TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: March 16, 2007

Here's a BBAC Newsletter exclusive: The public hearing on the Batchellerville Bridge Replacement Project will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 24, at Northville Central School, 131 South Third Street, Northville, N.Y. Please mark that date on your calendar. In the best of all possible worlds, the hearing would be held in summer, when more of the seasonal residents who triple or quadruple the populations of area towns could attend. But there it is. Please tell your friends and neighbors. We need to turn out a large crowd of supporters.

It's good news that the New York State Department of Transportation finally can afford to replace the 76-year-old Batchellerville Bridge in Edinburg. But it's bad news that DOT has set aside the compromise design announced in February 2002 after three years of heated public debate over the bridge's height. That design had been endorsed by the Edinburg Town Board, the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, and (grudgingly) by the BBAC.

The compromise design called for an arch-like bridge that would lift County Highway 98 to a maximum height of 50 feet out at the center (vs. a maximum height of 32 feet on the existing flat bridge). It would have a vertical clearance (empty space below) of 42 feet, which would allow most of the lake's sailboats to pass underneath. This would accommodate sailboats as tall as a 4-story building.

DOT now says that it must conduct a "formal" review. In response, one of our members asks: "What were our inputs from 1999 to 2001? Chopped liver?"

Meanwhile, the BBAC's position is unchanged: Not one inch higher! Some sailboaters want an arched bridge so high that it would elevate County Highway 98 up to the tips of the lamp posts on the existing bridge, with its own lamp posts and railing jutting upward from there. This high arch would be hazardous to navigate in slippery, wintry conditions. It also would destroy one of the most beautiful vistas in the Adirondack Park, visual pollution at its worst.

Apparently, all of the options we debated from 1999 to 2001 are back on the table: both the height of the bridge and its location (north or south of the existing structure). So feel free to push hard for a lower design. Some sailboaters will be working against you and shooting for the stars. Remember, owners of the largest sailboats, who are few in number, already have 70 percent of the lake's surface on which to sail. They seldom venture up the narrow neck of the lake on which the bridge is located. If they really want to pass underneath, they can trade down to slightly smaller craft.

At the beginning of the project, DOT offered vertical clearance options ranging from 35 feet to 55 feet. Keep in mind that there's an 8-foot-thick deck above each vertical clearance. So we are really talking about bridges ranging in height from 43 feet (35 plus 8) to 63 feet (55 plus 8). The highest option would be nearly twice as high as the existing bridge.

From Day One, DOT pushed for the highest possible replacement bridge. In 1998, its consultant (Clough, Harbour & Associates LLP) set out to determine the vertical clearance necessary to accommodate sailboats. Three individuals were contacted. The consultant identified them as Peter Byron, a Hobie Cat Regatta Organizer; Walt Ryan of Ryan's Marina; and Bill Evans of the Yacht Club. Based on their inputs, the consultant recommended a vertical clearance of 50 feet. DOT later raised that to 55 feet, the intercoastal standard, ignoring the fact that Great Sacandaga is a landlocked lake.

The bridge exists to allow people to cross the lake. How come DOT did not survey the drivers of those cars, trucks, and school buses? If they had, the overwhelming majority would no doubt have endorsed a flat bridge like the existing one. So what if an arched bridge would be hazardous to cross in winter? Sailboaters came first. So what if a high arched bridge ruined the view for people who paid a premium for property on the lake? Sailboaters came first.

Since Federal funds were involved, DOT had to go through the motions of holding a public review. In July 1999, DOT held a public "open house" in Edinburg to display its plans. How much did this multi-billion-dollar agency spend on advance advertising of the session? Zero! Unsurprisingly, attendance was sparse. There were charts and photographs, but no formal DOT presentation. The public did not have an opportunity to make statements.

DOT scheduled its second (and supposedly final) "open house" for September 30, 2000. Again, there was no advance advertising. Again, the format was not that of a town meeting. Even worse, the meeting was scheduled well after Labor Day, which meant that many seasonal residents would already have departed for the year, limiting potential attendance still further (sound familiar?).

But there was one big difference. With little time to spare, my neighbors and I finally woke up! We began to yell "cover up!" and to spread the word. The media took an interest, and opponents of a much higher bridge turned out in force. The payoff: A shaken DOT manager told the angry crowd that the agency would schedule a third public meeting, that it would be held in the summer, and that DOT would make a presentation and allow members of the audience to comment.

At that meeting, held in August 2001 at Northville Central School, supporters of a low replacement bridge far outnumbered supporters of the highest option. DOT announced the compromise design the following year.

The next issue of the BBAC Newsletter will provide talking points by dealing with frequently asked questions about the Batchellerville Bridge Replacement Project.

Meanwhile, DOT is still being headed by political appointees of the Pataki Administration. It is expected that Governor Spitzer will install his own team in the near future.

The lake is currently at 749.4 feet above sea level, 1.4 feet over target. From now until April 1, the lake is supposed to be at 748, its minimum drawdown level.