Vt. Supreme Court issues decision on Green River Reservoir Dam

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) The Vermont Supreme Court issued a decision Friday in a case involving water quality permits and the future operation of three hydroelectric dams run by Morrisville Water and Light.

The dispute was triggered in 2016 by the Agency of Natural Resources seeking a water quality certificate as part of the dam's federal re-licensing. The Morrisville utility has argued that the dam's power output is already marginal and that reducing winter drawdowns only make it worse. They have also argued that the state plan creates potential safety issues the dam wasn’t designed for.

The Agency of Natural Resources says the dam releases should more closely mimic the natural flow of the river.

After an eight day hearing before the Environmental Court earlier this year, both sides appealed the ruling.

In their decision Friday, the Supreme Court found that the Environmental Court erred in rejecting ANR's interpretation of its policy for calculating flow rates in the river. But they affirmed a decision that helps paddling groups that had gotten involved in the case. The high court also affirmed an earlier decision to exclude social and economic factors -- like the dam -- when it comes to considering environmental impacts.

The decision does not appear to help the utility, which has said it would consider decommissioning the dam. If that were to occur, it would create a major question of who is willing to maintain the dam which Green River Reservoir State Park relies on for its very existence.