Vermont v. New York

LOCATION: Georgia State Capitol

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)

CITATION: 406 US 186 (1972)
ARGUED: Feb 29, 1972
DECIDED: Apr 24, 1972

Fred I. Parker -
Philip Weinberg -
Taggart Whipple -

Facts of the case


Media for Vermont v. New York

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 29, 1972 in Vermont v. New York

Warren E. Burger:

-- number 50 original, State of Vermont against the State of New York and others?

Mr. Parker.

Fred I. Parker:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This original jurisdiction suit is a suit by the State of Vermont against the neighboring State of New York and against a citizen of that state, namely International Paper Company.

It is a controversy over a sludge bed which is sitting on the bottom of Lake Champlain which lies over the interstate boundary between the two states.

We have alleged in our Bill of Complaint that, that sludge bed constitutes a public nuisance that it also constitutes a continuing trespass because it is encroached over the state line on to lands for the State of Vermont, that it is giving rise to an interstate boundary question because its presence is causing a shift of the channel in the direction of the State of Vermont and that it is depriving, and has deprived, Vermont citizens of their right to freely use Lake Champlain.

It is my intension to spend some portion of the original part of this argument in discussing of facts which I think are very important and a very short time on the legal issues which I think are simple to comprehend, although they might be difficult to administer.

The states of Vermont and New York, as I said, are neighboring states.

Lake Champlain lies along the boundary between the two states.

It is a 170-mile long lake, a very narrow one, 12 miles wide at its widest point and it flows in a Northerly direction.

The situation that we describe, the sludge bed situation, is one which exists in the Southerly portion of the lake, almost at what would be the head waters, if you are viewing this long lake as a stream.

Warren E. Burger:

Would you give me, so I am going to get at least little better, and more complete picture of the geography, that the total size of Lake Champlain?

What are it's dimensions?

You said 12 miles in its widest part, is that correct?

Fred I. Parker:

Yes Your Honor it -- the length is 107 miles long, 12 miles at its widest part which is about the midpoint of that 107-mile stretch and it narrows down in the Southerly portion at the place, we're describing to about a mile and it narrows down in the Northerly portion where it joins the -- it crosses the Canadian boarder to about a mile and I would say that it fairly regularly narrows.

That is, it starts about a mile wide expands to 12 miles and then comes back to about a mile wide.

Warren E. Burger:

I recall that driving in that part of the country it has the characteristics of a river rather than a lake.

Have been -- I would like to get to the picture, how much of that total is affected directly by the sludge?

Fred I. Parker:

The evidence that was presented in the interstate conference that was held on this matter indicated that the sludge bed itself was approximately 300 acres and that the water that it then affected was about 1600 acres.

Now at that time, there was a continuing discharge from the International Paper Company plant which has since ceased and I expect that now the water is being affected somewhat less than they were at that time because of the discontinuance of the discharge.

At the place where the sludge bed exists, there is a stream which is coming from New York, Ticonderoga creek which runs between Lake George and runs into Lake Champlain, and that stream, while the lake is running in a North-South direction, the water flowing Northerly, the stream joins the lake in a South-Easterly direction, so that the waters of the stream run into the lake and buck the current that exists there in the lake and as a result of that the -- well let me back up for just a second, the International Paper Company has been operating a mill, a paper producing mill and pulp mill on Ticonderoga creek for a period of 45 years and it has discharged waste from those paper making operations for that period into the stream.

The discharges have deposited out along the stream and especially at the place where the stream joins the lake, is such a point that it has formed this huge 300 acre sludge bed which consists of organic and inorganic materials that are in a state of septic decay.

And that --

Potter Stewart:

The operation is now finished, isn't it?

Hasn't that perhaps closed?

Fred I. Parker:

Yes Your Honor, it has.

It shut down partially in December of 1970 after this suit was instituted and fully shut down in April of 1971, but the --

Potter Stewart:

A new plant has been built few miles away?

Fred I. Parker:

That's correct.

Harry A. Blackmun:

This is on the lake, the new plant?