by Peter VanAvery, Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee
Hudson River-Black River Regulating District Board Meeting
Northville, NY
February 6, 2006

First, I'd like to congratulate Glenn LaFave on his appointment as Executive Director of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District. We look forward to working with him.

Last Tuesday, the Regulating District held the first of five public meetings to seek recommendations about how it should update its rules and regulations covering the access permit system. Let me give you an overview of the proceedings from the perspective of an access permit holder.

According to the sign-in sheet, about 100 people were present. Considering the fact that there are 4,650 access permit holders, that's a mighty sparse crowd. Seasonal property owners, who triple or quadruple the populations of lake-area towns in summer, were written off. The meeting was scheduled at the last moment, giving the public less than a week's notice. Add to that the location (Northville), the season (mid-winter), the timing (a weekday evening), the weather (it was snowing), and the seasonal folks were all but disfranchised. That's no way to win trust.

Although you have assured permit holders that there will be a second opportunity for public comment this coming summer, the new rules will be in draft form by then, with your year-end deadline looming, and the perception is that they will be harder to change.

Publicity for the meeting was inadequate. In addition to notifying local media ,you posted a meeting announcement on your website -- but a visitor had to search to find it. And the information was skimpy -- the website blurb did not identify the specific rules to be discussed at the first meeting. This meant that some attendees were deprived of an opportunity to do their homework (i.e., if they could find the Rules & Regulations booklet they were issued years ago). The BBAC provided this information to our members. Why couldn't you?

At the meeting, Mr.LaFave announced that the second rulemaking meeting would be held on February 15. Today, a week later, you'll find that date prominently posted at the top of the BBAC's website -- but you won't find it anywhere on yours. Why did you go to the trouble and expense of redesigning your website if you don't use it?

During the meeting, possibly a dozen or so different people walked up to the microphone to comment about a specific rule. Some folks -- and I'm one of them -- made the trek to the mike more than once, a total of five times in my case. I appeared to be the only speaker who represented a lake-area organization. Although the crowd was small, I heard a lot of great suggestions, and I hope you can implement many of them. Otherwise, you will have raised false expectations. In any event, only about a dozen people made inputs to rules that could ultimately impact 4,650 access permit holders. There's something wrong with that picture.

To give you a feel for the proceedings, let me comment on two of the rules covered. One of them states that if a property owner is awarded an access permit, he must agree to assume liability for the permit area and take out appropriate insurance. But why should this be our responsibility? On the one hand, you tell us that a permit confers "exclusive use of a segment of District-administered State land for private access to the waters of Great Sacandaga Lake." On the other hand, you also tell us: "The district and board, their officers, agents, and employees ... have, at all times, absolute right of entry upon and over the access area." In addition, the District can give a permit holder permission to cross other permit areas in order to reach his assigned area. Well, if a permit holder can not control access, why should he be forced to assume liability? Further, in maintaining a permit area, the only action a permit holder can take without District approval is to cut grass and rake leaves. Suppose I request -- and am denied -- permission to cut down a large tree that has been undercut by shoreline erosion and that I deem to be dangerous. If, subsequently, the tree falls down and injures or kills someone, why should I be liable?

A second hot topic was the District's very restrictive definition of allowable floating dock configurations. Apparently (and the District's communications on this subject are typically vague), the Adirondack Park Agency limits docks to a maximum width of 8 feet and a length of 12 feet. This applies to you whether your permit area is 50-feet wide or 2,400 feet wide (and the latter is the actual dimension of the lake's widest permit area). This rule has put hundreds of Great Sacandaga's docks in violation. And it's nonsensical. Why is an 8' x 12' dock OK while a 12' x 8' dock is in violation? And how do you dock a boat 20 feet long or longer to an 8-foot-wide dock? The consensus was that dock widths should be pro-rated according to the width of the permit segment. Since the meeting, I've taken a look at the APA's rules and discovered that they allow 8' x 12' docks to be interconnected into larger configurations. Isn't the District aware of this? I was astounded when some speakers told us that they had been ordered by the District to cut up and remove existing docks in excellent condition because they were allegedly in violation of the 8' x 12' rule. At that point, one member of the audience muttered to me: "And the District wonders why we hate them?" The BBAC strongly recommends that you suspend this practice until the rulemaking process is complete.

I hope these comments have been helpful. Thank you.