Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
In re Wagner & Guay Permit
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
Agency of Natural Resources v. McGee
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
In re North East Materials Group LLC Act 250 JO #5-21
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
In re Costco Stormwater Dishcharge Permit
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
Vermont v. Atlantic Richfield Company, et al.
The issue this interlocutory appeal presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review centered on whether 12 V.S.A. 462 created an exemption from the general six-year limitation for Vermont’s claims against a host of defendants for generalized injury to state waters as a whole due to groundwater contamination from gasoline additives. On the basis of the statute of limitations, the trial court dismissed the State’s claims insofar as they were predicated on generalized injury to state waters as a whole. On appeal, the State argued that section 462 exempted the State’s claims from the statute of limitations, and, alternatively, that the State’s claims arising under 10 V.S.A. 1390, a statute that established a state policy that the groundwater resources of the state are held in trust for the public, were not time barred because that statute became effective less than six years before the State filed its complaint. The Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Atlantic Richfield Company, et al." on Justia Law
Vermont v. Atlantic Richfield Company
An interlocutory appeal came before the Supreme Court, involving an issue of the “stream-of-commerce” doctrine of personal jurisdiction. Defendant Total Petrochemicals & Refining USA, Inc. (TPRI) challenged a superior court decision denying its motion to dismiss, for lack of personal jurisdiction, plaintiff State of Vermont’s complaint. The State alleged that TPRI, along with twenty-eight other defendants, contaminated the waters of the state by introducing into those waters a gas additive called methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Atlantic Richfield Company" on Justia Law
Agency of Natural Resources v. Persons
Defendants Timothy Persons and the Trust A of Timothy Persons appealed an Environmental Division decision holding that certain excavation work performed on their property violated the state Wetlands Protection and Water Resources Management laws and the state Wetlands Rules. Among other things, defendants contended they were not given adequate notice that portions of the lands in question contained a protected wetland, and therefore, should not have been subjected to fines. The Supreme Court found no merit to defendants' contentions, and affirmed the Environmental Division. View "Agency of Natural Resources v. Persons" on Justia Law
In re Green Mountain Power Corp.
In consolidated appeals, the Lowell Mountains Group, Inc. (LMG), and the Towns of Albany and Craftsbury, challenged several Public Service Board orders related to the construction of a wind-electric-generation facility and associated facilities on Lowell Mountain in Lowell, Vermont. In May 2010, petitioners Green Mountain Power Corporation (GMP), Vermont Electric Cooperative, Inc. (VEC), and Vermont Electric Power Company, Inc. and Vermont Transco LLC (VELCO) requested a certificate of public good (CPG) to construct a wind-electric-generation facility on Lowell Mountain. On May 31, 2011, following testimony, site visits, a public hearing, and hearings, the Board issued a final order granting a CPG subject to forty-five conditions. Appellants and several other parties moved for reconsideration. On July 12, 2011, the Board modified its final order in certain respects. The Towns and LMG appealed that final order with modifications. The parties also raised compliance issues with the final order that the Board ultimately overruled. Upon review of the Board's orders, the Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion, and deferred to the Board's decisions with regard to the final order. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Board. View "In re Green Mountain Power Corp." on Justia Law
City of Montpelier v. Barnett
Defendants Richard Barnett and Cedric and Leslie Sanborn appealed a judgment which ruled that the City of Montpelier may prohibit boating, fishing, and swimming in Berlin Pond, a public body of water located outside the City and used as the City's drinking water supply. The City contended that the restrictions were supported by both a state health order and the powers granted to the City by the State. The trial court agreed and issued a permanent injunction preventing Defendants from engaging in the listed recreational activities and from trespassing upon land surrounding the pond that is owned by the City. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court: "[The Court's] decision reflects the fact that, under the laws of this state, the recreational use of Berlin Pond is a matter of state concern requiring a resolution at the state level. . . . [The Court] determine[d] only that the City's current powers are limited to preventing trespass upon its property." View "City of Montpelier v. Barnett" on Justia Law
Rueger v. Natural Resources Bd.
Plaintiffs Russell and Mary Ann Rueger and John Moyers appealed a trial courts grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants Natural Resources Board and the District #9 Environmental Commission of Vermont. The matter arose from an Access to Public Records Act request. The court concluded that certain records held by Defendants reflected deliberations of an agency acting in a quasi-judicial role, and those were exempt from disclosure. Plaintiffs argued on appeal that the court erred in interpreting the Act. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the documents in question fell within the plain language of the Act, and were indeed exempt. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants. View "Rueger v. Natural Resources Bd." on Justia Law