Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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The Bingham County District Court affirmed a ruling by the Idaho Department of Water Resources denying the City of Blackfoot’s (City) application for a water right to be offset by mitigation through another water right. The district court ruled that the Department was correct in ruling that latter right could not be used for groundwater recharge without an approved transfer application and could not be used as mitigation for former right until such transfer was approved. The City appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "City of Blackfoot v. Spackman" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a permit application to obtain a water right filed by the respondents, North Snake Ground Water District, Magic Valley Ground Water District and Southwest Irrigation District (“the Districts”), to appropriate water from Billingsley Creek on real property owned by appellant Rangen, Inc. After the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources denied the application in a final order, the Districts petitioned for judicial review. The district court set aside the Director’s final order. Rangen appealed. Rangen historically diverted water from Billingsley Creek. Before the Department ruled on the Districts’ April 2013 application, Rangen filed a competing application on February 3, 2014. Rangen’s application sought to divert 59 cfs from Billingsley Creek for fish propagation, with the same source and point of diversion elements as the Districts had requested. On January 2, 2015, Rangen’s application was approved for 28.1 cfs for fish propagation with a priority date of February 3, 2014. This permit had apparently not been challenged. Department employee James Cefalo presided over a hearing on the Districts’ application and subsequently issued a Preliminary Order Issuing Permit in which he found that the application was made in good faith, did not conflict with the local public interest, and otherwise satisfied the necessary requirements. Therefore, he approved a conditional permit authorizing the Districts to appropriate 12 cfs from Billingsley Creek for mitigation purposes with a priority date of April 3, 2013. Rangen filed a protest of the hearing officer’s preliminary order with the Director. After the parties briefed the issues, the Director subsequently issued a final order overturning the hearing officer’s decision and denying the application. The Director concluded that the Districts’ application was made in bad faith and that the application was not in the local public interest. The Districts petitioned for judicial review, asserting that the Director abused his discretion and exceeded his authority in denying their application. On judicial review, the district court set aside the Director’s final order, concluding that the application was neither made in bad faith nor counter to the local public interest. The district court also rejected Rangen’s arguments that the Districts’ application was incomplete or speculative and that mitigation is not a recognized beneficial use of water under Idaho law. Rangen appealed again. After review of the district court record, the Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err in its judgment and affirmed. View "Rangen, Inc v. North Snake Ground Water Dist." on Justia Law

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This was an appeal of a district court order affirming in part an order issued by the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources (“IDWR”). In response to a delivery call filed by Rangen, Inc., the Director had issued an order curtailing certain junior-priority ground water pumping in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer (“ESPA”). The order provided that the junior-priority ground water users could avoid curtailment by participating in an approved mitigation plan. The Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, Inc. (“IGWA”) filed several mitigation plans for approval. The Director issued an order conditionally approving IGWA’s Fourth Mitigation Plan, which proposed leasing water from another surface water right holder and piping the water to the Rangen facility. Rangen petitioned for review. The district court upheld the Director’s order in significant part. Rangen appealed. Finding no reversible error with the district court's order, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Rangen, Inc. v. Dept of Water Resources" on Justia Law

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The Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, Inc. (“IGWA”) and the City of Pocatello filed separate appeals to a district court order, affirming in part and vacating in part an order issued by the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources (“IDWR”) that curtailed junior ground water pumping in the Eastern Snake Plains Aquifer (“ESPA”). In late 2011, Rangen, Inc. petitioned for a delivery call, alleging that junior ground water pumping in the ESPA was materially injuring its water rights sourced from the Martin-Curren Tunnel. The Director held an evidentiary hearing in the Spring of 2013. As relevant to these appeals, the Director concluded: (1) that the Martin-Curren Tunnel was a surface water source and, therefore, not subject to the Ground Water Act; (2) ground water pumping in the ESPA was materially injuring Rangen’s water rights and that a curtailment order was appropriate; (3) however, the benefits of curtailment diminished significantly if the order extended to pumping east of a volcanic rift zone in the ESPA known as the Great Rift. The Director issued a curtailment order on January 24, 2014, mandating that ground water users located west of the Great Rift, with water rights junior to Rangen’s, refrain from diverting water from the ESPA. Rangen and IGWA petitioned for judicial review of the Director’s decision. The district court upheld the Director’s decision in significant part but vacated the Director’s application of a trim line at the Great Rift, concluding that the Director did not have a legal basis to apply a trim line in this case. Rangen, IGWA, and Pocatello each appealed. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court, save and except for the district court’s vacation of the Great Rift trim line, which was reversed. View "Idaho Ground Water Appropriators v. Dept of Water Resources" on Justia Law

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Appellant Rangen, Inc., filed a petition before the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources, alleging that junior ground water pumping in the Eastern Snake Plains Aquifer was materially injuring its water rights. The Director issued an order granting Rangen a curtailment of certain junior priority ground water pumping affecting Rangen’s water rights. The Director also interpreted the source and point of diversion elements of Rangen’s water rights to have a scope smaller than Rangen’s actual historical use. Rangen and intervenor Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, Inc. (“IGWA”) each filed petitions for judicial review. The issues raised by IGWA in its petition for judicial review were not at issue here; rather Rangen raised various issues related to the interpretation of its water rights and the sufficiency of the evidence before the agency. Specifically, Rangen appealed the Director’s determinations that Rangen could divert water only from the mouth of the Martin-Curren Tunnel and only within the ten-acre tract listed on its water right partial decrees. Rangen also appealed the Director’s adoption of an adverse expert’s analysis and the Director’s conclusion that junior priority ground water users are using water efficiently and without waste. The district court affirmed the Director’s orders, and Rangen appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court on substantially the same issues with substantially the same arguments. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Rangen, Inc. v. Idaho Dept of Water Resources" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a Snake River Basin Adjudication (SRBA) court decision on whether Idaho law required a remark authorizing storage rights to "refill,"under priority, space vacated for flood control. The SRBA court concluded that a remark was not necessary because a storage water right that is filled cannot refill under priority before affected junior appropriators satisfy their water rights once. The court declined to address when the quantity element of a storage water right is considered filled. Seven Magic Valley irrigation districts and canal companies (collectively the "Surface Water Coalition") appealed this decision in Docket No. 40974. The Boise Project Board appealed this decision in Docket No. 40975. Because both cases appealed the same decision of the SRBA court and had significant overlap, the Supreme Court addressed them together in this opinion, and held that the SRBA court abused its discretion in designating the question of whether Idaho law required remark as Basin-Wide Issue 17. The SRBA court did not abuse its discretion by declining to address when the quantity element of a storage water right is considered filled or in stating that such a determination was within the Director's discretion. View "In re: SRBA" on Justia Law

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Albar, Inc. owned a convenience store, gas station and marina on the Pen Orielle River. In 2003, one of its three underground storage tanks leaked gasoline into the surrounding soil. The tanks were insured through the State's Petroleum Storage Tank Fund. Albar ultimately entered into a consent agreement with the State Department of Environmental Quality to remediate the property and any impacted adjacent properties. In 2005, Albar put the businesses up for sale. Albar made a disclosure regarding the 2003 leak, but that statement would later be found false. JLZ Enterprises was interested in purchasing the property, and relied on the false disclosure. In 2007, JLZ Enterprises sued Albar to recover damages for fraud and breach of contract; to rescind the contract; and to recover damages for negligence against the real estate agent and the broker. The matter was tried to the district court. After hearing the evidence, the court declined to rescind the real estate contract, but found that Albar had breached the contract. The court entered a judgment forclosing the deed of trust on the property and ordering its sale. Albar appealed the grant of JLZ's motion to disallow its costs and attorney fees. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the district court's decision finding Albar breached the contract was supported by substantial and competent evidence, and that it was not an error for the court to disallow Albar's costs and fees. View "Echo Vanderwal v. Albar" on Justia Law

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The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) appealed the district court's post-judgment orders (1) refusing to lift a portion of an injunction and (2) declaring the Idaho Outdoor Sport Shooting Range Act unconstitutional. In 2004, IDFG made a public proposal to renovate the Farragut Shooting Range, (owned and operated by IDFG since World War II), based on the "Vargas Master Plan." Citizens Against Range Expansion (CARE), an unincorporated non-profit association comprised of individuals who reside near the range, contended that the plan would greatly increase range usage, and harm the community. CARE sued IDFG in 2005 for nuisance and other related causes of action regarding the range's operation. CARE's claims were grounded in both safety and noise concerns regarding the increased use of the range, and its proposed expansion. Among other relief, CARE sought to enjoin IDFG's operation of the range. The case proceeded to a court trial in December of 2006 and in February of 2007 the court issued its memorandum decision wherein it determined that CARE was entitled to relief enjoining further operation of the Farragut Range until IDFG completed certain safety improvements. Upon completion of its range improvements, IDFG filed a Motion for Partial Lifting of Injunction. CARE then moved for summary judgment, claiming that the Act was a special law in violation of art. III, sec. 19 of the Idaho Constitution, and a deprivation of judicial power in violation of art. V, sec. 13. The district court issued summary judgment in favor of CARE on the constitutional issues in March of 2011. In its order, the court found that the Act was unconstitutional as a special law and a deprivation of judicial power. For this reason alone, it denied IDFG's Relief Motion with regard to the 501-shooter component. The court found that there remained disputed issues of fact regarding range safety. On August 25, 2011, following the evidentiary hearing on safety issues, the district court denied IDFG's Relief Motion with regard to the one component of the injunction. IDFG timely appealed to the Supreme Court. Upon review, the Supreme Court: 1) reversed the district court's order holding that IDFG did not comply with the "500-shooter" component of the injunction; 2) concluded as a matter of law that IDFG complied with the 500-shooter component, and lifted that component of the injunction; 3) reversed the district court's order holding the Act to be unconstitutional; 4) remanded this case to the district court to determine whether IDFG has complied with the "501-shooter" component of the injunction. View "Citizens Against Range Expansion v. Idaho Fish & Game" on Justia Law

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The Idaho Wool Growers Association (IWGA) and several of its members brought suit against the State of Idaho, claiming that the State failed to protect domestic sheep operators from curtailment of their grazing allotments by the United States Forest Service. The curtailment of the allotments was designed to accommodate the reintroduction of bighorn sheep in the Hells Canyon area. In their complaint, the Wool Growers alleged that the State was obligated to redress damage caused to domestic sheep operations by virtue of the reintroduction. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Wool Growers appealed that dismissal, but upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Idaho Wool Growers v. State of Idaho Fish & Game" on Justia Law

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This was an appeal of a district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the State of Idaho, former Governor James E. Risch, and former Fish and Game Department Director Steven Huffaker (collectively "Defendants"). Appellants, Rex and Lynda Rammell, owners of a domestic elk ranch, brought suit against Defendants to recover for the loss and destruction of elk that escaped from their ranch in 2006. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Rammell v. Idaho" on Justia Law