Minutes of the meeting of the March 27, 2019 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), Keith Ainsworth, Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Alison Hilding, Matt Reiser, Charles Vidich

ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Executive Director), Colbie Cook (Environmental Intern), Jackson Ruprecht (Environmental Intern), David Kalafa.

At 9:31 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum.

Chair Merrow began the meeting by introducing Attorney Keith Ainsworth, who had been just appointed to the Council by Speaker of the House of Representatives, Joe Aresimowicz. She welcomed him, saying she has known him for many years since they were once First Selectmen of neighboring towns. Chair Merrow suggested that all take the time to introduce themselves, which they did.

2. Approval of Agenda

Chair Merrow introduced Colbie Cook, an Environmental Intern from Trinity College. Chair Merrow said that because Ms. Cook must return to campus for a meeting, she would like to move her presentation on Bokashi forward to after the Citizen Comment period. Dunbar made a motion to approve the modified agenda. It was seconded by Vidich and approved by all.

3. Approval of Minutes of February 27, 2019

Chair Merrow asked if there were any modifications to the minutes of the February 27, 2019 meeting. Vidich noted a typo which used “negation” rather than “negotiation”. Reiser found where “thar” was typed for “they”. There were no other changes. Vidich moved to approve the corrected minutes. This was seconded by Dunbar and approved by all. Hilding had not arrived and Ainsworth did not vote, since, being newly appointed, he was not present at the February meeting.

4. Chair’s Report

a. Report on Conference on Water and the Public Trust

Chair Merrow said that, on March 9th, she, Charamut and Hearn attended the Rivers Alliance Conference that was organized to discuss the concept that Water is a Public Trust. It was well attended. Charamut said it drew 150 people. Chair Merrow said the concept of water as a public trust was thoroughly vetted and was well supported. Dunbar asked if all viewpoints were aired. Charamut said that all points of view were aired, especially on the first panel, composed of attorneys representing different interests. She said that on all panels, but one, there was much back and forth. A discussion commenced regarding the “public trust” in water, with Ainsworth offering insight to its judicial history.

b. Report on Request for an Appointment to the Council

Chair Merrow said she was pleased to see that one of the Council’s two vacancies is now filled by Ainsworth and she is hopeful that the remaining vacancy will soon be filled as well. Hilding arrived at this point.

5. Citizen Comment Period

Chair Merrow said that no one from the public has come to speak, so we can move on to Cook’s presentation on Bokashi.

a. Bokashi Report (Agenda Item 7a)

Hearn introduced the presentation by reporting that the Council had received inquiries regarding a proposal to convert animal manure and waste milk product into a useable soil treatment and fertilizer, using the “Bokashi” method. He said he was able to learn from staff at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) that there had been a pre-permit meeting with the sponsor of the project. The permit would be for a beneficial-use permit. He was able to respond to the inquiries regarding where in the administrative process the proposal stood. Because he knew nothing of the potential advantages or disadvantages of the Bokashi process, he had asked Cook if she would be willing to research it. He said the he and Cook met with DEEP after she had produced a report on the probable ecological consequences of an industrial-scale Bokashi plant. DEEP staff were very appreciative of her research, much of which they had not seen previously. He said she had produced a PowerPoint presentation for the Council that summarized her findings.

Cook began her presentation explaining the biology behind the process, which depends on anaerobic digestion to produce a nutrient-rich fertilizer. She described the chemical components of the end product and compared them to the end-products from conventional composting. In response to questions from the Council she explained that her research was based, primarily on a study that compared the results of Bokashi and composting, based on identical inputs. She said that the Bokashi process resulted in less nitrogen in the final product than compost, but it is richer in other nutrients. It produces far less greenhouse gasses, than composting.

There were many questions at the conclusion of Cook’s presentation. She explained that the process is virtually odorless because it takes place in air-tight containers. She said the process is quicker than composting and can be completed in approximately sixteen days. The leachate can also be used as a fertilizer plus it can be tested for pathogens to determine if the process, which destroys pathogens, is complete. She said that if a permit is granted, DEEP might require a longer fermentation time, to assure no pathogens survive. She said that the process is initiated with a fermentation “starter” that is available commercially. If a permit is granted it will not be for a “demonstration project” but monitoring and reporting will be required by DEEP. A public hearing will not be required. Hilding asked why there will not be a hearing. Hearn said that DEEP’s role is to pass on the science and ecological consequences of the proposal. There will be hearings at the local level that will consider other issues like noise, odors and zoning.

6. Staff Report

a. Status of Proposed New CEPA Regulations

Hearn said that DEEP’s Draft Regulations to implement the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) were met with some objections from the Legislative Commissioner’s Office (LCO). On Tuesday, DEEP staff met with the co-chairs of the Regulations Review Committee to discuss the objections. Hearn said he was told by DEEP staff that the major concern was whether there is statutory authority in CEPA to support the requirement for a review of a project’s status after seven years, if no action has occurred, and to make a determination as to whether a new scoping review is warranted prior to proceeding with the project.

Hearn, using PowerPoint, showed the CEPA statute that directs DEEP to adopt regulations that include “procedures for timely and thorough state agency and public review and comment on all environmental impact evaluations required by this part and for such other matters as may be needed to assure effective public participation and efficient implementations of this part”. He said CEPA clearly supports the Draft Regulations if “timely” is construed to mean “current” rather than “prompt”. It also can be interpreted to support a review of projects if “thorough” implies containing the latest data. Ainsworth said that, even without delving into the meaning of those two words, the fact that the statute requires “procedures for such other matters as may be needed to assure effective public participation and efficient implementations” is broad enough to justify the administrative review that is required by the Draft Regulations. Dunbar added that, as a practical consideration, it is less costly and more efficient to perform a review than to face opposition to a project due to changed circumstances. Hilding agreed.

A discussion followed on the mechanics of such a review, where in the process it would occur, how it would affect the rights of permit holders and whether it would prevent projects from moving forward. Hearn said that the proposed regulations only require publication and review of old projects. If the analyses are still relevant, no rights are lost. If there have been changed circumstances of significance, a new scoping for the project might be needed.

Hearn said that the Council is on record multiple times since 2010 advocating for a “shelf life” for environmental impact evaluations (EIE). He asked if the Council wished to send a memo to the Regulations Review Committee in support of the interpretation that CEPA provides sufficient authority to support the review of projects to determine their current relevance. Vidich said he is in favor of drafting comments. Dunbar asked how they would be approved. Hearn said they could be drafted to reflect the statutory interpretation, just discussed, that the language of CEPA provides the authority to DEEP to implement the review of projects for timeliness. He said the comments would be approved by the Chair prior to being sent. Dunbar made that motion which was seconded by Vidich and approved unanimously.

b. Solar Energy Sites and Compliance Concerns

Hearn said he had inquired of DEEP regarding the number of Cease and Desist orders that have been issued at construction sites for solar energy facilities. He said that Cease and Desist orders are rare and that the Council has been made aware of four sites where construction was ordered halted by either DEEP or by the Siting Council since 2014. Dunbar said that renewable energy is essential and asked the point of the inquiry. Hearn said that it is to determine if the state is faced with a good technology that is being improperly implemented or inadequately supervised. Ainsworth agreed that the location of some of the sites has been problematic. Dunbar said that they present a unique engineering challenge for storm water, being impervious from which the storm water is not easily handled or directed. He said that this might be an appropriate footnote for the Council’s Annual Report. Hearn said he is only collecting data now and the Council will be informed of what is learned.

c. Blue Plan Release

Hearn reported that the Draft of the Long Island Sound Blue Plan has been completed and available for Public Comment. He said that the statute authorizing the Blue Plan required that its availability be posted in the Environmental Monitor. The notice appears in the current edition. In the past, when special requests were made by agencies to post notices, they would be inserted at the top of the first page of the Environmental Monitor ahead of the regular notices. Since these special notices are becoming more frequent, there is now a section on the first page for “special notices” that is compatible with the rest of the formatting for the Environmental Monitor. Council members expressed interest in learning more about the Blue Plan at a future meeting.

7. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries

a. Bokashi Report (see above)

b. Construction of Electricity Transmission Towers

Hearn said he had been made aware of a number of email communications regarding actual, or potential damage to species and habitats as a consequence of construction associated with the rebuilding of electricity transmission towers. He said that the Siting Council has jurisdiction when the height of towers is being increased. He said an argument could be made that, if to re-build and heighten a tower, a temporary road must be constructed or an existing right-of-way widened to accommodate the equipment need to heighten the tower then by inference that would fall under the jurisdiction of the Siting Council. If individuals have specific evidence of ecological damage from the tower construction, they might benefit from bringing that detail to the Siting Council

8. Review of State Agency Actions

a. Siting Council Petition # 470B

Hearn reported that this petition is a resubmission of a petition that had been denied without prejudice in 2017 for lack of sufficient information. It is for a 550 MW, duel fueled electric generating facility. It has been resubmitted with the information requested. There are a number of environmental groups opposed to the new submission on the basis that there is not a demand and therefore it does not serve a public benefit. No comments from the Council are recommended at this time.

b. Auditor’s Report on DPH and Enforcement

Hearn said that the report by the State Auditor was a discussion topic at the last Council meeting. It reported some failings by the Department of Public Health (DPH) to follow up on reported violations. Hearn was asked to contact DPH for an explanation because the safety of the State’s drinking water is tracked in the Council’s Annual Report. Hearn spoke with the head of the Drinking Water Section at DPH who said that the Department believes the Auditor’s report to be in error. DPH is checking the data and will issue a rebuttal, if appropriate. He said that because the Auditor’s report received such wide press attention, it will need to be footnoted in the Annual Report.

9. Workload Management

a. Interns and Annual Report Research

Hearn said that Jackson Ruprecht has been reaching out to the people and agencies from which the Council receives the data for its Annual Report. Ruprecht presented a PowerPoint summary showing the data received for 2018, compared to the preceding year and to the ten year average. The most impressive improvement was in open space acquired by the State. It showed an impressive increase over 2017 and over the ten year average.

The economic implications of the data on photovoltaic installations was discussed at length, since home installations is one of the indicators reported on. Vidich asked if a map showing the density of installations could be shown. Hilding said she would like to see the same sort of density information for solar farms. She said it would be useful to link the page for preserved land to the page for deforestation.

Hearn said he expects that the 2018 data for most of the indicators will be available by the next Council meeting. He is optimistic for a May publication date.

b. Status of EA2 Hiring

Chair Merrow reported that an employment offer has been made to one of the candidates who was interviewed. The candidate has been in contact with Human Resources regarding employment specifics that will need to be resolved prior to accepting the position.

Other Business

a. Connecticut Water Company Acquisition Redux

Hearn said that the San Jose Water Company announced its intention to resubmit its application to acquire, by merger, the Connecticut water Company. Charamut said it is expected in the next few months. Hearn displayed all the objections to the merger that were raised by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), that need to be overcome in the new petition. A discussion followed on many aspects of the proposal including the concept of “public trust” as regards water in Connecticut and how it is different in the West. Ainsworth made the point that if water is merely a commodity and not a public trust, its protection for the sake of wildlife and ecology is lost. Vidich said that Connecticut’s minimum stream flow regulations that are an outgrowth of the public trust concept.

The discussion turned to the status of the Connecticut Water Plan and the route to adoption. Charamut said that if not adopted by the legislature, it goes to Governor Lamont, who can order its enactment. Charamut said that another possibility is that the legislature could modify the Plan or enact a law to eliminate the need for the Governor’s approval. Chair Merrow said that would also have to go to the Governor for approval.

b. Legislative Update

Hearn reported that a bill, SB 1107, to carve out an exception to the State’s Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) to allow for the destruction of two historic building in Willimantic came to the attention of the Council on Sunday night. It was opposed by the preservationist community and Chair Merrow drafted and submitted comments on behalf of the Council it is an extremely bad precedent to allow a special carve outs from CEPA, which has served the state so well. The same language had appeared in a bill, HB 6552, earlier and had received considerable opposition. Kalafa spoke from the audience to say that to take down a historic building the owner must show that there is no other viable economic alternative. Vidich said that the building is a salvageable structure.

Chair Merrow reported that HB 5999, which was based on the recommendations of the Council in its 2017 report on pesticides, was reported favorably out of the Environment Committee without and substitute language.

Chair Merrow said that the bill to allow towns which wished to participate in a one percent buyer fee on real estate sales to fund conservation and recreation has not been reported out of committee. She said that many towns wanted to be in the pilot program.

Charamut noted that none of the many bills to create exemptions to the Passport to Parks fee were reported out of committee.

There being no further business, Chair Merrow asked for an adjournment motion. It was made by Dunbar and seconded by Charamut and approved by all. The meeting adjourned at noon.