Vermont Environmental Court has issued its first decisions in an appeal concerning the dam at Green River Reservoir and other hydroelectric projects owned by Morrisville Water & Light. The municipal utility challenged new requirements from the state Agency of Natural Resources in a water quality certificate. The certificate is part of the federal relicensing process for the utility’s four dams.
The court considered motions for summary judgment and motions to dismiss filed by several parties in the case. In addition to Morrisville Water & Light and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, American Whitewater, Vermont Paddlers' Club, Vermont Natural Resources Council and the Vermont Council of Trout Unlimited filed in the case.
The utility has asked the court to remove some conditions placed on the operation and management of the dam by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. Morrisville Water & Light said scheduled releases from the dam spur economic and social benefits by attracting whitewater boaters, but the Agency of Natural Resources said the dam should release water in a way that more closely simulates the natural flow of the river.
Morrisville Water & Light argued that benefits to the community from recreational uses, including whitewater boating in the Green River, should be taken into consideration in ANR's water quality certification. But Morrisville Water & Light General Manager Craig Myotte says the court disagreed.
"The judge is stating that we cannot include social and economic issues in the case," Myotte explains. Instead, the court will decide the appeal strictly on environmental grounds.
But, Myotte says, there are still plenty of issues the court will hear as the case proceeds.
"Even though the judge has made the statements that’s he’s made," he says, "we still have at least five issues pending with the ANR that need to be dealt with."
Myotte says the issues that the court will hear arguments on include the way ANR calculates bypass flows, a requirement for aesthetic flows and the amount of time the utility has to implement changes.
The court will also determine whether whitewater boating is a legally-defined “existing use” in the Green River below the reservoir dam.