TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: January 29, 2008

Considering its location (Albany), it's hardly surprising that only a half-dozen members of the public attended the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's January 14 board meeting. In a major organizational change, Phillip Klein of Saratoga Springs was elected chair, succeeding Anne McDonald. I was the only member of the public to make a statement (see below).

Statement by Peter VanAvery, Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee, at Hudson River-Black River Regulating District Board Meeting, Albany, NY, January 14, 2008

Last January, in his first State of the State address, Governor Spitzer promised that state authorities would be more accountable and transparent. A few days later, at your January board meeting, you worked against his intent by permanently eliminating the Town Meeting from your agenda. This popular question-and-answer session had been a fixture of board meetings since 2004. In its absence, members of the public can make a statement, but any questions we ask are answered with silence.

Your minutes of that January 2007 meeting state: "Chairwoman McDonald commented on the elimination of the Town Meeting from the agenda. She stated the public could address their concerns, questions, or comments to Mr. LaFave who would then contact the board."

Well, nearly two months ago, I emailed an inquiry to Mr. LaFave about the termination of the Town Meeting. I asked: "Whose decision was this? I don't recall a board meeting vote on the subject. Nor is there a mention of such a vote in the minutes of the December 11, 2006 board meeting." I did not receive a response. In a recent letter to Governor Spitzer, I mentioned this incident and suggested that he might have better luck in extracting an answer from you.

At that December 2006 board meeting, Board Member Eyre complained about the public's behavior during the previous month's Q & A session. He began by objecting to a joke told by a member of the public. Mr. Eyre found it offensive. But he apparently forgot that the joke had not been told during the Q & A session but two hours earlier during the Public Forum. Following the meeting, I emailed a correction to Mr. Lafave ... to no avail. Two months later, when the minutes of that December board meeting were finally issued, I was shocked to see that Mr. Eyre's comment about the joke was printed verbatim. Anyone can make a mistake. But for the District to knowingly perpetuate a mistake is deception.

Mr. Eyre also complained about a public comment that the board had "hid out" by holding a meeting at the Stillwater Reservoir. To quote your minutes: "The board seeks to afford all areas under our jurisdiction an opportunity to host a meeting. He doesn't believe that one meeting at the Stillwater Reservoir in the modern history of the board is excessive." But just a year later, in October 2007, the board was back at the Stillwater Reservoir, where the number of public attendees was zero.

Since 85 percent of your revenues come from the Hudson River area, you ought to hold eight of your 10 annual board meetings in the Hudson River watershed. Instead, you split them 5 and 5. Last November, the board met in Watertown. Number of public attendees: just one. This history sure seems like hiding out to me.

So your rationale for terminating the Q & A session is based on misleading premises.

Since mid-2007, as a result of an Executive Order issued by Governor Spitzer, state authorities have been required to webcast board meetings on the Internet. At remote locations in the Black River watershed, you often deal with controversial matters affecting Great Sacandaga. So these webcasts are a blessing. The webcast of the Stillwater Reservoir board meeting in October was especially instructive. At the end, when some of you thought the camera was off, we heard you joking and laughing about the absence of the public. This happened just two months after you voted to pay a PR firm $48,000 to improve your image. If you persist in shooting yourselves in the foot, that investment will be a total waste of money.

In webcasting its meetings, the District has followed the letter of the Governor's Executive Order but not its intent. As the latest webcast is posted on your website, its predecessor is removed. This, I believe, is contrary to the Governor's wishes (although I can certainly understand why you would want the webcast of the Stillwater Reservoir board meeting to have as little exposure as possible). In the interest of accountability and transparency, these webcasts should be archived.

In conclusion, I ask you to reexamine your roles as board members. Your sworn duty is to act as the public's first line of defense, ensuring that the District operates appropriately and effectively. Your task, for which you volunteered, is to safeguard the public from the District, not the other way around. You need to work much harder at it. A good start would be to put the Q & A session back on your agenda, restoring two-way communications between the public and the board.

End of statement.

In your access permit renewal packet, you will notice a major change in the wording of the cover letter signed by Chief Engineer Robert Foltan. In prior years, it said: "The Permit affords you exclusive use of a segment of District-administered State land for private access to the waters of Great Sacandaga Lake." This year, the sentence reads: "The Permit affords you and your invited guests use of a segment of District-administered State land for private access to the waters of Great Sacandaga Lake." Note that the word "exclusive" has disappeared from the phrase "exclusive use." I urge you to complain to every elected representative in sight.

The renewal packet also contains a letter from Michael Clark, Hudson River Area Administrator and Permit System Manager. At its end, you'll find a paragraph about the Great Sacandaga Lake Historic Properties Management Plan, which "outlines the historic significance and the responsibilities for the Regulating District and everyone involved with the State land around Great Sacandaga Lake." For further information, the paragraph refers you to a letter posted on the District's web site at It was originally mailed to all permit holders in 2005.

Here's a quote from that letter: "In order to avoid ground disturbance during the completion of a shoreline maintenance project, no stone or rock located on the shoreline or beach area may be used, moved, or relocated to provide erosion protection. Access Permit Holders may not move or push stones from the beach up to the shoreline or area of erosion. The Regulating District does not authorize the excavation or relocation (bulldozing or movement by mechanical device) of stone or rock from the GSL for placement on the shoreline for erosion protection."

So it's clear that we can't use rocks from our beach as riprap to prevent shoreline erosion. Right? But then consider the following quote from a work permit issued by the District just three months ago -- on October 11, 2007 -- to a permit holder: "Permission is given to: Use heavy equipment to relocate surface stones from the beach on your access permit area to approximately 55 linear feet of shoreline for erosion control. Assorted loose surface stones are to be placed against the shoreline embankment." (An interested party used the provisions of the Freedom of Information Law to obtain a copy of the work permit in question.)

On January 22, I asked Executive Director Glenn LaFave for clarification. My email asked: "What should I tell our members ... that some access permit holders are created more equal than others?" On that same date, he responded: "I will research this issue and get back to you as soon as possible." A week has passed, and I still await his answer.

The next meeting of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board will be held on Monday, February 11, 2008 at Mayfield Municipal Complex, 13 North School Street, Mayfield. At 9:00 a.m., a special session will be held to consider a permit holder appeal of a District decision. It will be followed at 10:00 a.m. by a regular board meeting.

We won't see another regular board meeting in this area for five months. Here's the tentative schedule approved by the board for the rest of the year: Lowville (April 14), Indian Lake (May 12), Old Forge (June 9), Northville (July 14), Saratoga Springs (September 8), Stillwater Reservoir (October 6), Johnstown (November 10), and Watertown (December 8). No regular board meetings are scheduled for March and August.

Chief Engineer Foltan has provided the board with a flow chart summarizing how the Offer of Settlement controls the storage/discharge of water. You'll find it at Everything clear now?

The District's proposed new rules for access permit holders, transmitted on October 17 to the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform, remain under review at that agency.

The reservoir's level is about 756 feet above sea level -- more than 5 feet above target.