Niagara Mohawk Lawsuit Update - August 15, 2011

Sacandaga Protection Committee asks State Court for permission to intervene in a dispute concerning regulating district assessments.  Read more from the Daily Gazette (Sacandaga property owners' group fights utility's lawsuit, August 13, 2011) and the Recorder (Lake group gets involved in suit against district, August 12, 2011)


The Sacandaga Protection Committee (SPC) filed a motion asking State Supreme Court Justice Richard T. Aulisi to allow the citizens group to intervene in litigation challenging the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District’s multi-million dollar assessment of Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation.  The motion states that SPC represents a wide range of property owners (both “front lot” and “back lot”), businesses, and recreational users of Great Sacandaga Lake who have a substantial interest in protecting the lake community from the financial consequences threatened by Niagara Mohawk’s request for annulment of its approximately $6 million assessment.  In addition, Niagara Mohawk challenges the Regulating District’s GSL Permit System, which SPC was formed to protect.  The motion to intervene and supporting affidavits can be downloaded here.

The motion to intervene was filed in the case of Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation v. State of New York and Board of Hudson River-Black River Regulating District et al., pending in Hamilton County under Index No. 6555-08.  This is one of approximately 20 pending assessment challenges initiated by Niagara Mohawk against the Regulating District dating back to 2000.  A motion to consolidate Niagara Mohawk’s state court assessment challenges is pending decision by Justice Aulisi.  If consolidation occurs, SPC has asked for permission to intervene in the entire case.

The SPC’s latest litigation move follows its successful intervention and victory in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York in a related suit in which National Grid, formerly known as Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation, claimed the Regulating District violated the United States Constitution and the Federal Power Act and requested a $5 million refund.  In that case, Chief Judge Mordue recognized SPC’s ability to contribute to the lawsuit as well as its track record of representing the entire lake community:  “SPC was well organized . . . to launch a legal and political fight to ensure the current permit access system remained unchanged.”  

The SPC successfully argued in federal court and in other efforts that the current GSL Permit System results in high property values of lakefront properties, which directly benefits the entire local economy through a stable tax base.  Conversely, elimination of the permit system would lower taxes on property immediately around the lake and cause a corresponding increase in property taxes for all properties in Fulton, Hamilton and Saratoga counties where the lake is located.  SPC actively seeks to avoid that inequity and the resulting financial consequences to the Regulating District posed by Niagara Mohawk/National Grid’s repeated assessment challenges.

The SPC and the Regulating District won the federal case, and the SPC has subsequently been awarded intervenor status by the New York City-based United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  SPC’s submitted an appeal brief requesting the Court of Appeals to affirm dismissal of Niagara Mohawk’s assessment challenge, and the case awaits oral argument.

The Sacandaga Protection Committee was formed in 2009 to allow its constituents, residents, businesses and recreational users of Fulton, Hamilton and Saratoga counties, with a means to launch a legal and political fight to ensure the current permit access system remains unchanged.  SPC has been represented throughout the litigation by its attorneys, Hodgson Russ LLP (Daniel A. Spitzer and Benjamin K. Ahlstrom).