TO: Batchellervillle Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: July 27, 2006

The Hudson River-Black River Regulating District has launched Phase 2 of its update of the rules governing the access permit system at Great Sacandaga Lake. It has scheduled the final two public input meetings, and it has posted the draft rules on its web site. After you read the draft rules, you will want to attend those two meetings and speak out in protest. Why? Because the District has largely turned a deaf ear to the excellent recommendations the public made at the first five meetings. And it has sprung on us a proposed new rule that could completely change the character of the lake, creating a vast number of additional back lot access permits.

The meetings are scheduled for Wednesdays, August 2 and 23, 2006, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Northville Central School, 131 South Third Street, Northville. Why should you attend? A little birdie told us that the District has been telling the Governor and other elected officials that, aside from a half-dozen or so troublemakers (I'm proud to say that my name is on the list), access permit holders have no problem with the way it's running the lake. If you disagree with the District, you'd better show up and help prove otherwise.

The District has posted the draft rules on its website at and the August 2 meeting agenda at This is a download of 50 pages. Or pick up copies at the Sacandaga Field Office in Mayfield. But call them up first (661-5535); this gang isn't noted for its efficiency or for making life easy for stakeholders.

The following are on the August 2 meeting agenda: Draft Rules 1.1 to 1.47; 3.1 & 3.2; 4.4, 4.5, & 4.17; 5.1 to 5.9; 6.1 to 6.29; all of Section 7.0; the "Access Permit Fees" Appendix; and the Fees Section of "Authorized Work Activities and Work Permit Fees" Appendix. If time allows, the public may comment on other rules. Otherwise, the remaining rules will be deferred to the August 23 meeting.

I'll start with the rule I consider to be the most threatening. It is a brand new rule: 6.29 -- Request to Have Front Lot Access Permit Area Reduced. It says that a front lotter can apply to the District to have his access permit area reduced, with the surplus footage divided up into 10-foot-wide back lot permits. This is a game changer, and it could lead to a proliferation of back lot permits, along with the problems that sometimes accompany them.

If you are a front lotter, why should this concern you? Suppose your next-door neighbor opts to give up some of his footage. Suppose also that his property is landlocked -- in other words, it's several front-lot properties away from the nearest public right-of-way to the lake. Under Draft Rules 4.17 & 5.5, the District may grant a 5-foot-wide footpath across other access areas to these new back lot permits. You may have paid $500,000 to $1 million for your front lot property, and now you've got people traipsing back and forth in front of it at all hours.

In addition, if someone crossing your access area has an accident, you are liable (Draft Rule 5.11) -- and in this era of jury awards in excess of $1 million, you'd better be investing big bucks in a hefty insurance policy. In continuing to affix liability onto the permit holder, the District ignored many public recommendations that this is unfair and should be dropped.

Why would a front lotter ever willingly give up part of his access area to back lotters? Perhaps the back lotters are relatives or friends. Or perhaps a developer wants to put up a bunch of back lot houses that would be worth a lot more -- say, $50,000 or $100,000 each -- if an access permit was available. But there's a 10-year wait for an access permit in some parts of the lake. To create a larger supply, the developer might be willing to offer front lotters thousands of dollars for each new back lot permit that could be carved out of the latter's access areas.

Some people say that this proposed new rule smells like a political payoff and that it is the real reason why the District decided to ram through a revision of its rules this year. Whatever it is, it should be deleted from the rule book. It's bad news. Oppose it!

Here are some other draft rules of particular interest:

6.22: Access Permit Area Widths. This says in part: "The District has the discretion and right to adjust said access widths and the boundaries of any and all access permit areas in a manner which it deems reasonable." This gives the District plenty of leeway to create new back lot permits between front lotters and the lake. In issuing this, the District has turned a deaf ear to strong recommendations by the BBAC and numerous front lotters that this rule be revised to state that an access permit area, once issued, can never be reduced. Don't let them get away with this!

6.6: Properties within a 1-mile radius of the lake are eligible for a back lot access permit. This would supersede the current rule, which states that the 1 mile is measured "by the odometer." It would increase the number of properties eligible for back lot permits.

7.0: Permit Fees; the "Access Permit Fees" Appendix; and the Fees Sections of "Authorized Work Activities and Work Permit Fees" Appendix. I don't have space to discuss these proposed fees individually, but I guarantee that they will horrify you. How did the District, which brags that it's trying to make its operations "transparent," arrive at these big numbers? It's a mystery. Incidentally, a renewal access permit fee will continue to be the total of a flat fee (a uniform fee paid by all applicants) and a frontage fee (which will vary by access permit area width).

5.8: (Access Permits Nontransferable) and 5.9 (Transfer of Eligible Property). Watch out for some semantic somersaults here. Draft Rule 5.8 reaffirms what the District has been saying for 76 years: an access permit is not transferable to a new owner if you sell your property. On the other hand, Draft Rule 5.9 states that a new owner of the property shall be able to apply for a new access permit for that property. And Draft Rule 6.25 (Termination of Access Permit Upon Transfer of Interest in Property) adds that the new owner is given priority in applying for the permit on that property. Thus, while an access permit is not transferable, it is indeed transferable. This would appear to torpedo the District's controversial back lot practice. But some cynics doubt that this series of rules will survive the approval process in their present form. Somewhere down the road, they have to be submitted for approval to the Adirondack Park Agency, whose current Executive Director, Richard Lefebvre, vigorously applied the back lot practice when he was Executive Director of the District. The cynics are betting that the APA's decision will be held off until after the November 8 election to avoid any payback at the polls.

4.5: Limited Use of State Lands -- No Trespass. An access permit used to offer its holder exclusive use of a segment of state-owned land. That's history. This draft rule states that no access permit holder shall have exclusive use of any lands within the access permit zone and Great Sacandaga Lake.

If time permits and it becomes possible to discuss other rules, hammer the District on Draft Rule 6.32 (Appeal Review by Executive Director). During the initial public input meetings, the District was told time and again that permit holders did not trust it and that the appeals process, which was conducted in house, was a scam. We demanded that appeals be referred to an outside agency. The District has ignored our complaints; the executive director and the board (with its handy rubber stamp) will continue to handle appeals. Don't let them get away with this!

I'm out of space. Now it's your turn to study the rules, identify the numerous problems, and show up and speak out at the meeting. If you have any questions, please let me know.

For many weeks, I've been employing the provisions of the Freedom of Information Law to track down the answer to a question that affects all of us: When was the last time the state tested Great Sacandaga's water quality? I started with the NYS Department of Public Health, which eventually referred me to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. DEC tells me that the lake is a Class B body of water (which we knew already), which means that it is safe for swimming and fishing but not for drinking. DEC's answer to my question: "The last update was done 12-91."

By way of protest against the high water levels that have needlessly ruined recreational uses of the lake this summer, the BBAC has commissioned a trial run of a limited number of dark-red, 100% cotton T shirts imprinted across the chest with the question: Where's the Beach? Were these T shirts inspired by the famous Where's the Beef? TV commercial of several years back? We aren't saying. Available sizes: L and XL . Make a $7 donation (our cost) to the BBAC and get one free. Please email me to request a photo/other details.

The lake's level is at 768.64 feet above sea level -- 2.5 feet above target.