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

This is a year of transition for the board of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District. At the beginning of 2008, all seven board members shared the distinction of having been appointed by former governor George Pataki. The terms of those appointments have begun to expire. One member has already been replaced, and the terms of three more will end before the year runs out. That will give Governor David Paterson's appointees a 4 to 3 majority.

This raises an interesting situation. One of your major goals over the past three years has been the creation of an updated set of rules for Great Sacandaga Lake's permit holders. Your plan is for the new rule book to clear the approval mill in time to go into effect on January 1, 2009. If that indeed happens, the rules prepared by Governor Pataki's appointees will have to be implemented and enforced by Governor Paterson's appointees.

Unfortunately, the new rule book needs more work -- a lot more work. The language is overly legalistic, poorly organized, repetitive, confusing, contradictory, and sometimes even written in non-sentences. Let's take some brief examples. Since 1933, the District's rules have stated that "The granting and issuance of any permit ... shall not constitute an exclusive right or privilege ...." Why, then, is Proposed Rule 4.19 titled "Access Permit Areas Limited to Access Permit Holders"? That sounds pretty "exclusive" to me. Contradiction anyone?

Permit holders frequently inquire: How far out can you moor a boat from the shoreline? Proposed Rule 8.16 says 80 feet. The Authorized Work Activities and Work Permit Fees Appendix says 100 feet.

Another frequent permit holder question: What's the procedure for using stones on the beach as rip-rap to shore up eroded shoreline? The appendix I just mentioned states:: "All stone products are to be placed using equipment capable of completing the work while producing the least amount of ground disturbance possible." This wording implies that some ground disturbance may be inevitable. Yet the very next bullet states: "No excavation or ground disturbance activities of any kind shall occur at any time." And as far as "equipment" is concerned, we read on another page:: "No equipment or machinery shall be operated on your access permit area."

During this three-year, rule-revision marathon, the District has held numerous public hearings only to ignore many of the recommendations it received. It also created an advisory committee of stakeholders and then turned a deaf ear to many of its key recommendations. Understandably, lake property owners are infuriated.

They have good reason to be. First, these rules will negatively impact their quality of life and their property value. And second, many of the rules just beg for a lawsuit. Effective 2010, permit holders will have to bear the full cost of operating the permit system, including litigation. So permit holders will get to pay for the defense of a set of rules that they actively despise. Life doesn’t get much worse than that.

The irony is that as soon as the updated rules go into effect, the lake's permit holders will forget who was responsible for them. They will blame the current governor, not the former one. That's why we are asking stakeholders who submit public comment forms on the rules to send a copy to Governor Paterson. We need to make him aware that there's a gathering storm at Great Sacandaga and give him an opportunity to use his influence to impose a brief hold on the rule-revision process. Then, early next year, his board could place his imprint on the rules.

At this point, the rule-revision process is approaching a fork in the road. If the current public comment period results in "substantial changes" to the proposed rules, they must be republished in the New York State Register, followed by an additional comment period, this time 30 days long. I think this is unlikely. My reading of this board is that it intends to ram through the rules without further delay. At the May board meeting, Mr. Pintuff predicted that he would not hear anything that he hadn't heard already. To that, Mr. Dugan, to his credit, responded: "Hearing and listening are two different things." Unfortunately, I think that Mr. Dugan is in the minority.

However, there is still one more hurdle: the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. The rules cannot go into effect unless they receive DEC approval, and the head of the DEC is an appointee of Governor Paterson. This is where the process could be slowed long enough for the Governor's appointees to take control of the board and give the rule book a cold, hard look to assure that its contents are clear, logical, legal, fair, and enforceable.

Thank you.