Statement
by
Peter VanAvery, Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee,
at Hudson River-Black River Regulating District Board Meeting
Latham, NY
January 14, 2009

I'll begin by wishing you a Happy Anniversary! You celebrate two anniversaries today -- a first anniversary of one event and a fourth anniversary of another.

This month marks the first anniversary of this board's removal of the popular Town Meeting segment from its proceedings. That question-and-answer session gave the public a wonderful opportunity to run down rumors and to query you about what often seems to us like illogical and unfair decisions by the Regulating District's management. Its discontinuance has helped to make the District's operations about as transparent as a can of midnight black paint.

This month also marks the fourth anniversary of this board's interminable attempt to devise new rules for the access permit holders on Great Sacandaga Lake. To quote the minutes of the January 10, 2005 board meeting: "By general consensus, board members encouraged Mr. (Richard) Lefebvre to ... initiate a complete review of regulations and the handbook for Great Sacandaga Lake." (Mr. Lefebvre was, of course, Glenn LaFave's predecessor as executive director.)

Over those four years, you held numerous meetings to sample public opinion. You also collected hundreds and hundreds of written recommendations. You set up a committee of 20 stakeholders, which spent weeks scrutinizing your draft rules word by word and making hundreds of suggested changes. But you weren't listening. You gave most key recommendations a thumbs down.

At the beginning of this process, you promised us a set of rules that would be clear and concise. But the rules package now undergoing Department of Environmental Conservation review is anything but. It is poorly written, badly organized, repetitive, overlong, and contradictory.

For me, the poster child for this mess is Item 35 on page 53 of the work permit appendix. It's a minor rule, but it's symbolic of what's wrong with the total package. This proposed rule tells permit holders that they may request permission to move stone from the surface of the beach to eroded areas of the shoreline. Then follows a list of 10 conditions.

Condition 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 the very next condition, Condition 3, states: "No excavation or ground disturbance of any kind shall occur at any time." That's a clear contradiction of Condition 2. You can't have it both ways.

This complaint may sound familiar. It should ... because you've heard it from me before. Are you listening this time?

Now I'm going to switch to a different subject: the one-year contract you signed with Shorey Public Relations in September 2007. It capped total payments at $48,000. Then, in August 2008, you bumped up that total to just under $80,000 -- a 65 percent increase.

I've always wondered if this PR contract was a legitimate expense. In fact, if I were one of the downstream beneficiaries you assess to pay for the reservoir's operation and maintenance, you'd be hearing from my legal staff. But setting that aside, I also wonder if you are aware of the fact that the contract listed 15 deliverables. Since you are charged with overseeing this state authority, you ought to be asking: Where are they?

For example, the contract says that the PR firm will develop two DVDs, one for each watershed, each 8 to 9 minutes long. Seventy percent of each DVD will contain material common to both. The remaining 30 percent will be specific to each watershed. Well, these two DVDs have been in the works for an unbelievable 15 months. Has anyone seen the final cut?

The contract states that the PR firm will redesign the District's newsletter, as needed. But the District hasn't put out a newsletter since Fall 2004.

The contract states that the PR firm will write a minimum of 12 articles for selected publications. Have any Shorey-written articles appeared in any of those publications?

The contract states that the PR firm will create programs that will attract attention, improve opinions, increase awareness, and improve the perception of the District and its mission. In a year when the leaders of several lake organizations individually asked the Governor to intervene in the rule-revision process, I think you can safely assume that your image has not improved.

So what exactly was your return on this $80,000 expenditure on PR services?

In closing, this board's mission is to protect the public from this state authority -- not the other way around. I urge you to sharpen your oversight in 2009.