PPL Will Appeal Dams Lawsuit to US Supreme Court

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – PPL Montana said Thursday it plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a Montana order that it must pay the state for the use of the riverbeds where hydroelectric dams sit.

Company spokesman David Hoffman said the company has until Aug. 12 to put together a request asking the Supreme Court to intervene, although there is no guarantee the high court will get involved.

“What we need to show the court is that there is an issue of federal significance,” Hoffman said.

The company is still writing its legal arguments, Hoffman said.

In March, the Montana Supreme Court ruled PPL must pay $40 million in current rent and damages for not paying rent in the past, plus even more in future rent.

The court decision means the land under the dams is like other public land that is rented out to those who graze cattle or drill for oil. The court left the question of future rent up to the state Land Board to negotiate with the utility.

PPL has argued the decision could impact other river users who could ultimately be forced to pay rent, but the state has said the high court made it clear that farmers and ranchers who use riverbeds for irrigation are not under the same rental obligations as the power companies.

PPL has posted a bond to cover the amount should it ultimately have to pay the money, and interest accrued on it. State law says court-ordered judgments accrue interest at a rate of 10 percent a year from the original decision, which in this case is the District Court order dating back to mid-2008.

Montana has already started spending the money.

The Land Board run by the five statewide elected officials has decided to buy more state land with the money.

The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has proposed the state look into buying former Plum Creek Timber land, currently owned by The Nature Conservancy. It said the new land will produce an ongoing source of revenue, like other land that is leased for grazing, logging, mineral exploration and other uses.

Some lawmakers have objected to that move, and hope PPL does not pay the money at least until the next Legislature convenes in hopes that it can weigh in on the decision of what to do with the cash infusion before the Land Board spends it.

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