Minutes of the February 23, 2022 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality (Council) held in compliance with Governor Lamont’s Executive Order 7B. 

MEMBERS PRESENT: Keith Ainsworth (Acting Chair), Matt Reiser, Alicea Charamut, Charles Vidich, David Kalafa, William Warzecha, and Kip Kolesinskas.

ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Peter Hearn (Executive Director) and Paul Aresta (Environmental Analyst). Members of the public who spoke include: Ann Zitkus, Michael Nadeau, Bruce Bennet*, Susan Masino, Margaret Miner, Frank Zitkus, Blake Levitt, and Harry White.
* Mr. Bennett’s comments have been added to the bottom of the minutes at his request.

1. Call to Order: Establishment of a Quorum
At 9:30 AM, Ainsworth called the meeting to order. Ainsworth took attendance and confirmed that there was a quorum of Council members present. 

2. Approval of Agenda
Vidich made a motion to approve the agenda; seconded by Charamut. The motion passed.

3. Approval of Minutes of January 26, 2022, and February 9, 2022
Vidich made a motion to approve the draft minutes of January 26, 2022, and February 9, 2022; seconded by Kalafa. The motion to approve draft minutes for both meetings passed.

4. Citizen Comment Period
Ainsworth invited members of the public to speak and requested that speakers introduce themselves. The following members of the public (Ann Zitkus, Michael Nadeau, Bruce Bennet, Susan Masino, Margaret Miner, Frank Zitkus, Blake Levitt, and Harry White) spoke regarding one or more of the following issues:
  • the need to address climate change and biodiversity;
  • the importance of “proforestation”;
  • the need to eliminate or control the introduction and spread of invasive species, especially after forestry actions;
  • the need for land preservation strategies that include “no activity” areas;
  • the need for tree preservation rather than tree removal;
  • the replanting of trees at Housatonic Meadows State Park and other locations where trees are being removed;
  • the use of arborists and properly trained personnel to identify and evaluate trees to determine their level of hazard and the ecosystem functions that they help to support;
  • the need to defer any additional tree removals until the process for hazard tree determinations can be refined;
  • the need for selective cutting and pruning in lieu of total tree removal;
  • the need for a systemic change to forest management in the state;
  • the elimination of incentives for biomass-fed electric generating facilities; and
  • the need for DEEP to comply with Federal law when undertaking actions that might affect protected species.

Hearn noted that he received an email from Jaim Longhi and he summarized the key points.

5. Citizen Complaints and Inquiries Received 
In the interest of time, the citizen complaints and inquiries received were deferred until the next meeting, as appropriate.

6. Executive Director’s Report

  • Draft letter to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) 
    Hearn reviewed the key points of a draft letter that would be sent to DEEP’s Commissioner regarding its policy on emergency tree removal and recommendations for remediation at Housatonic Meadows State Park, including the need to:
    • incorporate mitigation and community involvement into restoration at Housatonic Meadows and for all tree removal actions, including those conducted under the emergency exemption of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA);
    • improve the process by which hazard trees are selected for removal; and
    • consider the unique ecological habitat, aesthetics and social values at locations of planned tree removals, even when they are being conducted under the emergency exemption of the CEPA.

    Reiser asked if emergency actions are exempt from CEPA and if so, he suggested adding language to the letter highlighting that point. Kolesinskas suggested adding language to the letter highlighting the need for more hazard tree training and the use of a multi-disciplinary team approach to assess the total ecosystem services. Vidich expressed his support for the development of an agency specific Environmental Classification Document (ECD) for DEEP that would include agency actions involving trees. Kalafa questioned if the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) and the Council would have input into the development of DEEP’s ECD. Hearn responded in the affirmative. Charamut suggested that DEEP should consider the goals and recommendations identified in various state plans and reports that have been developed through stakeholder processes. Charamut made a motion to send the draft letter, with the Council’s suggested revisions, to the Commissioner of DEEP; seconded by Vidich. The motion passed.

  • State forest management and the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act
    Hearn reported that he has a meeting scheduled with Deputy Commissioner Trumble to discuss the Housatonic Meadows event and general guidelines for emergency tree removal. He noted that he developed a draft white paper, which was sent to Council members in advance of the meeting, on the importance of a CEPA review for state-sponsored forestry, forest management and tree maintenance in Connecticut. He added that he proposes to send the white paper to DEEP and OPM and he will also seek to arrange a meeting with DEEP and OPM to discuss implementation of the recommendations that are included in it. Charamut stated that she believes the divisions with DEEP that oversee parks and forests do not coordinate as well as they could. Kolesinskas noted that the database of state-owned land does not include sufficient information regarding ecosystem services. Vidich noted that the use of LIDAR could aid in the assessment of ecosystem services for undeveloped land. Hearn then reviewed proposed modifications to the draft white paper, including the addition of text indicating that the state’s current Generic ECD,  explicitly mentions core forests as “Typical Actions That Require Public Scoping To Determine Whether An Environmental Impact Evaluation Is Required” and the explicit mention of “core forests” in the Generic ECD does not exclude actions in other forest types that qualify under section “II o” of the ECD. After additional discussion, Kolesinskas made a motion to approve the draft white paper with the changes noted by the Council members and by Hearn; seconded by Kalafa. The motion passed.

  • Floodplain Regulation
    Hearn reported that staff had a meeting with DEEP regarding state actions that might impact the floodplain. He added that the regulations allow DEEP to regulate state-sponsored activities within a floodplain and that state statutes require that certain “critical activities”, including housing, undertake “flood proofing”, which requires that there be an additional two feet of freeboard above the 500-year flood elevation. Vidich noted that flood insurance rates could be lower if more towns required development above the 500-year flood level. Kolesinskas questioned whether levees or dams affected the applicability of activities within a designated floodplain. Hearn responded that he had not looked at that. Vidich said levees can be taken into consideration when flood risk is determined. Hearn said that DEEP has a dam section that might have jurisdictions over levees and that is something that can be reported on at a future meeting.

  • Executive Director vacancy in June
    Hearn reported that he will be retiring as Executive Director and that a job description and announcement for the position was distributed to “Environmental Leaders” on February 15, 2022. He added that the job announcement indicated that resumes are due by March 8, 2022 and that the candidate must be available to start on June 1, 2022. Ainsworth asked that he and Charamut, the two members of the Council’s search committee, be given any materials that are received by Hearn in response to the job announcement.

Ainsworth noted that the Council would take a short break at 10:40 and would resume again at 10:47.

7. Staff Activities

  • Research on Invasive Species
    Hearn reported that the draft report on the management of invasive species has been updated, consistent with the Council’s comments at the last meeting. He reviewed the draft recommendations, which included the following: 
    1. Prioritize responses and publicize plans
    • Responses should be targeted to locations where new invasive species have appeared or where there is a high likelihood of  spread to other areas.  Management trade-offs need to be made clear.
    • Prioritize the reestablishment of the invasive species coordinator position and utilize existing state contracts with control companies to create a de facto rapid response to highest priority infestations.

    2. Recommended Legislation

    • Allow locales to declare a species a nuisance to allow removal where an individual can’t or won’t.
    • Require labeling of plants that pose a potential risk.
    • Consideration to simplifying the state’s definition of what constitutes an invasive plant

    3. Prioritize control of invasive species at state sponsored construction and forestry projects.
    4. Establish a repository for data on invasive species locations within the state.
    5. Expand DEEP’s efforts in education and fundraising.
    6. Encourage the private sector to do more.

    Ainsworth and Vidich expressed their support for the revised draft report. Charamut suggested that the language in the draft report be clear that the success in controlling hydrilla is primarily restricted to Coventry Lake and added that she prefers the call out box for additional information regarding the potential toxins associated with hydrilla. Hearn noted that for the most part, there have been very few success stories regarding the control or eradication of hydrilla in the state. He added that even the use of sterile carp, which has been successful in controlling aquatic invasive species in Squantz Pond, may be negatively impacting other aquatic vegetation in the lake. Vidich noted that the executive summary includes content on the use of diseases to control invasive species but he could not find that content in the body of the report. Hearn responded that the report contains content regarding the use of biological controls for purple loosestrife. Kolesinskas added that the report includes language on a fungus that has been successful in controlling Gypsy moths. Vidich made a motion to approve the revised draft report, seconded by Warzecha. The motion passed.

  • 2021 Annual Report
    Hearn reviewed the proposed schedule for the release of the 2021 Annual Report. Ainsworth commented that it might not be necessary to release the 2021 Annual Report in advance of Earth Day. Aresta reviewed several charts that were developed for inclusion in the 2021 Annual Report, including: state preserved and conservation partners preserved land, beverage container redemption rate, swimming, beach actions by county, water quality, ridership, and eagles. Vidich suggested that the right axis for the land preservation chart should start at 200,000 rather than zero so the increase in cumulative area is more evident. There was general discussion regarding the methodology for assessing the net improvement or degradation of assessed waterbodies in the state for each reporting year compared to the 2020 data. Kalafa and Kolesinskas suggested that the title be revised and that the text of the report provide greater detail on how to interpret that chart.

8. State Agency Actions 

  • Release-based Remediation Working Group 
    Aresta reported that he and Hearn have been participating in the second phase topical subcommittee for LEP-implemented, risk-based alternative clean-up standards. He added that the subcommittee has focused on possible opportunities to use the existing Remediation Standard Regulations (RSRs) to establish alternative risk-based, clean-up standards.

b. Connecticut Siting Council (CSC)

  • Docket 507 
    Aresta reported that Homeland towers proposes to construct a 110-ft monopine tower, a 500-gallon propane tank, and emergency generator within a 4600 square foot leased area on a 7.86-acre site. He noted that the proposed project would require the construction of a new gravel drive that would be 795 feet long and would be within 17 feet of the onsite wetlands. He added that the Council’s draft comments include recommendations that address wildlife, wetlands and land use.

  • Petitions 1481 and 1488
    Aresta reported that staff reviewed Petitions 1481 and 1488, which consisted of modifications to existing telecommunications facilities, and that no comments were recommended.

  • Petitions 1482 and 1485
    Aresta reported that staff reviewed Petitions 1482 and 1485, which consisted of the installations of fuel cell technology at healthcare facilities in Stamford on previously developed land, and that no comments were recommended.

  • Petition 1484 
    Aresta reported that Eversource Energy proposes to modify and expand an existing substation, which would require that approximately 4,700 square feet of permanent wetland impacts and approximately 45,200 square feet of temporary wetland impacts due to the proposed expansion and the placement of construction mats for work areas during construction. He added that the Council’s comments include a recommendation that the Petitioner develop and implement a wetland restoration plan for the area impacted by the temporary placement of construction matting.

  • Petition 1487 
    Aresta reported that a solar photovoltaic facility with the capacity of 1.97 MW is being proposed on approximately 13 acres in Pomfret. He added that the site is an existing hayfield. Charamut questioned of the proposed project would be within 100 feet of the wetlands onsite. Aresta responded that the drainage basin would be within 100 feet of the wetlands on the proposed site and that conduit and wires would be within 100 feet and cross an outlet area for a man-made farm pond located near the main road, north of the proposed site. He added that the Council’s draft comments address wildlife, prime farmland soils, and groundwater. 

    Vidich made a motion to submit the comments for Docket 507 and Petitions 1484 and 1487 to the Siting Council; seconded by Kolesinskas. The motion passed.

c. Introduced Bills and draft comments: Raised Bills 117, 5143, others

Hearn reviewed the draft testimony for House Bill 5143, An Act Establishing an Office of Aquatic Invasive Species. Hearn recommended some changes to the version that had been distributed to the Council prior to the meeting. They included expanding the state’s education efforts about invasive species, requesting additional financial resources for the control of invasive species, and addressing more than just aquatic invasive species. Charamut stated that she supports the proposed revisions and suggested that the additional financial resources be more that the amount currently allocated from the Connecticut Lakes, Rivers and Ponds Preservation Account. Kalafa made a motion to approve and submit the proposed testimony for House Bill 5143, with the suggested changes, seconded by Vidich. The motion passed.

Hearn then reviewed that draft testimony for Senate Bill 117, An Act Concerning Tree Removal on Properties Under the Control of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Senate Bill 4, An Act Concerning the Connecticut Clean Air Act. Warzecha made a motion to approve and submit the proposed testimony for Senate Bill 117 and Senate Bill 4; seconded by Vidich. The motion passed.

9. Other Business 
Ainsworth asked if there were any other items for discussion by Council members or the public. Hearing none, Ainsworth asked for a motion to adjourn. Kalafa made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 12:00 PM; seconded by Charamut. The motion passed.

Pursuant to Executive Order 7B, a recording1 of this meeting is available by email request of the Council (email to: peter.hearn@ct.gov). 

1 (Passcode: Zf2LFh*r)
Comments of Bruce Bennett of West Cornwall:

“Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for this opportunity to speak.  I would like to give you a run down of what Housatonic Meadows Preservation Action Group has be up to over the last several weeks. We are composing a list of our goals and recruiting member inside and outside the group to participate in these endeavors.
We have three goals:
1. Restoration of the affected area as well as a push for over all improvements of the Housatonic Meadows State Park
2. A push to require DEEP to completely alter and improve its current approach to hazard tree selection that includes recognition of Ecosystem Services as a part of Hazard tree determination. We are also requesting advanced licensing that will require scientific knowledge of the individual making Hazard tree decisions.
3. We will be aggressively requiring DEEP to completely rewrite it’s Forestry policy and require them to seek approval for any action taken, from regulatory authorities, before moving forward. 
I would like to bring to your attention the fact that Deep failed to follow the guidelines presented in the federally mandated 2020 forest action plan when removing the trees at HMSP. As a result of this failure, we would like to support the moratorium on the remaining trees that have been slated for removal.  This moratorium should remain until DEEP’s policy has been reconsidered by individuals with contemporary scientific standards and knowledge.
Thank you for time.”