CVPS Vows Commitment to Dam Agreement

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(Host) The state’s largest power company says it remains committed to an agreement that requires removal of a Lamoille River Dam in twenty years. Central Vermont Public Service Corporation says it will stick with its legal obligations, even though a mistake by the state could threaten the deal.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Just days before Governor Howard Dean left office in January, 2003, his administration put the final touches on a deal that would remove the Peterson Dam on the Lamoille River in twenty years. But last month, the state Agency of Natural Resources forgot to file a letter that renews the state’s control over the dam’s impact on water quality.

That means authority over stream flow, fish habitat and other environmental issues could revert back to the federal government. This mistake could give Central Vermont Public Service a way out of the deal to remove the dam. But the utility says it will honor its contract. Steve Costello is a company spokesman.

(Costello) “We stand by the agreement that we made and will continue through the process at the Public Service Board. I can’t be clearer that we fully intend to hold up our end of the bargain.”

(Dillon) Environmentalists want the dam out because it blocks spawning runs of salmon, sturgeon and walleye. CVPS reluctantly signed on. The company wanted to end years of legal wrangling over the dam.

Jon Groveman at the Vermont Natural Resources Council says he’s pleased the utility is committed to the deal. He says he got a somewhat different message at a Public Service Board proceeding on Wednesday.

(Groveman) “What they said at the status conference was that they believed there’s been a waiver and that it may change the basis for the agreement that they entered into to remove the dam. That’s what I heard them say publicly at the status conference.”

(Dillon) Groveman and a lawyer for the state wanted the utility to try to patch up the paperwork mistake. They hoped the utility would join with them and ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, to fix the problem.

(Groveman) “CV said it would not do that, because it believes waiver has occurred. And so that’s what raises my concerns about what is going on here. Because if CV says it really wants to implement the settlement agreement, I think it would be prudent for them to join VNRC and ANRC and go to FERC and resolve this minor issue, and let’s move forward.”

(Dillon) But Costello, the utility spokesman, says it’s not that easy. He says there’s a recent legal precedent that says the state can’t go back and simply erase its mistake with the federal government.

He says the company would prefer to keep the dam to generate electricity. But, he says the company made a promise three years ago, and will not now use the paperwork mistake to walk away from its obligation to remove the dam.

(Costello) “We’ve never believed that it made good sense from an energy standpoint. But if the state’s public policy is that the benefits are outweighed by whatever any negatives they see, that’s part of the deal. We agreed to let the state make that determination.”

(Dillon) Costello says as far as the utility’s concerned, the Public Service Board still has the jurisdiction over the dam removal aspect of the case. And Governor Jim Douglas says the state remains committed to taking out the dam in twenty years.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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