only requires setback from a neighboring property; and the snapping turtle now enjoys the same legal status as other wildlife, which means no commercial harvest can take place unless DEEP adopts regulations to allow such commerce – a fitting announcement for this day, which is World Turtle Day.

Wagener also updated the Council on the General Assembly’s inaction on the state Water Plan, a result attributed to controversy over references to the public trust in water resources.

A discussion followed on the role of the Council with respect to the constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot. It was agreed that providing information on the question might be an appropriate role for the Council. Members asked that this topic be placed on the next meeting agenda. Hilding arrived at this point in the discussion.

Review of the New Britain Watershed Environmental Study

Chair Merrow recognized Mr. Jim Ericson of Lenard Engineering (LEI), who had requested to speak. He said he wished to clear up what he believed are some misconceptions about the project. He discussed three topics: 1) He said the proposal cuts through only 200 feet of the Metacomet trail and the precise boundaries of the project could be modified, 2) he said that only 70 acres of the 130 acre parcel will be cleared and that 44 acres and two vernal pools will be preserved, and 3) the water quality of the reservoir can be managed to be acceptable by managing flood skimming, which he described as the capture of water during high flows rather than collecting stormwater. Council members asked follow-up questions.

Mr. Ramon Esponda, Acting Director of Public Works in New Britain, asked to speak. He pointed out two items that needed correction in the version of the draft comments he had received; both had been revised before the meeting in the version that had been distributed to the Council immediately prior to the meeting.

Mr. Paul Zagorsky spoke next. He said that the comments that had been made by DEEP on the proposed project in 2007 raised many environmental issues that were not addressed in the study. He said New Britain should have been aware of these and consequently not made a proposal that did not address them. He suggested the objectivity of the analysis was distorted by the wishes of Tilcon to expand its operation.

Next to speak was Mr. William Ostapchuk. He said the water lost through leakage from the supply system in New Britain would support the water needs many people. He added that the loss of forests will reduce the water in the watershed for the city’s reservoirs by a considerable amount. He also addressed potential consequences of the flood-skimming proposal.

Mr. Robert Mathis spoke last. He reported on damage from blasts and mining that was not addressed by Tilcon or local officials.

Hilding asked Mr. Ericson if there were any written reviews from the peer reviewers or responders. Mr. Ericson said that there had not been a written review.

Chair Merrow thanked those who commented for their insights and opinions. Numerous modifications were proposed to improve the content and presentation of the draft. It was determined that there should be a short executive summary and there should be an explanation that the order of presentation follows the list of items required to be considered by the public act that mandated the review.

Dunbar made a motion to approve the Council’s comments on the New Britain Watershed Environmental Study with the changes agreed to at the meeting, with the exact wording of those changes subject to approval of the subcommittee co-chairs and the Council chair. Second by Vidich. Approved unanimously.

Review of State Agency Actions

Wagener said that staff had reviewed a proposal for a solar energy installation in North Haven and although there it will be located on some abandoned farmland, the petition says that no prime farmland or core forest will be affected. DEEP has submitted comments on rare species. Staff was not recommending comments.

Discussion and Approval of Annual Environmental Quality Report

Using slides, Wagener reviewed the report’s major conclusions and a new indicator on invasive insects. Suggestions for the annual report followed. Vidich and Dunbar suggested that a reference to the “public trust” doctrine be included; other members agreed. Reiser said he had a few minor suggestions for wording that he would provide later.e

There was discussion of the new indicator on Asian tiger mosquitoes. Chair Merrow said the pest is linked to the report’s discussion of climate change. Kolesinskas said that Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station scientists had estimated that a one to two degree increase in temperature would allow them to successfully overwinter in the state. He said that could partially explain the higher prevalence in the southwest section of the state. Frantz said the mosquito’s rise is more prevalent in the state than other species. Vidich said the 91 sampling sites should be shown on a state map. Frantz made the point that the data collection on invasive insects is expected to continue and to include other pests also.

Brooks suggested deletion of the work “awful” in reference to invasive plants. Hilding suggested rewording the letter to the Governor to make it clear that the rate of farmland preservation is not acceptable.

Charamut made a motion to approve the annual report with the changes agreed to at the meeting, with additional minor proofreading and editorial changes offered by members no later than Friday, with the exact wording of those changes subject to approval of the Council chair. Second by Dunbar. Approved unanimously.

Dunbar made a motion to adjourn, which was seconded by Brooks and approved by all. The meeting adjourned at noon.