After six years and many thousands of legal dollars, The Sacandaga Protection Committee (SPC) emerged victorious when Senior U.S. District Judge Norman A. Mordue granted the Committee's motion for Summary Judgment against Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. (d.b.a. National Grid). This is a major victory for the SPC and the entire lake community.
In 2009 Niagara Mohawk (NM) filed a lawsuit in Federal Court against the Hudson River Black River Regulating District (HRBRRD) challenging the authority of the District to charge NM for the benefits NM derives from the Conklinville Dam for property NM owns on the Hudson River. In the lawsuit NM claimed that privately-owned properties and permit holders surrounding the Great Sacandaga Lake (GSL) “are beneficiaries and should be assessed” the same as all downstream beneficiaries. NM also made a number of additional causes of actions, including “preemption”, “equal protection”, and ‘taking claims”.
The Sacandaga Protection Committee (SPC) and its legal representatives Hodgson Russ took major exception that permit holders should be subject to the same beneficiary assessments as the downstream beneficiaries. The SPC legal team filed for and was granted intervenor status to gain protect the rights of the property owners on and around the Great Sacandaga Lake.
On September 8, 2015, the Federal Judge Mordue issued a verdict granting SPC’s motion for summary judgement. Summary judgement is issued when the facts of the case are indisputable and can have only one verdict – that the permit areas are NOT the same as downstream beneficiaries and do not have to be considered beneficiaries for the purpose of downstream assessments.
The Judge clearly distinguished that the benefits of flood protection are not the same as recreational benefits enjoyed by the users of the lake. The Court found that the HRBRRD can reasonably distinguish between entities having flood protection and Lake permit areas. The fact that the Reservoir confers on the permit holders’ properties benefits – primarily recreation, view, and resultant increased property value – are categorically distinct from the flood protection benefits conferred on the properties downstream of the Conklingville Dam. The fact that the State owns the land immediately surrounding the Reservoir and the adjacent properties have permits to access that land, was an important factor in the decision.
Unfortunately, the summary judgement in favor of the SPC does not end the entire lawsuit. In the very complicated lawsuit, Judge Mordue ruled that NM’s equal protection claim against the HRBRRD cannot be decided on a summary judgement and the case will proceed to trial. The Court did rule in favor of the District and dismissed a portion of the $5 million claim because the claim was limited by a three year statute of limitations. There was no ruling on the claim for the three year period, and the case will proceed to resolve that issue.
A copy of the Court decision can be downloaded here.