Wilder Dam Owner Takes Norwich To Court Over Assessment
What is the assessed value of an easement to flood land upstream from a dam? Great River Hydro, the holder of such rights as owner of the Wilder Dam, is taking Norwich to court to find out.
The action pending in Windsor Superior Court, Docket No. 445-10-18 Wrcv, is an appeal from the Norwich Board of Civil Authority (BCA) decision upholding the Listers' valuation. The case is in its early stage as Great River Hydro appealed in October. The Town engaged counsel in mid-November.
In simple terms, these easements, called flowage easements, give Great River Hydro the right to flood the properties in connection with the operation of its hydroelectric dam in Wilder. The company owns flowage easements on a number of Norwich properties along the Connecticut and Ompompanoosuc Rivers, totaling approximately 227.8 acres.
"Of these, 206 acres are regularly flooded by normal operations of GRH’s dam in Wilder, Vermont," according to the Tax Appeal Decision of the BCA. "For the current tax year, the Norwich Listers assessed GRH’s flowage easement at $996,400. This same assessment value was first made in 2002 and has been unchanged since."
Before the Listers, as stated in draft meeting minutes from theGrievance Hearings on June 19, the company said the value "should be between $0.00 & $172,000." If valued at $0.00, the Town would lose of about $5,000 a year in municipal tax revenue. The bigger government stakeholder is the State, because its nonresidential school property tax rate is more than triple the Norwich municipal property tax rate.
This case is "not the typical appeal on a property," Town Manager Herb Durfee told the Selectboard. The BCA decision stated "GRH’s flowage easement is a unique property in Norwich with no comparables available for use in assessment."
In addition, Great River Hydro is also challenging assessments in Lyme and Hanover, reported the Valley News in August. The prior owner of the Wilder dam lost its appeal of Newbury's assessment in the Vermont Supreme Court in 2017, TransCanada Hydro Northeast, Inc. v. Town of Newbury, 2017 VT 117
Unlike other appeals, the Superior Court does not review the BCA decision for errors but hears the case de novo. The taxpayer has the ultimate burden of proof in property tax appeals.