TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: January 25, 2006

The Hudson River-Black River Regulating District has announced plans to update its rules and regulations for the access permit system at Great Sacandaga Lake. In Phase 1, running from January 31 to April 30, the District will hold five meetings to gather public input. Each meeting will be open to the public. In addition, the District is specifically inviting people it believes represent a cross-section of stakeholders. All attendees are welcome to make comments on the rules designated for discussion at that particular meeting. Written comments also are invited.

The first meeting will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, January 31, in the auditorium of Northville Central School, 131 South Third Street, Northville. During the first two meetings, the following rules will be discussed in this order: 606.1 - 606.17, 606.30, 606.33, 606.35 - 606.37, 606.39 - 606.46, 606.80 & 606.81, 606.95 & 606.96, 606.100, 606.105, 606.109 & 606.110. These rules appear in the green-covered booklet titled "Rules and Regulations Governing Use by Permit Holders of State-Owned Property at Great Sacandaga Lake."

Many of these rules have a significant impact on you: e.g., number of boats authorized per permit area, rights of permittee, structures on access area, placement of structures (boats, floats, etc.), work projects on access areas, conditions for issuance of permits and renewals, and cause for revocation. Watch out for new restrictions on dock sizes.

According to Acting Executive Director Glenn LaFave, the District's goal is to gather information and "to listen." If you attend, take along the booklet. The first, second, and fifth meetings will be conducted by Regulating District personnel. The third and fourth will be facilitated by an independent consultant. The controversial back-lot practice will probably be taken up at the third meeting.

When you attend, keep this in mind. Great Sacandaga Lake is the property of the people of New York State -- not the fiefdom of Fulton County or Saratoga County. Its 4,650 access permit holders, through exorbitant taxes and expenditures, are the economic powerhouse of the area. Most access permit holders are seasonal property owners. Though we triple or quadruple the populations of lake-area towns and villages in summer, we can't vote, and local politicians do not necessarily represent our interests. Non-commercial access permit holders outnumber commercial access permit holders by about 4575 to 75. County Chambers of Commerce may have goals directly opposite to our wishes. Be wary of outsiders who try to change rules affecting us.

The District's decision to open these meetings to the public marks a switch in signals. Its original plan was to organize an advisory team composed of about 20 representatives of organizations, agencies, and municipal government. It changed its mind when it couldn't figure out whom to include and whom to exclude. I heartily endorse this decision. It allows bright sunshine to flood into what otherwise might have been a smoke-filled room. It gives you and your neighbors an excellent opportunity to participate, as well as to see who is pushing what agenda . These meetings will be unwieldy -- but they represent democracy in action.

Phase 2 will begin after the revised rules are in draft form. During the summer, a second round of public meetings will be held to allow permit holders to comment on them. This could result in additional significant changes. Before the draft rules can become permanent, they must be submitted for approval to the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

The judge overseeing National Grid's lawsuit against the District has retired without rendering a decision. The lawsuit involves National Grid's attempt to have access permit holders declared "beneficiaries" of the lake, forcing us to share the annual cost of the reservoir's operation and maintenance. This would reduce the assessment on National Grid, a statutory beneficiary.

The lake's level is at an unbelievable 768 feet above sea level, 17 feet above target. This is a record high for this date. At this level, the lake is traditionally considered "full."

The next meeting of the Regulating District's board will be held at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, February 6, at the Town of Northampton Town Hall, 412 South Main Street, Northville.

I was the only person to make a statement at the January 24 board meeting. The text follows:

This month marks the second anniversary of the Great Access Permit Fiasco. Two years ago, on January 12, 2004, the Regulating District's board unanimously approved a motion to hire an independent auditor to establish the legitimate cost of the access permit system. Nineteen months later, that independent auditor reported that it was mission impossible -- because the District's records were either non-existent or defective. So after two years, the District has made zero progress on this one important project. Now you claim that you are going to update ALL of your rules and regulations in less than one year. I hope that this is not just another fire drill.

In Phase 1 of the rulemaking process, the research and rewrite phase, you plan to hold five meetings to gather public input. I applaud your decision to make these meetings open to the public -- in addition to inviting selected individuals who theoretically represent a cross-section of the stakeholders. As you should be aware, those various stakeholder groups frequently view one another -- as well as the Regulating District -- with suspicion, distrust, and paranoia. By opening Phase 1 meetings to the public, you have flooded the proceedings with sunshine. It is only unfortunate that they are being held in mid-winter, making it difficult or impossible for seasonal property owners to attend.

In Phase 2 of the rulemaking process, the marketing phase, you will seek approval of the revised rules and regulations from the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform and then conduct public hearings during the summer. Unfortunately, those hearings will be conducted at a time when your relationships with access permit holders will be particularly toxic. In fact, you may have a serious problem controlling your audience.

Access permit holders will be up in arms because, for the second time in three years, you allowed the lake to be full when it froze over, causing tremendous damage to docks. Ice fishermen and snowmobilers are concerned because, by mid-March, you must lower the lake by 20 feet to accommodate spring runoff, which could create dangerous air pockets under the ice. In addition, you are about to decide whether to restore the back-lot practice, probably the most emotionally explosive issue in the lake's history. If you restore the practice, you will infuriate 900 back-lot property owners whose homes will drop in value. But if you don't restore it, you will anger many of the lake's 900 front-lotters who want access permits conforming to their full frontage, which would add value to their property.

And there's the question of whether you can meet your year-end deadline. Your official "Rules and Regulations" booklet, last updated in 1992, alone contains 48 rules. Many others are inferred in the "Handbook for Holders of Access Permits," aimed at non-commercial access permit holders. And somewhere there must be a set of "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots" directed at commercial access permit holders. So this promises to be quite a slog.

In any event, I wish you good luck. And I promise you that the BBAC will urge its members and other access permit holders to turn out for each and every one of the public input meetings that will begin on January 31.