TO: Batchellervillle Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: October 17, 2006

Earlier this month, Glenn LaFave, Executive Director of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District, held a secret meeting with six lake-area town supervisors to discuss setting up an advisory committee to review proposed rules for the permit system at Great Sacandaga Lake. Although he later denied that the meeting was secret, read the following quotes from his invitation letter (leaked to newspapers) and decide for yourself: "I request that, if possible, this meeting be limited to supervisors.... Without the presence of the general public and the media, we will be able to communicate candidly and discuss some issues that can't be discussed in public."

What were they plotting that they didn't want us to know about? As I was quoted in the Daily Gazette: "Holding meetings with elected officials from which the public and the press are excluded is hardly the way to win trust, and it gives the lie to the District's protestations that it is working to make its operations more transparent." Further, to put this meeting in perspective, it should be noted that three-quarters of the lake's permit holders are seasonal residents, which means that they don't vote in lake-area elections and that they have zero leverage on town supervisors.

So far, not much has been revealed about the advisory committee. Some obvious concerns:

1. Why is an advisory committee necessary? The answer is not clear. In 2006, the District held eight public input meetings on the rule-revision process. I attended and spoke out at all of them. At the first five meetings, held between January and June, attendees went through the existing rule book for permit holders on a rule-by-rule basis and offered scores of recommendations. Members of the public also filled out and submitted hundreds of written public input forms.

In July, the District posted new draft rules on its website, and permit holders discovered -- much to their dismay and horror -- that most of their recommendations had been ignored. At three tumultuous public meetings, held in August and September and attended by more than 1,000 people, permit holders expressed their anger and -- rule by rule -- went into great detail about what was wrong with them.

With that history, what's the need for a new advisory committee? Newspaper reports say that the committee will go through the draft rule book on a rule-by-rule basis. But we've been there, done that. At this point, it must be absolutely clear to the District what permit holders want. Is that sound I hear in the background a waterfall -- or is it the District flushing permit holders' recommendations down the toilet? It looks as if the District never intended the process to reflect what we want. Instead, people are saying, it is pushing a secret agenda -- and it expects the supervisors and local business people to deliver the goods. What exactly is the District trying to pull? Obviously, it's something not in our best interests.

2. Shouldn't the membership of an advisory committee on permit system rules be limited to permit holders? That's certainly logical and fair -- but it's not what's going to happen. The original invitation went out to nine supervisors representing the towns of Mayfield, Northampton, and Broadalbin in Fulton County; Providence, Edinburg, Day, and Hadley in Saratoga County; and Benson and Hope in Hamilton County. I'll bet 1) that more than half of them did not attend a single one of the eight public input meetings held this year, and 2) that few of them are permit holders. Apparently, a supervisor can designate an alternate -- no guarantee the person is qualified. In addition, invitations were sent to an undisclosed number of interested organizations, including the BBAC.

One surprise: Newspaper reports indicate that participants may include the GSL Business Association, the GSL Marina Operators Association, the Fulton County Chamber of Commerce, and the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. Although the first two are entitled to representation on the committee, why should Chambers of Commerce be included? Won't their agenda call for the creation of more access permits, which would mean more business for their members? Is that what you want? Remember: Of the lake's 4,678 access permits, 4,532 are defined as non-commercial, 59 as commercial, and 87 as special. The advisory committee's membership should reflect this ratio. But I'll bet it won't.

3. Media reports say that advisory committee meetings will be open to the public and the press. But during the off-season, most seasonal property owners will find it difficult or impossible to attend -- a tactic that's been pulled on us before.

4. The rule-revision process has been flawed from the very beginning by the District's failure to make clear that a number of draft rules -- including some that we dislike the most -- are cast in concrete and can't be changed. Why not? Because the District must make its rules conform with rules established by agencies above it in the state hierarchy, such as the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency. We want to know what those rules are so that we can set them aside and stop wasting our energy trying to change them. We also want assurance that the District has gone to those agencies, found out how much latitude they are willing to concede, and locked in the wording. This may take a while. With political power about to shift in Albany, thousands of political appointees in state agencies are bailing out for safer jobs. This turmoil may hamper the District's interactions with DEC and APA. And then there's that 600-pound gorilla -- the next governor -- waiting in the wings with his own agenda.

5. Newspaper reports indicate that the advisory committee will make written recommendations to the District. How will disagreements be resolved? By vote? Unless it's by consensus, it will be unfair. And will votes be weighted? Why should supervisors from Benson, Hope, Hadley, and Providence -- whose towns encompass only a small slice of the GSL pie -- have a vote that counts as much as supervisors from Edinburg, Day, Broadalbin, etc.? And should a small lake-area organization carry as much punch as a much larger one? And who trusts membership statistics anyway?

6. If you and your neighbors have formed a property owner's association and you did not receive an invitation to join this advisory committee, call Mr. LaFave at 315-788-5440. If he refers you to your town supervisor and you then get a "How can I NOT help you?" runaround, let me know. Remember, we have the option of setting up our own advisory committee.

7. What else can permit holders do? As we made clear at the three public input meetings held by the District this summer, we view the organization with distrust and suspicion. Nor, as noted above, can we trust town supervisors to support our cause. It's time to flex our muscles. Seasonal residents quadruple or quintuple the populations of lake-area towns in summer. If just a relatively small number of us designated our lake property as our primary residence, we could vote and make local elections a lot more interesting. Want motivation? Take a look at your latest tax bill. That's taxation without representation!

The next meeting of the Regulating District's board will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, November 13, at the Loyal Order of the Moose Lodge, 109 South Comrie Avenue, Route 30A, Johnstown. At this meeting, Executive Director LaFave will ask the board to approve formation of the advisory committee. This is your opportunity to go on record! Be there!

As always, I welcome your comments.