City of Shelton v. Commissioner of Dept. of Environmental Protection

Decision Date26 June 1984
Citation479 A.2d 208,193 Conn. 506
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Robert A. Whitehead, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom, on the brief, was Joseph I. Lieberman, Atty. Gen., for appellants-cross appellees (defendant Department of Environmental Protection et al.).

John C. Yavis, Jr., Hartford, with whom were Mark R. Sussman and Paul R. McCary, Hartford, for appellant-cross appellee (defendant Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority).

John H. Welch, Jr., Shelton, with whom was Jean Z. Maguire, Waterbury, for appellees-cross appellants (plaintiffs).

Thomas J. Welsh, Shelton, for appellees (intervening defendant Valley Citizens Action Group et al.).


PETERS, Associate Justice.

These appeals raise questions concerning the power of the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA) to operate a regional landfill in Shelton over the objection of the city and contrary to the city's zoning regulations. On May 11, 1984, we ordered the judgment of the trial court to be vacated in light of the enactment of Public Acts, 1984, No. 84-331. The following is the full opinion of this court.

The plaintiff, the city of Shelton, brought three separate actions seeking to prevent the CRRA from implementing its plan to operate a forty-two acre regional landfill in Shelton on a site where a smaller private landfill had previously been operated. In the first case, Shelton v. Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, 1 the city took an administrative appeal from the decision of the Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Protection, John Anderson, granting the CRRA a solid waste disposal permit for the proposed expanded landfill. In this administrative appeal the city claimed that the CRRA was a state agency and hence was not entitled to proceed without filing an environmental impact evaluation (EIE) as required by General Statutes § 22a-1b. 2 In the second case, Shelton v. CRRA, 3 the city sought to enjoin the defendant CRRA from operating the landfill on the grounds that the proposed expansion of the landfill violated the city's zoning regulations and that the CRRA had failed to obtain the city's consent as required by General Statutes § 22a-276. 4 In the third case, Shelton v Pac, the city sought a declaratory judgment against the defendant Stanley Pac, the Commissioner of Environmental Protection, and others 5 that its local zoning regulations prevented the CRRA from expanding the landfill, notwithstanding the granting of the permit by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). After a consolidated trial of the three cases, the trial court sustained the city's administrative appeal, granted the requested injunction and ruled, in the declaratory judgment action, that the Shelton zoning regulations prohibited the CRRA's use of the DEP permit to expand the horizontal area of the landfill that had previously covered a portion of the site. The defendants have appealed from the judgments in all three cases. 6

On appeal the defendants originally claimed that the trial court had erred in concluding: (1) that the CRRA was a state agency; (2) that the proposed expansion constituted the "establishment" of a landfill for which local consent was required, and (3) that local zoning regulations overrode the statewide planning decisions of the CRRA and the DEP.

During the pendency of this appeal, the General Assembly enacted legislation directed at the specific dispute now before us. Public Acts 1984, No. 84-331 provides in § 1 that the CRRA "shall not be construed to be a department, institution or agency of the state." 7 The act provides further in § 2 that "[n]otwithstanding the provisions of subsection (c) of section 22a-208 of the general statutes ... concerning the right of any local body to regulate, through zoning, land usage for solid waste disposal and section 22a-276 of the general statutes, the Connecticut resources recovery authority may use and operate as a solid waste disposal area, pursuant to a [DEP] permit ... any real property owned by said authority on or before the effective date of this act, any portion of which has been operated as a solid waste disposal area ...." 8

The defendants now claim that the legislature has resolved all of the issues on appeal in their favor. The plaintiff city argues, to the contrary, that: (1) Public Acts 1984, No. 84-331 should not be applied retroactively to this case; (2) section 2 of the act does not override the city's general zoning power pursuant to General Statutes § 8-2; and (3) the act is unconstitutional. We find none of the city's claims persuasive. Accordingly we hold that in light of the enactment of Public Acts 1984, No. 84-331, the judgments of the trial court must be set aside and the cases remanded with direction to dismiss the administrative appeal and to render judgment for the defendants in the remaining cases.


The city claims first that the new act does not govern this case because the statute does not expressly state that it is intended to be applied retroactively. The city reasons that ordinary canons of statutory construction require us to presume that the legislature intended to change rather than to clarify the existing law; Waterbury Petroleum Products v. Canaan Oil & Fuel Co., Inc., 193 Conn. 208, 232, 477 A.2d 988 (1984); Vartuli v. Sotire, 192 Conn. 353, 364 n. 12, 472 A.2d 336 (1984); Heffernan v. Slapin, 182 Conn. 40, 49, 438 A.2d 1 (1980); and that the statutory changes in this case deprive the city of vested rights. There is no merit to this claim.

At the outset we note that the city's retroactivity claim has no bearing on the applicability of § 2 of the act. The issue now before us concerns the CRRA's future operation of an expanded landfill without the city's consent and arguably in violation of the city's zoning regulations. The act does not regulate any past transactions.

In contrast, § 1 of the act arguably may have a retrospective effect. If that section eliminated a previous requirement that the CRRA file an environmental impact evaluation as a precondition to obtaining a solid waste disposal permit, its application in this case would validate a permit that was invalid when issued. 9 We agree with the defendants, however, that § 1 effected no change in the law.

The city's argument rests on our usual presumption that, in enacting a statute, the legislature intended a change in existing law. Vartuli v. Sotire, supra. This presumption, like any other, may be rebutted by contrary evidence of the legislative intent in the particular case. "An amendment which in effect construes and clarifies a prior statute must be accepted as the legislative declaration of the meaning of the original act." Tax Commissioner v. Estate of Bissell, 173 Conn. 232, 246, 377 A.2d 305 (1977); Lee v. Board of Education, 181 Conn. 69, 75, 434 A.2d 333 (1980).

As originally enacted, General Statutes § 22a-261 provided for the creation of the CRRA as a "body politic and corporate, constituting a public instrumentality and political subdivision of the state ...." 10 The CRRA was authorized, inter alia, to employ its own staff, to enact by-laws, to retain counsel and to issue bonds. See General Statutes §§ 22a-265 through 22a-269. Its bonds are not obligations of the state. General Statutes § 22a-272(a).

Prior to the trial court decision in this case, a different trial court had concluded that the CRRA was not a state agency subject to the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act (UAPA); General Statutes §§ 4-166 through 4-197. DeFonce Construction Corporation v. Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, Court of Common Pleas, Fairfield County, Docket No. 115357 (1977), appeal dismissed, 177 Conn. 472, 418 A.2d 906 (1979). The trial court below then held to the contrary. In light of the conflicting judicial interpretations of the prior law and the legislature's undisputed intent to override the decision of the trial court in this case, we are persuaded that § 1 of the act was intended to clarify and not to alter the preexisting law. Accordingly, the city's retroactivity claim must fail.


The city next contends that Public Acts 1984, No. 84-331 does not resolve the conflict in this case between the DEP permit and the Shelton zoning regulations. The city argues that although § 2 of the act grants power to the CRRA to operate a landfill "[n]otwithstanding the provisions of subsection (c) of section 22a-208 of the general statutes ... concerning the right of any local body to regulate, through zoning, land usage for solid waste disposal ...," the act does not abrogate the city's general zoning power pursuant to General Statutes § 8-2. 11 Section 8-2 cannot support the exclusion of the proposed landfill by zoning, however, because in the absence of § 22a-208(c), statewide regulation of solid waste disposal activities had preempted Shelton's exclusionary zoning regulations.

It is useful first to consider the origin of § 22a-208(c). In Colchester v. Reduction Associates, Inc., 34 Conn.Sup. 177, 184-85, 382 A.2d 1333 (1977), the Court of Common Pleas for New London county held that the zoning regulations of the town of Colchester could not prohibit the disposal of unbaled waste within the town when the DEP had issued a permit approving the defendant's disposal activities because state law had preempted the local regulations. 12 In response to the court's holding in Colchester and to several other unpopular regional waste disposal proposals, the legislature amended § 22a-208(c) to provide that a DEP solid waste disposal permit did not override local zoning. 13 The effect of § 2 of the 1984 act is to eliminate the express...

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