Articles Posted in Environmental 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

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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

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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

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Zaremba Group was the owner of the 10.08-acre plot of land in question in this case. The proposed building site lies within the floodway of Lovers Lane Brook. The Project, the building of a Dollar General store, would result in a loss of flood-water storage of 1,305 cubic yards, but was designed to include a flood-mitigation cut area, which would provide additional flood-water storage of 2,544 cubic yards. The Project would narrow the Brook floodway at two points, but both of these areas are at least as wide as the Brook's narrowest section, which is just south of the Project site. The Project includes a minimum fifty-foot buffer along the Brook. Neighbors of the plot of land appealed the environmental division's decision to grant an Act 250 permit amendment to Zaremba Group to build the store on that plot. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Zaremba Group Act 250 Permit" on Justia Law

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The subject property was two large parcels of land in the Town of Manchester. Sand, rock, and gravel had been extracted from a portion of one or both parcels for decades. In September 1990, respondents' predecessor-in-interest received an Act 250 permit authorizing a nineteen-lot residential subdivision on the northern parcel. Among other conditions, the Act 250 permit provided that it would expire one year from the date of issuance if the permittee had not demonstrated an intention to proceed with the project in accordance with 10 V.S.A. 6091(b), and otherwise would expire on October 1, 2020 unless extended by the District Environmental Commission. Other permit conditions prohibited any "changes . . . in the design or use" of the project without written approval of the district coordinator or commission, and specified that the permit and all conditions therein would "run with the land and . . . be binding upon and enforceable against . . . all assigns and successors in interest." In September 1992, the district commission issued an amendment to the permit extending the time for construction of the project to October 1994. In June 1994, respondent Dorr Oil Company purchased a portion of the property designated as a residential tract. The warranty deed expressly referenced the Act 250 permit "and any and all amendments thereto." Shortly thereafter, respondent Donald Dorr, on behalf of Dorr Oil applied for and received a further permit amendment extending the time for construction to October 1995. During this period, another company operated by Dorr, respondent MGC, Inc., purchased the southerly parcel (the "adjacent tract"), and continued to operate a gravel pit "most or all" of which the trial court found was located on the adjacent tract. Dorr took no steps to begin the actual subdivision of the project tract or the development of an internal roadway. In March 2006, following a property-tax reappraisal of the tracts by the Town, respondents filed a request with the district commission to declare the Act 250 permit as abandoned through non-use. The commission, in response, issued a notice of intent to abandon the permit. The owners of a nearby residential property filed an objection, asserting that respondents had made a "material change" to the use authorized by the Act 250 permit by expanding gravel extractions activities onto the residential project tract. The commission then "tabled" the abandonment request "pending a jurisdictional opinion from the district coordinator on the material change question." The district coordinator thereupon requested further information from the parties, visited the site with respondent Dorr and his attorney, and issued a draft jurisdictional opinion for comment. In January 2007, the coordinator issued a formal opinion, finding that the "Dorr gravel pit has expanded onto the parcel covered by [the Act 250 permit]," that this constituted "a material change to that permit," and therefore that "a permit amendment [was] required." Respondents neither appealed the jurisdictional opinion to the Environmental Division, applied for a permit amendment, nor abated the gravel extraction activities on the project tract. Following respondents' inaction, in October 2008, the NRB chair issued an administrative order determining that respondents had violated conditions of the Act 250 permit by making a material change to the project without a land-use permit amendment. Respondents appealed the Superior Court, Environmental Division's judgment affirming the NRB's decision that respondents' gravel-extraction activities violated an Act 250 residential-subdivision permit. Respondents argued the ruling was in error because the permit had expired. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Nat. Resources Bd. Land Use Panel v. Dorr" on Justia Law