Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a bill Tuesday that would ban construction of a controversial ash disposal site in the New London County town of Franklin.
She said the state's siting council, rather than the General Assembly, should decide where and when landfills should be established around the state. The bill also would have blocked the granting of an environmental permit for creation of a controversial food waste-to-energy plant in Waterbury.
"This measure would circumvent a sound statutory process and, instead, interject politics into the decision," said Rell, a Republican who has clashed this year with the Democratic-controlled legislature.
The bill would have banned the creation of landfills on particular sites in Windham and Franklin, circumventing the state's siting process. The Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, a powerhouse in the garbage business, had sought to build at the Franklin site.
The chances of a veto override remained unclear Tuesday, even though the Senate passed the bill by a veto-proof margin of 27-4.
A two-thirds majority is needed to override the governor in both chambers, meaning 24 votes in the Senate and 101 in the House. The 36-member Senate has 24 Democrats, but three abstained from the original vote because of ties to CRRA. That would leave 21 votes, which would fall short of an override if the Republicans all backed Rell. Although seven Republicans voted for the bill, Republicans traditionally back the governor from their own party on veto overrides.
Known as "An Act Prohibiting the Acquisition of Use of Certain Parcels of Land as Ash Residue Disposal Area," the bill would have prevented the CRRA or any other organization from creating ash landfills at those locations.
Since a major landfill closed last year in Hartford, CRRA has been looking for a new site for ash disposal.
"Let me be clear: My veto should in no way be interpreted as support for building an ash landfill in Franklin," Rell wrote in her message. "I remain resolutely unconvinced that such a landfill is needed at all, particularly with an already operational landfill just a few miles away." There is a landfill in Putnam, several towns northeast of Franklin.
"The Franklin site is irreplaceable farmland/open space, and I would urge the CRRA to explore other options," Rell wrote. "Nor should my veto be interpreted as support for or opposition to the Waterbury project."
Sen. Edith Prague, an outspoken Democrat, had publicly called upon Rell to sign the bill and said that a veto would be a mistake. She received the news of the veto Tuesday in a telephone call from Rell's chief of staff, M. Lisa Moody.
"In her veto message, she makes this interesting statement that she does not approve of CRRA going into Franklin," Prague said Tuesday night. "How much weight that is going to carry with CRRA is what I asked Lisa, and she thinks CRRA will pay attention. The governor makes the appointments to their board."
In her veto message, Rell detailed the state's siting oversight process that was created in 1971 and eventually led to the establishment 10 years ago of the Connecticut Siting Council.
"Explicitly removing these projects from the established procedure is wrong-headed," Rell said. "The legislative and executive branches of our state government have spent years developing and implementing this process, which includes notice, public comment, municipal participation, due diligence, and appropriate oversight."
It remains unclear, Rell said, whether the landfill would be created in Franklin because the project still needs approval. CRRA, she noted, has not submitted any applications to state environmental officials regarding the Franklin site.
"If the site can potentially serve as a source of potable water, the Department of Environmental Protection will not allow the facility to be built on that site," Rell said. "If we allow decisions to be made outside of the statutory process, we undermine the process that we have put in place and invite additional special act legislation to approve or disapprove individual projects. The best public policy is to allow these projects to follow the established statutory process, including the objective evaluation of the project on the merits — without legislative interference."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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