TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: January 18, 2006

The postponed January meeting of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board has been rescheduled for 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, January 24, at Colonie Memorial Town Hall, 534 New Loudon Road, Route 9, Newtonville. As you head south on Route 9, the town hall is two miles below the Latham Traffic Circle. It's a large building on the right. The meeting's agenda is posted on the District's home page:

It looks as if Great Sacandaga Lake's property owners could be treated to a world-class fireworks display this summer. But I'm not talking about traditional pyrotechnics that rattle your teeth when they ignite and dazzle you with a brilliant flash of light. Instead, I have in mind the explosive situation that results when hundreds of infuriated people squeeze into a public hearing and thunder their approval as audience members take turns at a microphone denouncing the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District.

Such a scene actually played out in the Northville Central School auditorium on October 22, 2003. Back then, the issue was an illegal and losing attempt by the Regulating District to jack up access permit fees by 1,000 percent. And it could happen again -- except that this time the issue would be the District's clumsy attempt to strip away the access permits currently held by 900 back-lot property owners. This could cost them up to tens of thousands of dollars each in lost property value -- a possibility that could elevate anybody's blood pressure.

For many years after creation of the reservoir in 1935, the District allowed back-lot property owners to obtain access permits on the state-owned buffer zone between front-lot property owners and the lake. Because of that access permit, those back-lotters paid a premium for their property. Also because of that access permit, they have paid premium taxes. So they were infuriated last spring when the District suddenly reversed past practice, saying that a front-lotter is entitled to an access permit across his full frontage if he wants it.

According to the District, if a back-lotter sold his property, the purchaser would not be eligible to apply for the same access permit. The District didn't help matters by saying that a purchaser might be eligible to apply for another access permit up to one mile away "if one became available." When the back-lotters checked, they found that the access permit waiting list in some areas already had dozens of names on it, with delays of up to a decade.

There was, however, a hitch. When challenged by the back-lotters, the District was unable to produce the rule that allows it to enforce this changed practice. The resulting uproar prompted the District to place the issue on "hold" and include it in a review of all of its rules and regulations, scheduled for completion in 2006. By doing so, it moved resolution of this emotional issue to an election year, a time when politicians generally seek to avoid angering large blocs of voters. Since the District is one of the 200 state authorities over which the Governor wields executive control, it is surprising that his staff allowed this to happen.

In its initial public statement last spring, the District said that a purchaser of an affected back-lot property could keep the traditional access permit if he was a member of the seller's "immediate family." However, after the "hold" was initiated, I asked Acting Executive Director Glenn LaFave how he would define "immediate family" in this era of relationships not involving marriage. His response was that this escape clause might be terminated if the District reinstitutes its back-lot practice.

Meanwhile, the 900 back-lotters are not the only ones angered by this issue. On the lake's shoreline, many of the 900 front-lotters with a back-lot access permit between their property and the lake are also ticked off. Based on what they learned last year, they were looking forward to obtaining an access permit across their full frontage. This would have added value to their property. And from the point of view of some of them, it also would have resolved some unpleasant confrontations they've had over trespassing issues, access permit boundaries, and loud late-night parties.

So if the District decides in favor of the front-lotters, some 900 back-lotters and their families and friends will be infuriated. And if the District decides in favor of the back-lotters, it will experience the wrath of some 900 front-lotters and their families and friends. Do I detect a lose/lose situation here? And in an election year, too.

Governor Pataki recently signed a new Public Authorities Accountability Act designed to ensure that public authorities in New York State follow the highest standards of accountability, transparency and professionalism. The Regulating District is one of more than 200 state authorities, and there are another 425 local ones.

The legislation signed into law by the Governor will codify the Model Governance Principles established for public authorities in 2004 by nationally respected corporate governance expert Ira Millstein; establish a new Public Authorities Budget Office; establish an independent inspector general to ensure greater accountability for authority-related activities; and provide new rules for the disposing of public authority property.

The Governor also announced that his Executive Budget will include $1.5 million in funding to support the new Public Authority Budget Office, which will report to the Governor, Legislature, and the public on the operations of public authorities and their efforts to comply with the Act.

Adirondack Park Agency hearings on Saratoga County's application for permission to build three radio towers to improve emergency radio communications in Corinth, Day, Edinburg, and Hadley have been postponed until April 20. According to a Times Union report (January 12), the hearings ultimately may never take place because the county Public Safety Committee recently voted unanimously to seek to have the APA proceedings tabled while the county government explores other options for providing the radio coverage.

The gauge that measures Great Sacandaga's elevation is currently off-line. As of last night, the level was at 763.53 feet above sea level, about 12 feet above target. Because of today's heavy rainfall, the level is undoubtedly rising. Be careful out on the ice. And if the ice has damaged your dock, please send me the details.