HARTFORD -- Gov. Dannel Malloy has proposed eliminating an agency that was instrumental in requiring a more intense environmental review of the proposal to allow Tilcon to mine protected watersheds owned by the New Britain Water Department.
The state’s Council on Environmental Quality since 1971 has addressed residents’ complaints and provided the governor with an accurate yearly assessment of the state’s environment, among its other duties as a watch dog agency.
Under Malloy’s proposed 2017-18 budget, the agency would be completely defunded and eliminated, a fact that has environmentalists up in arms.
“They should be singled out not for elimination, but for praise for accomplishing their mission with only a $174,000 budget,” said attorney Paul Zagorsky, who brought the complaint to the Council that led to a more extensive environmental review of the Tilcon proposal.
The agency has two paid professional staff members and a nine-member volunteer board whose members are appointed by the governor and General Assembly leaders. The members, many of whom are environmental experts, donate their time.
Their duties include providing the governor with an annual report on the condition of the state’s environment and oversees Environmental Monitor, a website that provides information on state projects and notices of the sale or transfer of state-owned lands. Independent of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the council advises other state agencies on the environmental impacts of proposed construction projects and investigates resident complaints including allegations of violations of environmental laws.
“We do some things that are unique that no one else will if we go away,” said Council Chairwoman Susan Merrow, who has sat on the boards of many environmental groups and is a past president of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.
The Council was one of two agencies named in a state law last year that were required to give their input and approval for the city to hire a consultant to study the environmental impacts of the proposed Tilcon project. Under the plan, the company would mine up to 131 acres of New Britain Water Department land in Plainville including Class I and Class II protected watersheds for up to 40 years before returning the property to New Britain as a reservoir that could potentially increase the city’s water yield by 160,000 gallons per day.
The watersheds act as filters for New Britain’s Shuttle Meadow Reservoir. In order to study the impact of the proposal, legislation had to be approved because of the involvement of the watersheds.
The proposal would include Tilcon paying New Britain for mineral rights to the land. The city would retain ownership of the property. The financial terms of the mineral rights deal have not been made public.
The environmental study will have to be examined by the Council, the Water Planning Council and several state agencies including the Department of Public Health and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection when it’s complete before the plan is approved.
The Council originally gave their approval for the city to hire Lenard Engineering, among three other candidates, to conduct the study on June 22. It rescinded its approval after Zagorsky gave the council a copy of Lenard’s scope of the study which the company said would be based on “published” information and would take 15 weeks.
The Council later reaffirmed approved the engineering firm after the Water Planning Council instructed the company to do a four-season review that included a laundry list of additions made by both agencies including field inspections.
Ultimately it’s too soon to tell if the Council will be a casualty of the state’s budget deliberations, said State Rep. Rick Lopes, (D-New Britain) who is not in favor of defunding the agency. “For what they do, it’s a relatively small amount of money,” Lopes said.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or .