TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: January 3, 2006

The Hudson River-Black River Regulating District plans to update all of its rules and regulations in 2006. The first step in this huge undertaking is information gathering. To help with this, the District is putting together a group that supposedly represents Great Sacandaga Lake's various stakeholders. It will meet monthly between January and May. I agreed to participate, and I urge you to swamp me with your suggestions/concerns.

Since the District's rules and regulations are a mess, this is obviously a worthwhile endeavor. However, I wish the District had individually notified all 4,650 access permit holders of its plans. There are numerous property-owner organizations around the lake that should have been given a fair opportunity to apply for representation. As we know from past experience, the Good Old Boys who view the lake as their private pond treat access permit holders as second-class citizens -- even though our taxes and expenditures are the lifeblood of the local economy. Clearly, we need strong representation.

So consider this fair warning. If your organization would like to apply for membership -- or if you would like to serve as an independent member -- the person to contact is Acting Executive Director Glenn LaFave in Watertown at 315-788-5440. Act quickly -- and have a convincing reason why you should be chosen. Only so many people will fit into one room. It also is unfortunate that this first step in the rulemaking process is being held in the off-season, making it difficult or impossible for seasonal property owners to participate.

The rule-making process will be directed by the District's board, which currently has only one Hudson River Area member (Ronald Pintuff). The other Hudson River Area seat is vacant. The remaining three members are from the Black River Area, as is Acting Executive Director Glenn LaFave. So the show will be run by a bunch of people who are largely unfamiliar with Great Sacandaga Lake.

By early summer, the District plans to submit the revised rules and regulations for approval by the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform. Once that approval is in hand, the District will hold a series of public hearings -- which may result in further changes and additional public hearings. Deadline for completion: year end -- before the state's next governor takes office. For a slow-moving outfit like the District, this could be a squeaker. If it misses the deadline, the new governor could bounce the process back to step one.

All this will play out against the backdrop of an election year, which could complicate matters.

Unless the Republicans can identify a strong candidate to run against Eliot Spitzer in the governor's race, state agencies like GORR will be in turmoil as political appointees quit and seek a safer harbor. This could slow the District's rule-making process. And keep in mind that some of the new rules/regs are bound to anger large numbers of people. For example, no matter how the District resolves the controversy over the back-lot practice, hundreds of access permit holders will be infuriated. If Mr. Spitzer wins the election, cautions a cynic of my acquaintance, don't be surprised if the District suddenly announces that it can't meet the deadline and tosses the hot potato into his lap.

If you encounter a District employee or board member after January 12, be sure to wish him/her a Happy Anniversary. That date marks the second anniversary of the Great Access Permit Fiasco. On that day in 2004, the District's board unanimously approved a motion to hire an independent auditor to establish the legitimate cost of the access permit system. You know the dreary history all too well. New Executive Director Richard Lefebvre took a whole year to hire that auditor, who then took eight more months to discover that it was mission impossible. The District's records were in such terrible shape that the access permit system's cost could not be determined. So after two years, the District has made zero progress on this one important project. Keep this in mind as you ponder the District's ambitious plans to update ALL of its rules and regulations by year-end 2006.

The lake's level is currently at 765.09 feet above sea level -- more than 12.5 feet above target. By December 15, my dock was frozen in, with the ice sheet extending across the lake. To make storage space for the spring runoff, the District must lower the level by 17 feet by early March. For a brief while, the District was dropping the level a foot every four days, but recent rains have sent the lake back up. If you venture out on the ice, watch out for air pockets, as well as cracks and pressure ridges. Be careful out there!

At the December 12 board meeting, several people called on the District to invoke the "emergency release" provision in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's 2002 license on the reservoir. That provision states that the District can exceed targeted water flows in the event of "emergency situations relating to dam safety, human life and property, or rescue activities." For "human life," think snowmobiler safety. And for "property," think massive damage to docks.

Unfortunately, we already know how this will turn out. Similar complaints were made in December 2003, the only other time the lake froze over when it was full. At that time, the District responded that this "emergency release" provision applied only to people/property BELOW the dam. On May 24, 2004, in response to an access permit holder's complaint, FERC ruled that the District had been in compliance with the license and Offer of Settlement.

Since spring 2003, when we experienced the first high-water episode caused by the new license, the BBAC has repeatedly urged the District to amend it. Goal: To allow the District to release water when the lake exceeds target levels for long periods of time. The District's response: These high-water episodes may be an anomaly -- give the license more time. Well, time is up! We will give the District one last opportunity to launch amendment proceedings before we ratchet up the pressure. Watch future issues of this newsletter for details.

Speaking of December 2003, that month saw two resignations from the Regulating District's board. This past November, James Conkling, one of those ex-board members, ran for the post of supervisor in the Town of Northampton. According to a pre-election letter signed by Bradley Brownell and printed in the Amsterdam Recorder, his candidacy was endorsed by the Great Sacandaga Lake Steering Committee. But when the ballots were counted, Mr. Conkling lost 488 to 277 to Linda Kemper. The other ex-board member, Timothy Noonan, has run afoul of Adirondack Park Agency building codes. After Attorney General Eliot Spitzer issued an opinion that Mr. Noonan had violated those codes, a Herkimer County judge ordered him to cease construction of a "massive residence" in the Town of Webb. The judge ruled that he violated a 2,500-square-foot limit and 35-foot height restriction in his building permit. The structure would have been 19,000 square feet in area and 59 feet high. He must dismantle any construction that exceeds the limit.

The Regulating District has mailed out access permit renewal applications. If the District has not received your application and check or money order by March 14, 2006, your former permit area may become available to another eligible applicant.

Back-lot property owners are organizing to fight restoration of the District's back-lot practice. For further information, contact Debbie Parker at

The next meeting of the Regulating District's board will be held at approximately 9:15 a.m. on Monday, January 9, at the Town of Colonie's Public Operations Center, 347 Old Niskayuna Road, Latham. The starting time is slightly flexible because the regular meeting will be preceded by an annual organizational meeting not open to the public.