Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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The District 5 Commission denied Korrow Real Estate LLC’s as-built application for an Act 250 permit to construct a barn on property alongside the Dog and Stony Brook Rivers, finding the project failed to comply with Act 250 Criteria 1(D) and 1(F). In doing so, the Commission construed key terms as defined by the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR). On appeal, the Environmental Division reversed the decision and remanded the matter to the Commission with instructions to grant an as-built permit for the project. The Vermont Natural Resources Board appealed the decision, arguing the court failed to accord proper deference to the ANR’s statutory authority and expertise, and that the project failed to comply with the necessary Act 250 permitting criteria. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded. The Supreme Court found the ANR determined the Korrow project was within the Act 250 “floodway” based on the project’s location relative to the FEH area surrounding the Dog and Stony Brook Rivers. The Environmental Division erred when it determined that the methodology applied by Korrow’s expert, or the methodology of the court, was superior to that employed by the ANR. In applying the ANR definition, the Supreme Court found Korrow’s project was within the “floodway” under 10 V.S.A. 6001(6), triggering analysis of project compliance with Act 250 Criterion 1(D). Even though the court erroneously found that the project was located outside the “floodway,” there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s conclusion that the project complied with Criterion 1(D). With respect to Criterior 1(F), the Supreme Court found two flaws in the lower court’s findings: (1) interpreting the scope of land “adjacent” to the rivers was essential to determining whether a project was on a “shoreline,” no definition of “adjacent” was provided; and (2) even applying the court’s contextual, rather than distance-based, analysis of the project’s location in relation to the Dog and Stony Brook Rivers, the court’s conclusion that the project was not on the “shoreline” was based on insufficient evidence. The Supreme Court could not determine, based on the trial court record, whether the project at issue here was constructed on a “shoreline” and, if so, whether the project complied with the subcriteria required by statute. As such, the Environmental Division’s conclusion that the project complied with Criterion 1(F) was reversed and this issue remanded to the court for further findings. Because the question of what was meant by “adjacent” was critical to the shoreline determination and had not been briefed or argued, the parties were directed upon remand to brief this issue for the court. The Supreme Court reversed the Environmental Division’s ruling defining the term “floodway,” but affirmed its conclusion that the project complied with Criterion 1(D). The Court reversed and remanded to the Environmental Division for further proceedings to determine whether this project involved a “shoreline” and, if so, the project’s compliance with Criterion 1(F). View "In re Korrow Real Estate, LLC Act 250 Permit Amendment Application" on Justia Law

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Respondents Francis and Barbara Supeno, and Barbara Ernst, appealed an order of the Environmental Division imposing a penalty of $27,213 for water and wastewater permit violations. Respondents Francis Supeno and Barbara Supeno were siblings and jointly owned property in Addison. Barbara Supeno and Barbara Ernst lived adjacent to the property. In 2009, the siblings obtained a wastewater system and potable water supply permit, which authorized the replacement of a seasonal cottage with a year-round, one bedroom residence. The permit included the construction of an on-site well and wastewater disposal system. The water supply for the property was provided through a public water system. In 2014 the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) received a complaint of an alleged violation of the wastewater permit. ANR also became aware that the property was advertised as a two-bedroom, two-bathroom rental. An ANR enforcement officer went to the property and Barbara Supeno denied ANR access to the house. The Environmental Division granted ANR’s petition for an access order and ANR received access to the property. During the visit, the enforcement officer observed two water lines entering the basement; the officer also observed the permitted bedroom on the second floor and an additional non-permitted bedroom in the basement. Based on the officer’s observations, an emergency administrative order (EAO) was issued, wherein: (1) respondents failed to obtain a permit before modifying the rental home to add a second bedroom; (2) respondents spliced into the public water supply line serving the adjacent property and connected it to the rental property without obtaining a permit; and (3) respondents created an unapproved cross-connection at the rental property, which allowed it to switch between the well water and the public water system and created a risk that potentially polluted water could contaminate the public water supply. The EAO eventually became an Administrative Order (AO), imposing the penalty at issue here. Respondents argued that their due process rights were violated, the penalty assessment was precluded by res judicata, and the amount of the penalty was excessive. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the Environmental Division. View "Agency of Natural Resources v. Supeno" on Justia Law

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Allco Renewable Energy Ltd. (Allco) appealed the denial of its motion to intervene, and its renewed motion to intervene, in a certificate-of-public-good (CPG) proceeding for a solar electric generation facility. The applicant, GMPSolar–Richmond, LLC (GMPSR), was an affiliate of Green Mountain Power Corp. (GMP), an electricity utility, owned by GMP and an investor. Allco was developing a number of solar electric generation facilities in Vermont. A hearing officer denied Allco’s request for intervention as of right and permissive intervention; the Public Service Board (PSB) also denied the motion for reconsideration. On appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court, Allco argued PSB used the wrong framework in reviewing its request and incorrectly applied the intervention criteria. Finding no reversible error, however, the Supreme Court affirmed the PSB. View "In re Petition of GMPSolar-Richmond, LLC" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Vermont Supreme Court in this appeal was whether land dedicated to a public use could be condemned for another public use when the new use did not materially interfere with the prior use. Intervenors, a group of Hinesburg residents who use Geprags Park, appealed the Public Service Board’s order authorizing Vermont Gas Systems, Inc. (VGS) to condemn an easement through the park for the purpose of installing a natural gas pipeline. They argued the Board erred in authorizing the condemnation in light of the fact that the park was already dedicated to a public use, and in concluding that the condemnation was necessary under 30 V.S.A. section 110(a)(2). The Supreme Court affirmed the Board’s decision, but remanded for a minor correction to the order relating to the terms of the easement. View "In re Vermont Gas Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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Neighbors for Healthy Communities (neighbors) appealed the Environmental Division’s decision to grant North East Materials Group, LLC, (NEMG) an Act 250 permit for operating an asphalt plant. Neighbors specifically challenged the court’s findings and conclusions under Criterion 5 and Criterion 8 of Act 250, claiming that conditions imposed by the court pursuant to these two criteria repeat existing requirements that NEMG did not or could not comply with and, thus, were insufficient to meet Act 250’s criteria. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "In re North East Materials Group, LLC Amended Act 250 Permit" on Justia Law

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Appellants Natural Resources Board and Applicant Two Rivers-Ottauquechee (TRO) Regional Commission appealed the Environmental Division’s award of an Act 250 permit to Applicant B&M Realty, LLC, to construct a large mixed-use business park near the Interstate 89 Exit 1 interchange in the Town of Hartford. The trial court concluded that the project satisfied Act 250, including the requirement that it conform with the 2007 TRO Regional Plan. The Natural Resources Board and the TRO Regional Commission argued on appeal that the project was inconsistent with mandatory and unambiguous provisions in the regional plan. Applicant cross-appealed, arguing that the 2007 Regional Plan did not apply, and that the Supreme Court need not consider the plan because the proposed development will not have substantial regional impact. The Supreme Court concluded that the 2007 Regional Plan applied and that the trial court’s conclusion that the project will have substantial regional impact is supported by the evidence, but held that the project was inconsistent with several provisions in the regional plan. The Court accordingly reversed. View "In re B&M Realty, LLC" on Justia Law

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Neighbor Mary Bourassa appealed the Environmental Division’s affirmance of a zoning permit application by Philip and Barbara Wagner and Christopher Guay, who wanted to build a single family residence and detached garage on two merged lots of a six-lot subdivision in Grand Isle. Bourassa, an owner of another lot in the subdivision, opposed development, chiefly on the ground that the proposed house would not be constructed within the “tree line” on the property, as required by the subdivision plat plan. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Wagner & Guay Permit" on Justia Law

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In an environmental enforcement action, the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) issued a violation and imposed a penalty of $10,000 against defendants Hugh and Eileen McGee for placing unpermitted fill in a Class II wetland. Defendants appealed and, following a site visit and evidentiary hearing, the Environmental Division concluded that the land was not exempt, upheld the violation, and reduced the penalty to $3647. On appeal, defendants argued that the land was used for grazing horses and it therefore met the requirements for a farming exemption in the wetlands regulations. After its review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the evidence supported the Environmental Division’s finding that the area had not been used consistently to grow food or crops since 1990 and therefore any exemption had expired, and affirmed. View "Agency of Natural Resources v. McGee" on Justia Law

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This case came before the Vermont Supreme Court following the Environmental Division's decision on remand that a rock-crushing operation by North East Materials Group, LLC, (NEMG) was exempt from Act 250 as a preexisting development. The Environmental Division reached the same conclusion in its first decision, but the Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that the court used the wrong legal standard in deciding that the rock-crushing operation did not constitute a cognizable physical change to the preexisting development and that one of the main factual findings in support of the decision was clearly erroneous. Appellants, a group on thirteen neighbors to the operation, appealed, arguing that the Environmental Division erred in applying the Supreme Court's instructions on remand. After review a second time, the Supreme Court concluded that, even assuming that crushing operations were part of the preexisting quarrying development, findings on the location and volume of the crushing operations were too limited to support a conclusion that the present operations did not constitute a cognizable change to the existing development. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re North East Materials Group LLC Act 250 JO #5-21" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on a decision of the environmental division of the superior court affirming several permits issued to appellee Costco Wholesale Corporation for the expansion of its existing retail store and the addition of an adjacent six-pump gasoline station in the Town of Colchester. Appellants R.L. Vallee, Inc. and Timberlake Associates LLP owned retail gasoline-service facilities located near the planned development. Appellant Vallee argued the trial court erred in: (1) determining that Costco’s proposed traffic-mitigation measures were sufficient for issuance of an Act 250 permit; (2) making findings concerning the impact of an underground stormwater outlet pipe, and with respect to which the court limited cross examination by Vallee’s counsel; (3) concluding that the project would not adversely affect a Class 2 wetland for issuance of an individual wetland permit; and (4) excluding testimony and a related exhibit prepared by appellant Vallee’s wetland consultant. Appellant Timberlake argued that the trial court erred in relying on a presumption with respect to the project’s impact on water pollution and waste disposal under Act 250. The Supreme Court found no error in the environmental division's order and affirmed it. View "In re Costco Stormwater Dishcharge Permit" on Justia Law