The Connecticut Siting Council (CSC) is holding a public hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 13th in New Britain at 1:00 PM on changes they have proposed to their review structure — one of which is to restrict Conservation Commissions and environmental groups from commenting on any given application unless they have filed for party or intervenor status. Go to their website for info at http://www.ct.gov/csc/ click on Proposed Amended Regulations. Scroll down to comments by Attorney Keith Ainsworth for the most cogent objections. You can also access the salient areas through his citations and go to the Proposed Amended Regulations for cross reference.
It is important that as many people as possible from environmental groups, planning agencies, and town conservation groups show up at this hearing to object to any such restrictions. Or at least file written comments ASAP as their supposed deadline is Dec. 6th. (Ask for an extention.)
In Litchfield County, both the Housatonic Valley Association (HVA) and the Berkshire-Litchfield Environmental Council (BLEC) have given their input during the public comment session of CSC hearings, not as intervenors/parties, depending on the circumstance. For instance, it was appropriate for BLEC to officially intervene when a tower was proposed within 1000′ of our office. In other instances, we have been asked to comment by various entities — citizens groups, conservation commissions, etc. — as authorities but without intervenor or party status. HVA does the same. Both groups often provide information completely left out by applicants and therefore unavailable to the CSC during any particular application. Local environmental groups and town conservation commissions are far more knowledgeable about local resources and sensitive areas than distant state entities or corporate behemoths which hire out-of-state firms to compile information.
This proposed CSC change would eliminate that avenue of participation and require a degree of legal participation typically beyond most groups and town committees. Also, in so doing, it would remove a significant opportunity to enter expert information into the public record that can be used in the advent of court challenges later on. The change requires that any expert information be subject to their strict evidentiary control and cross examination. But to participate at THAT level requires legal expertise beyond most towns and/or environmental groups.
It is BLEC’s position that participation in the CSC process is already daunting enough and that the process should be made easier, not more difficult.
Another ill-conceived change would codify what applicants now use regarding the presence of sensitive wildlife, flora or fauna at proposed sites… There is a proforma DEEP letter typically used in cell tower applications that should not be used as a final determination, or in lieu of a wildlife inventory survey when indicated. The DEEP letter even contains a disclosure statement to that affect at the bottom but it is usually ignored by the CSC. This change would allow that letter to be the final word and it is wholly inadequate. The DEEP’s letter is based on a data search of DEEP records but the DEEP database is nowhere near complete, nor does DEEP conduct wildlife inventory reviews. It is up to local entities to do that themselves and then file with the DEEP. But few are equipped for such inventory review and this has been a way of shifting essential regulatory process onto local entities.
These changes serve to stack the deck even more in CSC’s favor — something that municipalities already find too onerous. But without pushback, it will go through. Please comment during this one narrow window allotted to the citizens of CT. There are also issues pertaining to industrial wind turbine siting in these proposed changes, too.
B. Blake Levitt
Communications Director, The Berkshire-Litchfield Environmental Council