TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: June 19, 2008

A summary of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's proposed rules for Great Sacandaga Lake's permit system was published in the NYS Register on June 11, kicking off a public comment period that will end on Wednesday, July 30.

To obtain a copy of the proposed rules (a 57-page package) and the public comment form, go to the District's web site at Copies also are available at the District's Albany and Sacandaga (Mayfield) offices. No public meetings will be held.

The District's write-up in the State Register points out that the rules are currently in their fourth version. Their development has cost $160,000 or 30 bucks for each of us 4,700 access permit holders. The write-up boasts that the District sought input from numerous stakeholders and set up an Advisory Committee to provide additional reviews. Unsurprisingly, it fails to mention that many key recommendations were ignored, infuriating permit holders.

In this and the next issue, I'll comment on some proposed rules that warrant your special attention.

A decision by the District can damage your quality of life and/or the value of your property. Proposed Rules 6.29 (Appeals) to 6.33 (Article 78) explain how to appeal such a decision. To put it bluntly, the appeals process is a sham. I've yet to meet anyone who trusts the District's management or the board. Yet the proposed rules require you to direct your appeal first to the Executive Director and, if you don't like the outcome, second to the board. The latter has a long tradition of rubber-stamping most District decisions.

After that, your only recourse is a judicial review under Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules. This is time-consuming and will probably require a lawyer. Think big bucks.

This situation is obviously unfair and undemocratic. The appeals process should include an independent ombudsman not affiliated with the District. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) could possibly supply such a person. For alternatives, the District should consult with Judith Enck, NYS Deputy Secretary for the Environment. She is the Paterson Administration's top-level official on the environment.

If the permit holder is still dissatisfied with the result, an Article 78 proceeding could remain an option.

For front-lotters, Proposed Rule 6.28 (Request to Have Front-Lot Access Permit Area Reduced) could have devastating results. This rule would allow a front-lotter to give up -- permanently -- all except 10 feet of his access permit as long as the frontage was contiguous to a public highway or private right-of-way. Many speakers at the public hearings, as well as the District's own Advisory Committee, recommended that it be deleted. But the District kept it in.

Suppose you are a front-lotter. Suppose also that your neighbor has a 50- or 100-foot-wide access permit. If he surrenders all except 10 feet and creates a right-of-way through his private property, you could find 4 or 9 back-lot permits adjacent to your beach. The quiet piece of heaven for which you perhaps laid out $250,000 to $1 million would suddenly border the equivalent of a public bathing and boating beach.

Under current rules, the use of motorized vehicles on the access permit zone is prohibited except for boat launching, delivery, or loading or unloading purposes. That text has been deleted from Proposed Rule 4.13 (No Storage of Vehicles), which now forbids only the storage or abandonment of a motor vehicle of any kind on the zone. Why the deletion? On its web site, the District says that it "does not enforce the NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law."

In my opinion, the District should at least inform permit holders what the law says about the use of motorized vehicles on State land. Suppose your neighbor throws a big party and allows a couple of dozen vehicles to park on his access permit area, bleeding oil onto the ground. Is that legal? Suppose he buys an old school bus, removes the seats, converts the interior into a beachside cabana, and drives it back and forth from his dwelling to the edge of the lake. Is that legal? Considering the fact that the sky will fall on you if you plant a rose bush on the access permit zone without a permit, is it OK to tear up the turf with the wheels of a vehicle?

Although many access permit holders have complaints about the Regulating District, they fear retaliation if they criticize it publicly. In particular, they are wary that the District will reduce the width of their access permit area. In response, on its web site, the District says it "cannot arbitrarily take away, or change, established access permit area widths" and that it "can modify access permit area widths in accordance with the approved rules."

But Proposed Rule 6.21 (Access Permit Area Widths) states in part: "The District has the discretion and right to adjust ... access permit widths and the boundaries of any and all access permit areas in a manner which it deems reasonable." The phrase "which it deems reasonable" gives the District plenty of wiggle room. It also gives many permit holders the shivers.

Numerous permit holders, including the District's Advisory Committee, recommended strict limits on the District's use of this power. The committee, for example, said that the District should adjust access permits and boundaries only under unique circumstances and on a case-by-case basis. Further, it specified in detail six limited scenarios under which the District could exercise this power. However, the District ignored those recommendations. This proposed rule should be revised to remove the implied threat.

The District has issued about 1900 back-lot access permits. That's about 42 percent of the total number (4,550) of non-commercial access permits. On its web site, the District says it "has no plans to increase the number of back-lot access permit areas." But the proposed rules do not state this. They should.

Why? About 300 people already are on the waiting list for a back-lot access permit. Some have been on the list for years. Their numbers will increase greatly (although the District typically doesn't have a clue as to how much) if Proposed Rule 6.6 (Registration on Waiting List and Eligibility) is not changed.

The current rule specifies that a back-lotter qualifies for the waiting list for a back-lot access permit as long as his property is within one mile of the permit area on the odometer. The proposed rule, by contrast, says that a back-lotter can register if he is within a one-mile radius of the permit area.

I know someone who lives on Military Road in Edinburg. By car, he is 6 miles from the lake. As the crow flies, however, he falls well within the one-mile radius. How many other potential back-lotters fall into this category? 100? 1,000? 10,000? A year ago, the District said it "is in the process of determining this." So far, it has not released any statistics.

For front-lotters, here's the problem. As the number of people on the back-lot waiting list increases, so will the political pressure to carve additional 10-foot-wide access permit segments out of permit areas currently held by front-lotters. As noted above, the District says it has no plans to increase the number of back-lot access permits. But will the District's future management feel the same way? Will future boards stick with the status quo?

With this in mind, I expect that front-lotters will demand that the District amend Rule 6.6 to spell out in black and white that the total number of back-lot access permits is frozen. If front-lotters need further motivation, they might keep in mind that the access permit zone encircling the reservoir is 125 miles, or 660,000 feet, long. That could be divvied up into 66,000 10-foot-wide access permit segments. Did I mention political pressure?

If you have a problem with these or other proposed rules, fill out as many public comment forms as you need and submit them to the District. It is extremely important that you send copies to the following:

Governor David Paterson
State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224
(For e-mail, go to
and click on "Contact the Governor")

Judith Enck
Deputy Secretary for the Environment
State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224

Robert Hermann, Director
Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform
PO Box 2107
Albany, NY 1220-0107

Teresa R. Sayward
NYS Assembly
940 Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248

The lake's elevation is currently around 767.3 feet above sea level -- practically on target.

The next meeting of the District's board will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, July 14, 2008 at the Northville Central School Auditorium, 131 South Third Street, Northville.