TO: Batchellervillle Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: May 15, 2006

The agenda for Session #4 of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's continuing rule-revision process contains a surprise: it lists some emerging concepts, including tentative recommendations. The meeting will focus on permit eligibility, types of permits, permit applications, and costs for various permit types. Some emerging concepts:

  • "New property owner will have the ability to apply for expired permit first." This sounds as if the "back-lot practice" issue could be dead.

  • Back-lotters would be eligible to apply for an access permit as long as they are within one mile of the NYS property line, as measured in a straight line. Currently, the one mile is measured "by the odometer." This would increase the number of eligible properties.

  • Tentative recommendation: The District should not be responsible for contacting the permit holder if he/she fails to renew.

  • Goal: "Recover 100% of the permit system administration costs through a fair and equitable fee schedule." This would hike fees by 20% -- the discount we currently get for maintaining our permit area

    This public meeting, the second of two to be facilitated by Saratoga Associates, will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 17, in the Northville Central School Auditorium. Link to the agenda at Whether you love or hate the emerging concepts, you'd better show up and speak out. Or file a public comment form available at

    I've been asked by a front-lotter what I think is the most important rule affecting him that needs revision. That's easy -- it's Rule 606.29 (Width of Access Area), which is only one sentence long: "The board reserves the right to determine the width of the access area to be granted." This rule has yet to be covered during the rule-revision process. What should be added is a statement that existing access permit widths are frozen in perpetuity. This would not affect the 900 back-lot permits currently located between a front-lotter and the lake. But it would assure front-lotters who have full frontage that they would retain it in the future.

    According to Executive Director Glenn LaFave, the District has not created any new back-lot permits between a front-lotter and the lake for more than a decade. But owners of property adjoining the buffer zone need formal assurance that their frontage will not shrink. Like back-lotters, front-lotters seek stability. There is no guarantee that the District's future management will maintain the status quo (Executive Directors have short half-lives). A practice is easily overturned; a rule is not.

    If the District cannot formulate its current practice in a rule, it should make a major effort to communicate that fact to lake property owners and potential buyers -- just as it has emphasized the fact that access permits are not transferable. A local realtor's sales brochure recently featured seven front-lot residences with asking prices ranging from a stunning $500,000 to $1 million and with frontages ranging from 50 to 400 feet in width. If the District can't guarantee that the access permit segments currently assigned to these properties will remain fixed in width, potential purchasers need to be alerted so that they will not make a major investment that turns out to be the biggest mistake of their lives.

    No one, whether the owner of a million-dollar property or a much more modest residence, wants to live with the prospect that, at any time, it could drastically lose value because of an arbitrary decision by the people who run the Regulating District. If you are a front-lotter who feels strongly about this issue, you'd better convey your feelings to the District -- and fast!

    At its May 8 meeting in Old Forge, the District's board passed a motion to cap fees for Great Sacandaga Lake access permits at current levels for budget years July 1, 2006 through June 30, 2009. This action means that no fee increase can take place until January 1, 2010. Permit fees were last hiked in 2001.

    What's wrong with that? Plenty! We've been told for years that the permit system is supposed to pay for itself -- and that's how fees are calculated. But the District also has told us that it has no idea what the permit system costs. So when it imposes fees based on an unknown cost figure, isn't that fraud? Wouldn't a business person who tried this wind up in deep you know what? Until the District figures out the cost of the permit system, it should suspend permit fees entirely and dip into reserve funds. Or raise the needed money by withholding management salaries.

    And what's so hard about setting up a process for determining what the permit system costs? Didn't the District ever hear about the concept of time sheets -- a measuring tool that's been around since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution? After all, we're not talking about a staff of thousands -- the District has a total of only about 30 employees, not all of whom work full- or part-time on the access permit system. In fact, every business person (and some high school students) I know could solve this problem in less than an hour -- with time taken out for a coffee break and a lengthy discussion of the Yankees' chances of winning another pennant.

    Instead, we've been treated to one fiasco after another. In January 2004, the board instructed its brand new executive director, Richard Lefebvre (since departed to head the Adirondack Park Agency), to hire an outside firm to perform an independent audit to determine the permit system's legitimate cost. He took a whole year to hire that firm. Then, in August 2005, it reported that the job was mission impossible; the District's records were a mess. Now, the District is paying Saratoga Associates to show it how to calculate the cost of the permit system. Once the District has the methodology under control, it says it will collect the necessary data over the next three years, thereby resolving the cost mystery.

    As I've said before, you couldn't make up this stuff.

    The next Regulating District board meeting will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, June 12, 2006 at the Loyal Order of the Moose Lodge, 109 South Comrie Avenue, Route 30A, Johnstown. This may be an all-day meeting. Tentative agenda: approval of the three-year, 2006-2009 budget, plus Saratoga Associates will present its recommendations regarding permit eligibility and a permit fee structure.