TO: Batchellervillle Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: April 30, 2006

The next Hudson River-Black River Regulating District board meeting will be held at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, May 8, 2006, at the North Woods Inn Resort, 4920 State Route 28, Old Forge, NY.

The Daily Gazette performed an immense public service by blowing the lid off a major Great Sacandaga Lake cover up -- the fact that supposedly treated wastewater from municipal sewage-treatment plants in Northampton, Broadalbin, and Mayfield has been discharged for years into the lake under permits issued by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The newspaper's expose aroused feelings of revulsion, disgust, and anger among lake property owners. How else are you supposed to react to news that you, your spouse, your kids, and your grandkids have been swimming in -- and sometimes swallowing -- water that's been flushed down someone's toilet?

At the Regulating District's April board meeting, held the day after the story broke, Executive Director Glenn LaFave said he was as surprised as everybody else by the news. Some BBAC members blanched when they heard this -- after all, he "owns" the lake. Nor were permittees thrilled about District Chief Engineer Robert Foltan's comment in the Gazette that water quality is not the agency's purview. Asked one BBAC member: How can the District micromanage everything from dock configurations to whether or not a permittee can cut down a sapling one inch in diameter, but then have no issue with wastewater discharges into the lake?

It is clear that local and state officials have intentionally kept us in the dark. How could DEC have issued these permits without public hearings? How frequently does DEC conduct inspections? Under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Law, I have requested copies of all SPDES (State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permits in the Great Sacandaga watershed and the last two inspection reports for each of them. Cuts in staff have left DEC with fewer field personnel, and the word is that unless someone complains, the agency does not aggressively look for violations.

Kudos also to the Leader-Herald for running a story about the antiquated Northampton wastewater treatment plant, which services about 100 dwellings in Sacandaga Park. The facility's permit is up for renewal, but DEC says it will not issue a new one until the town comes up with a comprehensive plan to fix the plant's problems. The plant discharges effluents into the lake through an underwater pipe, the mouth of which is within two miles of Northampton State Park. A number of private beaches are even closer.

Setting up our own Water Quality Task Force will take time and expert advice. Getting valid results is a lot more complicated and expensive than racing around the lake and scooping up water in old mayonnaise bottles. In fact, one participant may end up with a small chemistry lab in his basement. I'll keep you informed of our progress. The best time for taking samples will be July and August, when water quality is under greatest pressure from seasonal residents and tourists. If you'd like to participate, please let me know. Also, over the past two years, if you've heard of anyone developing rashes after swimming in the lake, please notify me.

The questions raised about what's in Great Sacandaga's water also may cause some concern among residents of Saratoga County, which is planning a $75 million program to tap the Upper Hudson at Moreau and pipe the river's water throughout the county. Nearly one-quarter of the Hudson's drainage area is funneled through the reservoir.

I've been asked if the BBAC had anything to do with interesting the Gazette in its story. Yes, we did. I'd heard some alarming rumors, and I suggested to the newspaper that Great Sacandaga's water quality might be worth looking into. Little did I realize how bad the situation was.

Incidentally, when the Great Sacandaga Lake Association sends out membership notices to access permit holders, it invites them to send along an additional donation for special causes, one of which is listed as "water purity." You might ask them what they do with that money.

At Lake George, no direct discharges of any kind are allowed into the lake. Why should we settle for less? Start complaining to every elected official/agency head in sight. If you need a list of names and addresses, I'd be happy to email one to you.

This week, because of the heavy rain, the lake's level surged within inches of pouring over the spillway at the dam, forcing the District to open one of the huge, 8-foot-diameter Dow valves to release water on an emergency basis. This is yet one more example of gross mismanagement of water levels by the District.

Just before the rain hit, in spite of the fact that we'd experienced a dry spell lasting several weeks, the reservoir was nearly eight feet above target level. During this dry spell, the District could have safely brought down the water level without any possibility of downstream flooding. If it had done that, it could have accommodated the latest wet spell with plenty of room to spare. Instead, it was keeping the lake high by shutting off discharges for hours each day. How can it ever come close to the target if it doesn't release water during dry spells?

Now, property owners around the lake are suffering the consequences. With water up to the banks, wave action is eroding the shoreline and punishing docks and stairways already damaged by the fact that -- for only the second time in history -- the District allowed the lake to be full at the time of freeze-over in December, another example of ignoring the "target." The shifting ice took a heavy toll on man-made structures, damaging many and totally destroying others. The high water is the final blow.

Also suffering harmful consequences is the lake's fish population. A Dow valve is not equipped with trash racks to screen fish from being pulled out of the reservoir and into the Sacandaga River below the dam. Worse, the lake has just been stocked with thousands of brown and rainbow trout by the GSL Fisheries Federation and the Department of Environmental Conservation. So as trout were being added (many ranging in length from 12-24 inches) to the lake, the District was sucking them out at the dam. To repeat, this fiasco could have been easily avoided. The District calls itself a public benefit corporation. What a joke!

Recommended action: Complain to the governor, who wields executive control over the District, and other elected officials. If the latter tell you that while they feel your pain, they can't help you because it's the governor's problem, just remind them that there's an election coming up in November and that there's always the possibility of collateral damage.

The Regulating District continues to gather public input as it moves forward on updating its rules and regulations for Great Sacandaga's permit system. The fourth public meeting will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 17, in the auditorium of Northville Central School, 131 South Third Street, Northville. It will be facilitated by Saratoga Associates. Like Session #3, it will focus on permit eligibility and permit fees.

The date for the fifth meeting has not yet been announced. After draft rules are prepared and posted, the Regulating District plans to hold at least two additional public meetings between July 11 and September 1, when seasonal residents are back. People unable to attend these meetings, or uncomfortable about speaking in public, can download a "Permit System Rules Revision Public Comment Form" from the District's website (

At Session #3, back-lotters opposed to restoration of the back-lot practice were in the vast majority. If you disagree with them, you'd better show up at a meeting ... or submit a public comment form. In making a final decision, the District will be looking at the total numbers, pro and con. Alert: If you speak out at a meeting, you may, unfortunately, be heckled. At Session #3, the facilitator from Saratoga Associates did an inadequate job of audience control. The back-lot/front-lot issue is controversial and emotional, and is splitting the District's opponents (that's us). I suspect the District is delighted about that.

An issue that impacts all of us is permit fees. All permittees currently pay two fees: a base fee (applied to all permit areas regardless of size or location, recognizing the fact that many administrative costs are unrelated to permit area size) and a frontage fee (which varies according to permit area width). At present, the base fee for everybody is $35. The frontage fee for a 10-foot permit is $8; for a 50-foot permit, $13; for a 100-foot permit, $21; and so on.

Back-lotters, who have 10-foot permits, argue that this fee schedule discriminates against them and that permit fees should be based solely on a per foot charge. This could raise the cost for everybody else. In response, some front-lotters argue that 10-foot permits generate more administrative disputes than larger permit areas and that the existing system should not be changed. Do you have an opinion on this pocketbook issue? If so, make yourself heard.

For my part, in addition to attending and speaking out at the three previous rule-revision meetings, I have filled out and submitted 18 public comment forms. Are you are doing your share?