TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: April 11, 2007

The following letter will be of interest:

April 10, 2007

Erica Rousseau, P.E.
Project Manager
NYS Department of Transportation
328 State Street
Schenectady, NY 12305

Dear Ms. Rousseau:

Thank you for showing me NYSDOT's Draft Design Report on the Batchellerville Bridge Replacement Project. Since the new bridge's height has been the subject of a heated public debate since the project was announced in 1999, I expected to see accurate documentation on the number of sailboats on Great Sacandaga Lake. Instead, the report contains out-of-date and erroneous information that weakens the case for the Preferred Option, a compromise design announced by NYSDOT in 2002.

From Day 1, many of the lake's stakeholders have felt that NYSDOT was biased in favor of the highest replacement option, a design that would elevate County Route 98 up to the tips of the lamp posts on the existing bridge, destroying the lake's vista and raising safety concerns (the steeper the arch, the harder to bring a skidding school bus or other vehicle under control in winter). In the interest of fair play, I urge the agency to postpone the April 24 public hearing in Northville until the report can be corrected and again made available for prior public inspection.

Based on three years of public input, the Preferred Option would replace the existing flat bridge with an arch-like structure that would rise to a maximum height of 50 feet. It would have a vertical clearance of 42 feet, allowing sailboats as tall a 4-story building to cruise underneath. This would accommodate most of the sailboats on the lake. In the highest option, the bridge would rise to a height of 63 feet, with a vertical clearance of 55 feet. In the report, NYSDOT makes clear that all height options continue to be in play.

The Draft Design Report continues NYSDOT's long-standing bias. On page 83, in a section titled "Height Recommendation," the report states: "A vertical clearance of 12.80 m (42 ft) is recommended because this height would raise the percentage of surveyed sailboats that can navigate under the bridge from 0% to 77%." That is misleadingly low. The survey to which this sentence refers was conducted in 2001 and is out-of-date. On the basis of a sailboat survey conducted in 2004 by our organization, the Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee, that 77% statistic should be increased to 90%, which puts the Preferred Option is a much more favorable light.

Our survey was conducted in August 2004:

Compare our results with the Draft Design Report's statements on page 67:

In some other instances, the Draft Design Report does correctly note that the yacht club and NYSDOT surveys were conducted in 2001. The fact that the year was omitted in certain key places suggests that the omission was intentional.

Ideally, considering that a $36 million structure with a 50-year life is involved, NYSDOT should have surveyed Great Sacandaga's sailboat population last summer. At the very least, it should have tallied the lake's tallest sailboats. This would have been easy since these extremely large vessels can be berthed at only two or three marinas on the lake. What bewilders me is that NYSDOT assumed that the sailboat population on this popular lake, with choice properties selling for $500,000 to $1,000,000, was stagnant over a 6-year period.

A different example of NYSDOT's bias occurs on page 30. In a section titled "Boating Community," the report states: "The existing bridge essentially divides the lake for many of the sailboats and larger powerboats due to the limited vertical clearance." An accompanying table does point out that the bridge occurs at the mid-point of the 26-mile-long lake. However, the same table also notes that 80% of the lake's water surface lies south of the present bridge, where the tallest sailboats always have been berthed. Out of fair play, you should have noted this. The handful of tall sailboats that might not fit under the Preferred Option already have plenty of sailing room, which also explains why they seldom venture up the narrow neck of the lake on which the bridge is located. And by the way, every powerboat on the lake could pass under the 42-foot vertical clearance offered by the Preferred Option, with room to spare.

It is obvious that the Draft Design Report is propaganda for the highest possible replacement bridge. As the lake's stakeholders made very clear at public meetings held from 1999 to 2001, this is not what they want. During his campaign for governor, Eliot Spitzer used the slogan: "Day 1, Everything Changes." Instead, NYSDOT is serving up the same-old, same-old. NYSDOT needs to postpone the April 24 public hearing until it can make the Draft Design Report an honest and accurate document.

Peter VanAvery

Copies of the Draft Design Report/Environmental Assessment referred to above are available for review and copying at Edinburg Town Hall, Northville Public Library, and the offices of the NYS Department of Transportation, 328 State Street, 3rd Floor, Schenectady, NY.