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Mont. SC orders hearings on Kerr Dam lawsuit

By Chris Rizo | Aug 29, 2009

Montana Supreme Court justices

HELENA, Mont. (Legal Newsline)-- The Montana Supreme Court has ordered new proceedings on a lawsuit against electric utility PPL Montana over its management of Kerr Dam.

The 1999 class action lawsuit was filed by a group of landowners in Flathead Lake, Mont., who allege that PPL Montana and its predecessor Montana Power Co. caused shoreline erosion by keeping the lake too full.

For its part, PPL Montana has argued that the properties in question are subject to longstanding easements that allow the dam operator to flood, subirrigate, drain or otherwise affect their properties with the waters of Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi.

MPC managed and operated Kerr Dam until December 1999, when it conveyed its interest to PPL Montana LLC.

At trial, the District Court of the Eleventh Judicial District ruled in favor of PPL Montana, finding that the lands are subject to easements. Now, the state high court says hearings are in order to determine if released lake water caused unreasonable damage.

"Nothing in the easement language establishes a limiting contour line or ceiling at 2,893 feet above mean sea level on each Landowner's parcel such that all 'flooding, subirrigating, draining, or otherwise affecting' must occur below this elevation," the court said.

As for the lawsuit's class action status, the state Supreme Court on Tuesday vacated the district court's order certifying the case, and has asked the trial court to reconsider whether class action status should be granted.

PPL Montana has argued that the class action status should not remain since PPL Montana took over management of Kerr Dam from Montana Power Co., the original defendant in the case.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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