State Plan of Conservation and Development.
Below is Rivers Alliance testimony on Feb. 23, 2013 for the state plan of conservation and
The committee was vague about how much longer it would take testimony, so the
sooner the better. You can email the document to the committee clerk:
In theory the Plan could move quickly, from a committee vote to the floor of the
House. More likely, however, the process will be drawn out. So if you want to
weigh in later, your voice could be important. Rivers Alliance addressed mostly
the process and the need to take more time to get it right. However, many people
on both sides of the issues want first to see corrections to the map and then
changes in the text as per their particular interests.
FOR THE CONTINUING LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE ON STATE PLANNING AND
TESTIMONY OF RIVERS ALLIANCE OF CONNECTICUT ON
DEVELOPMENT POLICIES: THE PLAN FOR CONNECTICUT, 2013-2018
Date: February 23,
To the Chairmen, Sen. Steve Cassano and Rep. Jason Rojas, and Members of
Rivers Alliance of Connecticut is the statewide, non-profit
coalition of river organizations, individuals, and businesses formed to protect
and enhance Connecticut's waters by promoting sound water policies, uniting and
strengthening the state's many river groups, and educating the public about the
importance of water stewardship. Our 450 members include almost all of the
state’s river and watershed conservation groups, representing many thousand
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the state
plan. I hope that the comment period can be held open for a time, as the notice
was not in the usual place in the Bulletin, and I was late communicating with
A New Approach
This plan was created with a new approach to both the
text and the map.
Cross-Acceptance Method: OPM was directed in PA
10-138 to revise the Plan through the “cross-acceptance method” used in New
Jersey. This approach is designed to reform a top-down, centralized approach to
planning. We support this approach. Implementation involves first a series of
meetings and discussions with municipalities, regional planning organizations,
and representatives of OPM to discuss a draft state plan. All parties are
supposed to understand where their plans and goals differ from others’.
through this stage but never attained the final and critical stage of
negotiation, which concludes with formal statements of agreement or disagreement
with the plan. Here is how it is describe on New Jersey’s website:
“Cross-acceptance concludes with written Statements of Agreements and
Disagreements supported by each negotiating entity and the State Planning
Commission. The State Planning Commission will incorporate the negotiated
agreements into the Draft Final State Plan. Cross-acceptance is, by definition,
a negotiating process. The State Plan and the State Plan Policy Map are intended
to represent the input of counties, municipalities and the public so that we can
all work together to create a State Plan that makes sense for all of New
Our sense is that many local groups feel they were only partly listened
to and the state does not have the benefit of the clarity provided by the full
cross-acceptance process. Moreover, the curtailed process does not meet the
statutory requirements in PA 10-138:
“Section 1. (Effective from passage) (a) As
used in this section, (1) "cross-acceptance" means a process by which planning
policies of different levels of government are compared and differences between
such policies are reconciled with the purpose of attaining compatibility between
local, regional and state plans … “
Recommendation: For this and other reasons
(see below), we ask the Committee to postpone action on the state plan until the
cross-acceptance process is complete.
Less Text. Although statutes and most
people refer to the “state plan of conservation and development,” the title of
the plan is “conservation and development policies …” (emphasis added). This
signals that the document will present policies or principles, with the details
of implementation to be found or developed elsewhere. The text is still
organized around the “six principles of smart growth,” but the document is much
shorter than the previous plan (45 pages versus 113).
There are benefits to a
shorter text. We support this change, especially given limited state resources
for research and writing. But the transition raises questions:
elimination of material indicate a change in state policy (as courts might
Some of the growth principles and policies are so broad as to permit
multiple interpretations. Will there be ongoing service by OPM to help people
determine what is consistent with the Plan and what is not?
If people are
supposed to turn to one or more other plans to help in interpretation and to
know how to flesh out a policy, which plans are authoritative? If plans are not
consistent, which plan trumps which?
OPM evidently intends to incorporate by
reference various state-agency plans cited at the end of the text in each
section. These plans are to be used for “more information and policy guidance”
beyond what is found in the state master plan (page 6). But is a “guidance”
document an authoritative statement of state policy on the same footing as the
state Plan? If so, there should there be explicit statements in the state Plan
and in the various agency plans cross-referring to each other when relevant.
Recommendation: Provide a more detailed explanation of when consistency with the
Plan is required and how one can determine if a specific project is consistent
or not. Clarify the status of the state agency plans vis a vis the Plan.
Generally, it appears that the deletion of detail is more costly to conservation
than development. This tilt toward development appears more vividly in the map.
The most controversial aspect of the Plan has been the Locational Guide
Map (LGM). It is not entirely clear whether the map is supposed to function as
optional guidance or as a depiction of detail that is integral to the Plan
itself. OPM has been clear that by law and practice the map should not be used
as a definitive measure of whether a project is consistent with the Plan.
Nevertheless, the Plan is often so used, similar to the way that a town’s zoning
map is used to determine what can be put where.
Although the map may be mere
optional guidance for many projects, it has been interpreted as required for
showing the Priority Funding Areas (PA 05-205). The relationship between the map
and criteria for funding makes the map extremely important to state and
municipal officials, conservation and housing non-profits, developers, and many
The map is in this Plan based, for the first time, on census districts,
and has a new set of categories by color (Priority Funding Areas, Conservation
Areas, Village Priority Funding Areas, etc., through to Undesignated Lands). It
also shows transportation infrastructure and sewer lines and plants.
Unfortunately, despite a major effort, the map is still quite inaccurate and
Some advocates have advised simply discarding the map, leaving the
text alone as the Plan. We do not agree. If this map is not available, people
will just use other maps. Moreover, the interactive version of the map has the
promise of being a great planning tool.
Recommendation: Postpone adoption of
this map until it is more complete and accurate. Provide an inducement to
municipalities and regional organizations to submit data. Establish a
streamlined process for making fact corrections to the map (location of roads,
commercial districts, protected lands, etc.).
• Page 18,
last sentence implies that decentralized water and wastewater systems will not
require publicly funded expansion of infrastructure. This was not the case in
the state’s first (and, I believe only) decentralized wastewater district, which
is in Old Saybrook. Public funding was very much needed.
• Page 19, bullet 5,
clarify that mitigation of wetlands loss through wetlands creation is extremely
difficult (and expensive) to do successfully; it requires expert, ongoing
supervision. CEQ has stopped tracking created wetlands in their annual report
because the data is so difficult to gather. • Page 24, first bullet. “Utilize an
integrated watershed management approach [for public drinking water]. Here and
elsewhere, the plan should indicate whether a prescription would require
significant changes in state law (as this would) or is within reach under
existing laws and policies.
• Page 24, third bullet. Here, somewhat
inexplicably, the plan has deleted the public health standard of two-acres per
unit in a drinking-water watershed. But it has added a limit of 10 percent area
coverage in such a watershed. The latter is a good limit and should be applied
where feasible (commercial development often tracks river and aquifers and
includes miles of pavement and roofs). We ask that both standards be included in
• Revisit the comments of the statewide environmental organizations
submitted for the earlier draft and this version of the plan. These comments
include much important information and advice. Many changes were made but many
important points were set aside. In other words, this testimony from Rivers
Alliance is incorporating by reference the comments of our colleagues.
If the Plan and LGM (map) are adopted in their present condition, the state will
not have the benefit of the clear, accurate, useful tool that is actually within
reach. The creators of the Plan were given a mission-impossible considering the
fragmentation of Connecticut’s governing entities; the requirement to create a
new, complex map; the shortage of time and resources.
Recommendation: This is
not an emergency. Take the time to do the job right. Reconsider the relatively
great expansion of growth areas versus conservation areas in the text and map.
Connecticut is traditionally a place of industry, natural beauty, and healthy
Rivers Alliance's Comments on
State Plan of Conservation and Development.
October 4, 2012
Dear Dan Morley:
Thank you for the opportunity to learn about and comment on the state
conservation and development policies plan (the Plan). We, at Rivers Alliance,
appreciate the major effort put into highlighting important principles and
making presentations across the state. However, through no fault of OPM, the
revision of the existing Plan has been encumbered with a number of new mandates:
a bottom-up approach (cross-acceptance); new mapping methodology; new
legislation that relates to the content of the plan, in particular the open
space bill (PA 12-152); and a more emphatic state policy of reducing barriers to
development and job creation. This is not a run-of-the-mill revision; it is new
Planning Processes and Timetable
The sequence of planning tasks assigned to OPM and its sister agencies is in an
illogical order, with an impossible timetable. PA 12-152 reflects a general
agreement that the state has been operating without good data and valuations on
state-owned lands, conserved lands, farmland, and semi-conserved lands. The law
calls for an estimate of the extent of preserved, or conserved, land and for
recommendations for arriving at a more accurate accounting. At the same time,
DEEP is revising the Green Plan, which addresses the state's open-space goals
and progress toward those goals.
Common sense suggests that OPM's Plan and map should be based in significant
part upon the data and recommendations developed under PA-152 and the Green
Plan. But all three (and probably other related plans) are being written almost
simultaneously. This guarantees a hodge-podge result, with a consequent need for
backing and filling to try to come up with consistent and comprehensive data,
models, and policies.
So our first comment is to urge OPM to seek a revised timetable, and in the
meantime to work with a provisional text and map (possibly a corrected version
of the existing map).
Additional time would also allow the cross-acceptance process to proceed to a
more satisfactory conclusion.
The New Jersey cross-acceptance model, used by Connecticut, has a much fuller,
bottom-up process that requires longer and more detailed negotiation among
state, regional, and local entities -- and the public -- to arrive at consistent
goals, strategies, and policies. Where consistency is not attained, New Jersey
requires written statements of agreement and non-agreement, which can be used to
identify areas where more work is needed. By contrast the Connecticut process
cuts off part way through, with the deadline for public comments less than a
month from the final public presentation. There has not been time for a full
back-and-forth on how to reconcile differences to the benefit of all.
OPM has received numerous complaints, corrections, and questions regarding the
Locational Guide Map (LGM) that accompanies the Plan. It is my understanding
that the revision of the map was undertaken to provide a more objective basis
for designating areas for growth, conservation, and so forth. The idea is to use
census blocks and show existing conditions. But OPM has been handicapped by lack
of good information, and existing conditions are not accurately represented.
This map may be fixable; OPM is doing its best; but this is a complicated task
requiring the cooperation of several agencies. Most likely it would be simplest
to start over with different rules. In the meantime, the existing map is more
Again, I believe more time is needed to get a good result with the LGM. In
addition, OPM should clarify how much weight officials and the public should
give to the text versus the map. If there is an inconsistency, which is the
governing document? Is the LGM the authoritative source for the Priority Funding
Areas? Understandably, government entities and non-profits want to be sure that
both the text and the map reflect state policies, so that they can know whether
a given project can be described as consistent with the Plan and thus eligible
for various funding opportunities.
The Map illustrates particularly clearly the state's shift from balanced support
of conservation and development to stronger support for development. We agree
with comments submitted by the Groton Open Space Association and the Housatonic
Valley Association (HVA). Elaine LaBella at HVA wrote:
"The Locational Map, which is used to guide where state development,
transportation and conservation money is spent, indicates that a considerable
portion of the state falls within Priority Development Areas, while the current
Plan and Locational Map shows that the majority of the state falls within
Preservation or Conservation Areas. "
This is quite a change.
Concision vs. Detailing
The new Plan is much more concise than previous plans. This is beneficial in
many ways. However, in the transition, a legal analysis should be done to
determine whether deletion of material will be interpreted in court cases as
signaling a deliberate change in state policy. The Plan should identify any
policy changes associated with compacting the text.
Drinking Water Watersheds
For example, the Plan no longer specifically recommends low-density development
in drinking-water watersheds. The following (and much more) has been deleted.
"As a general density guideline for water supply watersheds, require minimum lot
sizes of one dwelling unit per two acres of 'buildable' area (excludes
wetlands). Consistent with the carrying capacity of the land, encourage
cluster-style development to lessen impervious surfaces and avoid development in
more sensitive areas."
In its place we have the very different guidance:
"Regulatory approaches that are environmentally sound, allow for least-cost
compliance options, provide operational flexibility, and offer incentives for
pollution prevention should be actively pursued wherever practical to reduce the
time and cost associated with doing business in Connecticut."
Does this mean that OPM is backing off its past position, which complemented
DPH's guidance of two-acre zoning or greater in source-water recharge areas? If
not, could the DPH guidance be incorporated by reference?
Natural Waters, Wildlife, and Open Space Undervalued
The text and map together indicate that state is dramatically rolling back its
previous commitment to protect natural waters, wildlife, and open space. Is this
intentional? Some planners have discussed using the incorporation-by-reference
in these areas, too. For example, if the Plan refers in principle to the
importance of saving open space a (more to come)