TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: October 24, 2008

The next meeting of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, November 10, 2008, at Holiday Inn, 308 Comrie Avenue, Johnstown.

At its September 8 meeting, the board voted 4 to 3 to submit its controversial new rules for Great Sacandaga Lake's permit holders to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for review. Then, in an arrogant departure from past practice, it said that this review draft, with its latest revisions, would not be posted on its web site for everyone to see.

Two weeks later, in response to complaints and at least one Freedom of Information Law request (mine), the District flip-flopped. You can now access the draft rules package at Changes made since June 11, when the proposed rules were published in the NYS Register, are underlined. You'll see changes in 20 of the 109 rules, or 18 percent of them. Swarms of other changes were made in the 15 pages of appendices.

Although that sounds like a lot of changes, few are significant. During the public comment period that followed publication in the NYS Register, the District received 192 pages of comments from 30 individuals. Nearly all were ignored. Now lake property owners are taking the battle directly to DEC Commissioner Alexander (Pete) Grannis ( It is not known when DEC will announce the results of its review.

For me, the poster child for what's wrong with the rule-revision process is Item 35 on page 53 of the work permit appendix. It says: "Permission may be given to relocate unbroken surface stone from the beach to the eroded shoreline of your access permit area." Then follows a list of 10 bulleted restrictions.

Bullet 2 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 implies that some ground disturbance is acceptable and probably inevitable. Yet Bullet 3 states: "No excavation or ground disturbance of any kind shall occur at any time." This is a blatant contradiction.

In statements to the board, in public comment forms to the District, and in letters to the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform (GORR) and various government leaders, I have repeatedly tried to have this double-talk cleaned up. Yet three years into the rule-revision process, there it still is. Doesn’t anybody in New York State government know how to read?

To add insult to injury, note that a permit holder is expected to pay a "standard fee" for this particular work permit. Since she's investing her own sweat equity and money to protect the state's shoreline, why should she have to pay for the privilege?

For years, the District has been trying to determine the full cost of the access permit system so that it can bill us for it. Since the District has only 30 full-time employees and an annual budget of just $7 million, this excruciating delay is laughable. Now the District aims to bring this charade to a conclusion by January 1, 2010. So far (and not unexpectedly), the cost-setting process has been conducted in secret. Our challenge: Assure that we are not charged for personnel or services that would be required even if the permit system did not exist.

For example, with or without an access permit system, the District's management team will always include an Executive Director, a Chief Engineer, a General Counsel, and a Chief Fiscal Officer. We should vigorously oppose any attempt by the District to charge us a percentage of their salaries/benefits. Here are their current salaries (obtained by a recent FOIL request): Executive Director ($100,285), Chief Engineer ($90,913), General Counsel ($92,500), and Chief Fiscal Officer ($87,150).

At the October board meeting, Executive Director Glenn LaFave said that he had provided the board with a list of litigation as of August 27, 2008. Again using the FOIL process, I obtained a copy. There are 28 proceedings, 19 filed by Niagara Mohawk.

Before the reservoir was created, NiMo was one of 37 downstream beneficiaries that agreed to share its operating and maintenance costs in perpetuity. Now NiMo asserts that there are additional benefited entities (guess who?) that should pay a portion of the assessments. It also claims that because it is no longer in the power generation business, it should not be considered a statutory beneficiary and should pay no assessment . The District's potential liability: approximately $10 million.

At its September meeting, the board voted to amend its contract with its public relations consultant, Shorey Public Relations of Saratoga Springs. Since the board did not announce a dollar figure, I employed the FOIL process once again to obtain a copy of the agreement. The original contract, dated September 10, 2007, called for total payments not to exceed $48,000. That has now been increased to $79,970.

What's the District getting getting out of it? One deliverable is a pair of DVDs, each 8 to 9 minutes long. One highlights the District's role in the Hudson River Watershed. The other does the honors for the Black River Watershed. As of the October board meeting, the completed DVDs hadn't been delivered yet.

As for the other benefits of having a PR consultant on the payroll, I'll leave it to you to decide whether the District's image has improved over the past year. Incidentally, if the PR firm continues to serve as a consultant, don't be surprised if the District tries to stick us with part of the bill when it finally figures out the true cost of the access permit system.

These are worrisome times, and I fear that some of our neighbors will be hard hit by the contracting U.S. economy. On October 4, my wife and I drove the 30-mile loop from the west end of the Batchellerville Bridge up North Shore Road to the Conklingville Dam and back down South Shore Road to our starting point. We counted 40 For Sale signs. I hate to think what the total might be next spring.

Nobody has claimed the pedal boat that drifted up to my beach in August. Again, I request that if you hear of anyone missing such a watercraft, please ask them to contact me.

The reservoir's level is at 758.5 feet above sea level, about a half-foot below target.