by Peter VanAvery, Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee
Hudson River-Black River Regulating District Board Meeting
Johnstown, NY
April 10, 2006

Last Friday, one of our members emailed me this poster (click here). It shows a picture of Great Sacandaga's shoreline. The central feature is a wrecked wood platform from which a wood stairway (also wrecked) descends down to the beach. And on this photo, he has superimposed the word "DESTROYED."

The poster's headline says: "Don't let the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District get away with this again!"

Below the photo, the text reads: "This is nothing but the result of poor management by the District! They can't even follow their own rules! The kicker is the District will require that this dock owner apply for a permit before any repairs can be done. Call the Governor! Call your Senator! Call your Assemblyman! Let them know you are as mad as hell and are not going to allow this to continue."

If you board members took a boat trip around the lake tomorrow, you'd see hundreds of other docks and stairways in worse condition than the structure on this poster. For example, my dock used to be rectangular in shape. Today, it is a parallelogram. But at least it's still identifiable. A lot of beach assets are now just a mass of splintered wood.

This mess resulted from the fact that the District allowed the lake to be full last December at the time-of freeze up. During the winter, the shifting ice took its toll.

This ice damage has ratcheted up the level of rage and frustration rampant among the property owners who line the shores of Great Sacandaga Lake. The District is fond of telling us that you have two basic missions: flood control and river regulation. But this organization, like any other, has two additional marching orders. The first is to make the boss look good. And the second is that if you can't make the boss look good, at least don't make him look bad.

You have failed on both counts. Your boss is the governor. He wields executive control over this state authority and the 200 others like it. He personally appointed this board. Posters like the one I showed you are soon going to be appearing all around the lake and showing up in the inboxes of elected officials. In addition, you'll see all sorts of media coverage about ice damage. Maybe a few hundred of us property owners will pay a visit to your Sacandaga Field Office -- all at one time. Is this the sort of publicity you want during an election year?

I also have a message for our other elected officials, like state assemblymen and senators of both parties. They like to tell us that while they feel our pain, the mess at Great Sacandaga is the governor's problem, not theirs. My message to them is two words long: "Collateral damage."

Let me offer this board some suggestions. First, stop telling us that this ice damage is our fault ... that before we closed down for the winter, we should have moved docks and stairways far out of the water's reach. Don't you think we'd have done that if we could? Doesn't any board member have a clue to the fact that much of Great Sacandaga is surrounded by steep, rocky banks? How do you lug a heavy dock or stairway weighing hundreds of pounds up that incline?

A second piece of advice: Initiate an amendment to the 2002 FERC license on the reservoir so that you have the authority to release more water when the lake is excessively high for long periods of time. Can the license be amended? Yes. In fact, the Offer of Settlement contains a whole section explaining how to do it. Who can initiate an amendment? The Licensee (that's you!). How do you tell if an amendment is feasible? The Offer of Settlement says you need "substantial evidence that a change in circumstances has occurred."

Have you experienced a "change in circumstances?" You certainly have. Who says so? Chief Engineer Robert Foltan. At board meetings, we've heard him say that whereas the reservoir traditionally coped with a potential flood threat only once annually, in the spring, it now performs that role several times a year -- because precipitation levels are higher. The license provides a helpful baseline. It notes that because of the demands of the aggressive use of storage, the shoreline above 768 feet above sea level -- the elevation at which the lake is considered "full" -- "may be more frequently exposed to erosive forces." The license then notes: "This would occur only during rare occasions when lake levels are at the highest point, typically during June and July."

Now look at the data. The level exceeded 768 for 59 days in a row from April to June 2003 ... for 51 days in a row from November 2003 to January 2004 ... for 34 days in a row from April to May 2005 ... for 34 days in a row from November to December 2005 ... and for 28 days in a row from January to February 2006. Do those numbers fit the definition of "rare occasions"? Hardly. And what about the license phrase that reads: "typically during June and July"? For two out of the past three winters, the lake was full at the time of freeze-up in December. This never happened before!

What more do you need? For the good of the lake's property owners -- and for the good of your boss, present and future -- we urge you to put an amendment discussion on the agenda of a future board meeting.

Thank you.