VERNON -- Though a sit-down meeting did not produce a solution, some of those involved in a lengthy legal dispute over the value of two hydroelectric stations still believe the case may not have to go to trial.
Representatives of energy giant TransCanada, which owns hydro dams in Vernon and Rockingham, engaged in a mediation session in late spring with attorneys for those two towns and another town in the Northeast Kingdom.
There was no breakthrough on the dams' value for tax purposes, but one attorney says the talks may have paved the way for more such discussion.
"We had a day of mediation that involved three towns -- Vernon, Rockingham and Barnet. There was no agreement, but the parties are continuing to talk and to negotiate," said attorney Richard Coutant, who represents Vernon.
"It's possible that we may reconvene another mediation," Coutant added. "It's also possible we may decide that we're not going to settle anything -- that we need to go ahead and just try these cases."
That would likely be a complex and expensive trial, given the importance of the properties for each town's tax rolls. TransCanada has said it is appealing a hike in property taxes on four of its Vermont generating stations -- Vernon, Bellows Falls, Comerford and McIndoes.
A company spokesman has said those appeals are similar in that they all relate to values assessed by the towns as of April 1, 2012, and because the assessed values all rely on the same appraisal report that had been prepared for the state.
There have been wide gaps between the towns' assessments and what TransCanada says the dams are worth. In the spring, officials said the town/state appraisal for the Vernon dam was $39.78 million, while TransCanada's estimate was $20.9 million.
The Bellows Falls facility had been valued at $108 million in 2012, but an attorney for Rockingham in March said TransCanada's value was $62 million.
That attorney could not be reached for comment, and Coutant said he could not comment on whether any of the proposed values changed due to the mediation session in May.
"All I can say is, TransCanada and the towns exchanged proposals, and some progress was made," Coutant said.
Sharan Kaur, a TransCanada spokesman, said representatives from the state of Vermont also participated in mediation, and "settlement discussions are continuing at this time."
"We are committed to working together and are hopeful that, as we continue to engage in settlement discussions, a mutually agreeable resolution can be achieved," Kaur wrote in an e-mail to the Reformer.
If a trial becomes necessary, it could happen later this year in Windham Superior Court Civil Division, Coutant said. But there could be complications in scheduling a trial involving so many attorneys.
"If it happens this year, it won't be earlier than October," Coutant said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.