CEQ: November 20, 2008
Minutes

Minutes of the November 20, 2008 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Ensign Room, 79 Elm St., Hartford.

 

PRESENT: Thomas Harrison (Chairman), M. Howard Beach, Bruce Fernandez, Earl Phillips, Richard Sherman, Barbara Wagner, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).

 

Chairman Harrison convened the meeting at 9:11 AM.   A quorum was present.

 

Chairman Harrison asked if there were any modifications to the draft minutes of the October 22, 2008 meeting. There were none. Beach motioned for approval. Wagner seconded. The minutes were approved with Fernandez abstaining because he had not been at that meeting.

 

Chairman’s Report

 

Chairman Harrison announced he had reached the maximum tenure on the Council allowed by law and would resign in December.  He added that it had been a privilege to serve as Chairman and a pleasure to work with the people who constitute the Council.  He announced that Barbara Wagner had been appointed by Governor Rell to succeed him as chair.

 

Executive Director’s Report

 

Wagener began by reminding the Council members of the Forest Sustainability Conference on November 25, which the Council co-sponsors.  

 

Wagener reported he attended the annual meeting of the Working Lands Alliance. He also was the keynote speaker at the annual conference of the Connecticut Association of Conservation and Inland Wetlands Commissions; and on that same day he was on radio station WTIC.

 

He reported that Hearn had attended the first meeting of the state’s Hazardous Waste Advisory Committee (HWAC).  At this time the focus is to be on assisting businesses that generate such wastes in avoiding mistakes and violations. This is part of the ‘path of least resistance” initiative in the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to assist businesses in compliance. Wagener stated that staff already attends the Solid Waste Advisory Committee and asked the Council if they advised continued staff attendance at the Hazardous Waste Advisory Committee. Hearn said that the meetings are open to the public. The Council staff are on a list-serve for HWAC and would know of meetings or issues that might warrant attention. The Council agreed to this as an acceptable alternative to attendance at every meeting.

 

Sherman and Chairman Harrison raised the question of how many such Committees were the Council party to and which were most valuable to the Council’s mission.  A discussion on this topic followed.

 

Citizen Complaints

 

Wagener referred the Council members to a chart he had sent them prior to the meeting that summarized the remarks and suggestions of those who spoke at the Council’s Public Forum in New London. He began a review of the topics that were raised.

 

SMART GROWTH & PROPERTY TAX

 

Land Value Taxation

This idea to base taxes on land values in urban areas, not on the improvements on the land. This is purported to encourage urban development and is considered a smart growth strategy. The Council decided not to pursue this concept for now, because of a lack of resources to evaluate the any data on its success and its environmental value relative to other smart growth strategies. 

 

Church and other non-profit tax exemptions on brownfield properties

It was proposed by a speaker at the public forum that the exemption on church properties was leading to unused vacant lots with the tax-exempt owner having little incentive to convert them to productive uses. Chairman Harrison asked staff to obtain a list of Connecticut’s brownfields and their owners if possible.

 

Real estate transfer tax for municipalities

The suggestion was offered at the New London meeting to authorize municipalities to add a real estate conveyance tax to fund conservation projects in the municipality. Wagener reported such a bill will again be introduced in this legislative session and he will keep the Council informed if this occurs.

 

TRANSPORTATION

 

The suggestion was made at the public forum that the DEP could be an impediment to expansion of commuter rail service by the Shore Line East Railroad. Staff inquiries into this determined that the DEP had the responsibility to approve bridge operation schedules through its coastal zone management regulations. However, the DEP was willing to agree to any schedule that met the needs of the railroads and boaters. DEP sees its role as a facilitator of dialogue among the parties. Due to the corollary benefits of rail travel with respect to greenhouse gasses, smart growth, energy efficiency and air quality, the Council decided to revisit this issue when a formal request is made to increase rail service.

 

A citizen had objected to the delay that would be caused by the requirement of an Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) for the New Haven to Springfield rail line. Wagner informed the Council that this was already in progress. However he would attend a scoping meeting for it on December 2nd where he would urge expediting completion of the EIW.

 

It was also suggested in New London that mass-transit be included in the state’s air quality implementation plan. Wagener said that it is reported in great detail even to the extent of calculating the reductions in pollutants projections with increases in bus service, train service, carpooling and reductions in automobile traffic.

 

Land ConservatioN

 

Although it was suggested at the public forum that Public Law 490 be changed to include farms of less than 30 acres, Wagener reported that there is no acreage requirement in the law. It is up to each town to determine what qualifies as a farm.

Wagener also pointed out that there had been a suggestion at the New London meeting to re-define forest lands to include parcels as small as five acres and he had no information as yet to offer on the consequences of this proposal.

 

Wagener noted that the suggestion that Public Law 490 also allow for biodiversity farming is not without precedent and that other states allow for this. Beach was concerned about the tax implications for the municipalities. Sherman said it warranted further study. Wagner pointed out that taxes put owners of undeveloped open space under tremendous pressure to develop their land. Wagener said that he did not believe it could be proposed in this legislative session, and would require more research.

 

Wagener said he would send the person who suggested that the DEP provide support for community gardens the information that the DEP does provide grants for these; and he will send information on how to find the application online.

 

WATER QUALITY

 

The issue of styrene pollution from installation of “cured in place” pipe was raised at the New London forum. Hearn said that although styrene has not as yet been listed on the register of carcinogens, careless handling that leads to environmental spills is bound to have short-term adverse consequences. Since these pipe contracts are issued individually, town by town, the solution would have to be contractual. Mr. Gosselin spoke from the audience and said that Massachusetts requires styrene effluent controls in all contracts and sees this as a model for Connecticut to follow. Because the Metropolitan District Commissions’ contracts are what brought this issue to the fore, Phillips suggested that staff contact the commission’s staff to learn what procedures were required or could be required. Chairman Harrison asked for follow up at the next meeting.

 

Wagener reported that the staff learned that the Department of Transportation (DOT) produces an annual report on catch basin cleanings and that DOT has not been contacted by any New London area water company about water quality problems at reservoirs that are a consequence of drainage from DOT maintained roads.  Staff will review the reports.

 

DEP LAND MANAGEMENT

 

Wagener investigated the reasons behind the cutting of trees at Bluff Point Preserve. He reported that the DOT had requested the cutting and that trees were chosen only after a study was conducted on an appropriate cut. The cutting was then done with conditions and inspections, and the wood was taken to the DEP sawmill for park uses.

 

Staff looked into the complaint about surface runoff from the DEP’s Gardner Lake boat Launch expansion, and learned that the town’s administration and wetlands and zoning commissions had been sent notice of the wetlands permit application. There were also public announcements in the local newspaper.  The town elected to not comment.

 

Wagener said he did not yet have a recommendation regarding the suggestion that developers appearing before town commissions be required to present plans for a full build-out of a property, even if only a portion were being constructed initially. He also had no recommendations regarding the suggestion that the burden of proof for proposed projects that require wetlands approvals be shifted from the town having to show harm to the developer having to show no harm, though he had obtained the 2008 legislation on this.

 

TRAINS, COVES AND RENEWABLE ENERGY

 

Hearn reported that communication from Amtrak indicated they would not have the funds in the immediate future to dredge channels under their causeways and trestles to restore tidal flow. Amtrak also reported that installation of tide generators at those locations posed so many technical, engineering, environmental and legal considerations that it would not happen in the near future either.  However the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund expressed interest in assisting Amtrak if it was interested in exploring wind power generation or fuel cells on it properties.

 

New Citizen Complaints

 

Hearn reported on a complaint from a citizen who lives across from a former illegal landfill. It is one of hundreds such landfills, which, though illegal, do not contain hazardous waste. These are not being addressed because they are not causing contamination problems.   Members concurred that these appear to fall in to that category of low-priority problems that cannot be addressed because resources are limited.

 

Wagener reported on a complaint regarding proposed changes in the process for obtaining permits for docks and other structured in tidal waters and tidal wetlands. The new proposal will be much more streamlined than the current one. However, it will require certification of the application by an engineer and surveyor; the citizen, a consultant who is not an engineer, wants a provision “grandfathering” persons currently drawing up these plans. Otherwise, he contends that more people will skip the application altogether in order to avoid the extra cost, and the state will have more illegal docks.   The Council decided that the permit process in this case is an administrative change, with unknown environmental consequences, beyond the purview of the Council.

 

 

Wagener reported that both the NEEWS and Algonquin projects that had been discussed at prior meetings were proceeding with permitting and evaluation.

 

Wagener handed out a sheet that listed the major recommendations of all recent Council reports. A discussion of the status of those recommendations followed.

 

After the discussion, Chairman Harrison asked that a schedule of Council meetings in 2009 be drawn up and circulated to the members.

 

There being no further business, Wagner made a motion to adjourn, which was seconded by Beach and the meeting adjourned at 11:34 PM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Content Last Modified on 12/17/2008 2:27:11 PM