TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: January 26, 2007

The Conklingville Dam, the 1,100-foot-long structure that impounds the Sacandaga River to create Great Sacandaga Lake, is equipped with three emergency release valves. Thanks to the lack of preventive maintenance by the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District, two of those valves are inoperable. The following letter from me -- printed in the Daily Gazette, Recorder, and Leader-Herald -- summarizes this potentially dangerous situation:

Dear Editor:

Governor Spitzer is no fan of the state's public authorities, calling them "patronage dumping grounds" and pledging to staff them "with experts picked for what they know not whom they know." So I await his reaction to recent misadventures of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District, the state authority that controls Great Sacandaga Lake, a flood-control reservoir.

The District faces two emergencies at the Conklingville Dam, a structure that impounds nearly 300 billion gallons of water. The dam is equipped with three giant emergency release valves, each eight feet in diameter, and two of them have suddenly become inoperable. The District's response? Hardly reassuring.

The first problem developed last August when one big valve refused to open. A key part had rusted away. The District's board termed this an emergency and instructed management to fix it fast. Today, five months later, repairs have yet to start.

The second valve went on the fritz just a few days ago when an abnormal vibration and noise developed as it was being closed. The part that broke on the first valve is still in place in the second valve -- something unknown is to blame.

The dam is periodically checked by Federal and state inspectors. What is scary is that over its 75-year life, nobody ever put on a diving suit and looked at the valves at first hand. Didn't any of these "experts" realize that metal parts are subject to corrosion?

The District's problems are compounded by the fact that the reservoir is abnormally high -- currently 17 feet above target and less than a yard from overflowing the spillway. Its excuse is that this has been a rainy year and that the 2002 U.S. license on the reservoir handcuffs its ability to release more water -- although it could safely do so most of the time. It has ignored recommendations that the license be amended to reflect common sense.

In 2006, the lake was within three feet of being totally full on nearly one day out of every two, even though a flood-control reservoir that is nearly full is equivalent to no flood-control reservoir at all.

Meanwhile, the District has opened its one remaining emergency release valve, desperately trying to lower the lake's level to facilitate repairs. With this crew in charge, downstream property owners might want to update their flood-insurance policies.

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 are they required to sign a statement affirming that it "has been completed accurately and truthfully to the best of my knowledge?"

All this, of course, begs the question of why the District's employees have not been keeping such an inventory all along. Why do they need it now?

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.

Just before his term of office ran out, former Governor Pataki expanded the Regulating District's board by two members: John K. Bartow, Jr., of Watertown and Patrick Dugan of Edinburg. The board now has seven members. As their terms expire, they will be replaced by Governor Spitzer's appointees. Unless there is unexpected attrition, Governor Spitzer will not achieve a majority on the board until the end of December 2008.

Here are the end-of-term dates for the seven board members: Arthur E. Eyre (September 1, 2007), Anne B. McDonald (September 1, 2008), John K. Bartow, Jr. (December 7, 2008), Patrick B. Dugan (December 20, 2008), Pamela S. Beyor (September 1, 2009), Ronald Pintuff (September 1, 2010), and Philip W. Klein (September 1, 2011).

The Regulating District has announced its Board meeting schedule for 2007. Since more than 80 percent of the District's revenue comes from the Hudson River Area, you might expect that 80 percent of the meetings would be scheduled here. That's hardly the case. The Board will meet eight times this year (it takes off March and August.) Check out the locations (starting in April, the sites are tentative): January (Newtonville), February (Johnstown), April (Warrensburg), May (Indian Lake), June (Fulton Chain - Fourth Lake), July (Northville), September (Old Forge), October (Johnstown), November (Watertown), December (Johnstown).

Efforts to control the spread of a fish disease called viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS for short) will be the subject of a public presentation by Lance Durfey, a DEC senior aquatic biologist, at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, January 31, at Edinburg Community Center on Military Road in Edinburg. Anglers are concerned that restrictions on the import and sale of bait fish could result in shortages and higher prices.

The next meeting of the Regulating District/Great Sacandaga Lake Advisory Committee will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 31, 2007, at the Town of Northampton Offices, 412 South Main Street, Northville. The public is invited to attend.

The Chair of the 20-member committee is Jim Gallagher, Town of Day Property Owners Association. The Vice-Chair is Jeffrey Rosenthal, Town of Hope. The Recorder (who takes and distributes the minutes) is Sue Visco, HRBRRD. The Secretary (who edits and certifies the minutes) is me. The minutes will soon be posted on the District's web site:

The next meeting of the Regulating District's Board will be held at 9:00 a.m. (note time change) on Monday, February 5, 2007, at Johnstown City Hall, 33-41 West Main Street, Johnstown.