TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: January 9, 2007

CALL FOR ACTION: On his third day in office, Governor Eliot Spitzer delivered a State of the State address that, among other points, hammered public authorities as "patronage dumping grounds" staffed with people hired for whom they know -- not for what they know. He promised more transparency and accountability. Less than one week later, the Board of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District thumbed its collective nose at the Governor by announcing that it was discontinuing the public question-and-answer session at its monthly meetings.

This is an outrage! The Q & A session allowed the public to ask questions that dispelled some of the smog and spin that cloud the activities of this public authority, which has a long history of scandal and incompetence. Frequently, this was one of the most informative parts of a board meeting. I ask you to join me in urging the Governor to compel the District to reverse its action. His address: Governor Eliot Spitzer, State Capitol, Albany, NY 12224. Or go to and use his email form.

Here's the full text of my statement at the January 8, 2007 HRBRRD board meeting:

Last Tuesday, Governor Spitzer delivered his first State of the State address. He said in part: "We must continue to reform our state's public authorities. Originally created to be lean, anti-bureaucratic machines, they have become patronage dumping grounds, adding yet another costly bureaucracy, entrenched in the status quo and insulated from accountability. We will build on the Legislature's recent reform effort and submit legislation to strengthen transparency and accountability."

It's interesting that today, less than one week after the Governor's message, you have deleted a town meeting from the agenda. For the first time since February 2004, the public will not be allowed to ask questions and receive answers. So much for transparency and accountability!

Now let me switch to the topic of dam safety. The Conklingville Dam impounds nearly 300 billion gallons of water. The 2002 Federal license (p. 25) classifies it as "a high hazard potential structure.... A high hazard dam is a dam the failure of which might endanger life or cause significant property damage."

An emergency situation at a high hazard dam is intolerable -- but you have one right now. In August, during a monthly test, you discovered that one of the huge 8-foot-wide valves would not open. Chairwoman McDonald has termed this an "emergency". Inconceivably, over the 75-year life of the dam, no inspector -- Federal or State -- ever thought it might be a good idea to don a diving suit and look at the valves at first hand.

At the December meeting, when I asked why you had failed to perform preventive maintenance, your excuse was that you tested the valves each month, and that's how you found that one was busted. But that's not preventive maintenance. Preventive maintenance is when you take your car to the garage at regular intervals for a checkup -- not wait for it to conk out on you.

And your response to this emergency? As of last month's board meeting, no repairs had been started. We eagerly await the Chief Engineer's progress report later today. I hope you've advised downstream property owners to update their flood insurance. If a critical part on this valve rusted away without anybody noticing, there's no telling what else may be on the verge of failure.

Now let me switch to the subject of water levels. You are misinterpreting the provisions of the 2002 Federal license on the reservoir, with the result that extremely high water levels have disrupted the quality of life of property owners on Great Sacandaga Lake and severely damaged the earning power of local businesses. Worse, by keeping the reservoir dangerously high nearly all the time, you are rolling dice with the safety of downstream people and property.

The 2002 Federal license sets forth water level targets for each day of the year, with the upper three feet of storage -- starting at 768 feet above sea level -- reserved for emergencies. Today, the level is above 769. That's 17 feet above target.

Granted, the license does tell the Regulating District to make every reasonable attempt to store water aggressively so that downstream hydro plants would not be forced to reduce electricity generation during dry spells. But note the word "reasonable". The license also says (p. 15) that the highest water levels would occur "during rare occasions", typically during June and July. In the last three years, those high levels have been anything but rare.

Let's go to the statistics for 2006. The level exceeded 768 on 168 days; there was less than three feet of storage nearly 1 day out of every 2. It exceeded 769 on 82 days; there was less than two feet of storage on one day out of every 4.5. It exceeded 770 for 50 days; there was less than one foot of storage on almost one day out of every 7. And on 9 days, the level exceeded 771, pouring over the spillway. Was this reasonable -- and safe?

The District has recently begun to claim that it can store water up to 778 -- or 7 feet above the tip of the dam's spillway. That's a shamefully misleading use of the verb "to store". On June 30, 2006, the level reached a record high of 773.5 feet. That extra 2.5 feet was not being stored; it poured uncontrolled over the spillway. Similarly, if the lake ever reached 778, nothing could stop those 7 feet of water from roaring over the spillway, adding to an already swollen Upper Hudson and causing immense damage downstream.

These statistics ought to make you nervous. I know they do me.

Thank you.

Here's another quote from the Governor's State of the State address: "We will promptly review each of the authorities and develop a plan to consolidate and eliminate those authorities that have outlived their usefulness. And we will staff our authorities with experts picked for what they know, not whom they know."

We've made some changes in our website. If you are having any problems reaching it, please delete your existing bookmark. Then go to and bookmark that page.

Great Sacandaga Lake's water level is currently at 770.57 -- less than 6" below the tip of the spillway at the dam and more than 18.5 feet above target.