The Hudson River-Black River Regulating District shot itself in the foot once again by sending out a controversial survey without telling recipients -- Great Sacandaga Lake's 4,500 non-commercial access permit holders -- that participation is voluntary.

The two-page survey, which seeks to inventory the temporary structures that permit holders have erected on the state-owned buffer zone around the lake, was included in the envelope containing annual permit renewal forms. The cover letter made no reference to it. The survey covers about 32 different items -- from stairs and landings to docks and picnic tables -- that permit holders might have placed on permit areas.

The survey asks recipients to complete and return it with access permit renewals by March 15. Many permit holders took this as mandatory, but were concerned about self-incrimination. Could filling out the survey come back to haunt them?

About three-quarters of the lake's permit holders are seasonal, with their lake homes shut up for the winter. In fact, many have sought warmer temperatures out of state. So how could they accurately answer questions about dimensions of docks, landings, stairs, fireplaces, gardens, and storage boxes? If you answered incorrectly, could you lose your permit?

The fact that the survey is voluntary was not disclosed until Executive Director Glenn LaFave was questioned about it at a January 17 meeting of the Great Sacandaga Lake Advisory Committee, a stakeholder group that's reviewing proposed changes to the permit system.

Mr. LaFave's excuse was that the weight of an additional cover letter explaining the purpose of the survey would have added to the cost of mailing the envelope. However, the top of the survey has plenty of space for a tag line: "This survey is voluntary, but we urge you to fill it out."

Subsequently, Mr. LaFave told a DAILY GAZETTE reporter that the HRBRRD Board "wanted an inventory of what's on the state land that makes up the shoreline, especially now, as it goes about revising the rules governing access permits." But for permit holders worried about self-incrimination, the following sentence from a RECORDER story is hardly reassuring: "LaFave said exactly what will be done with the survey results 'remains to be seen.'"

And, as some permit holders have pointed out, if the survey is benign and not punitive, why is the person who fills it out required to sign and date it, turning it into a legal document?

All this, of course, begs the question of why the District's employees haven't been keeping this inventory up to date over the years. What are they paid for? Why should permit holders have to do this work for them?

This episode is yet another example of why the lake's permit holders view the District with hostility and distrust. Mr. LaFave owes permit holders a letter of explanation -- and quickly.