TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: August 19, 2009

Because the deteriorating Batchellerville Bridge across Great Sacandaga Lake at Edinburg flunked its latest state inspection, Saratoga County is now converting it to handle only one-way alternating traffic. Access will be controlled by traffic lights at each end of the 3,000-foot-long span.

In June and July, NYS Department of Transportation inspectors identified 11 "red flag" issues (representing safety and other significant problems) and 40 "yellow flag" issues (representing less severe problems). NYSDOT gave Saratoga County two options: reduce the bridge's weight limit to nine tons from its current 15 tons or switch to one-way traffic. The bridge's weight limit has been posted at 15 tons in each direction since the structure was built in 1930.

An important advantage of the one-way option selected by the county is that it will allow emergency vehicles and school buses to continue crossing the bridge. An override system will allow emergency personnel to control the traffic lights when needed.

The bridge's deck will be lined with anchored traffic cones that will keep vehicles in the middle of the structure. According to Joseph Ritchey, Commissioner-Saratoga County Department of Public Works, the cones will be flexible to allow disabled vehicles to be shifted out of the traffic lane. Although sensors will improve traffic flow, motorists can expect lengthy delays at the red lights. The speed limit may be reduced from the current 55 mph.

The decision to go one-way will deactivate all the red and yellow flags. This change is probably permanent since -- unbelievably -- the state and the county are still arguing over who owns the 79-year-old structure and should pay for its maintenance. This intolerable situation is a painful reminder of why the state's government is considered the most dysfunctional in the nation.

The Batchellerville Bridge is a critical gateway to the Adirondack Park. It is traversed by tens of thousands of tourists annually whose expenditures are critical to businesses in Saratoga, Fulton, and Hamilton Counties.

The bridge also links the two halves of the Town of Edinburg, where the majority of the working population live on the north side and commute over the bridge to the south side. It also provides residents on the South Shore with ready access to schools, grocery stores, pharmacies, and medical care. It allows fire trucks and ambulances to respond quickly to emergencies on the South Shore, where seconds saved can mean the difference between life or death.

The bridge was constructed in 1930 by what was then called the Hudson River Regulating District. Somewhere along the line, the District transferred ownership of this white elephant to either the state or Saratoga County. The paperwork, if it ever existed, has been lost (did I mention the word "dysfunctional"?).

In 1999, the state began planning to replace the aging structure and held three meetings to solicit public comments: July 24, 1999, September 30, 2000, and August 11, 2001. In 2002, the state announced a preferred design, which the BBAC (formed in December 2000) endorsed. Then came a long squabble between the state and Saratoga County over who should pay for the new bridge. That wasn’t settled until 2006 when the state agreed to fund the new bridge, after which the county will own and maintain it.

The NYS Department of Transportation budgeted $39 million for the project, but the lowest bid from a contractor was $64 million -- $25 million higher. Now the project is on hold while DOT looks for more funding and simplifies the design to bring down its cost.

The stalemate over the construction of a replacement Batchellerville Bridge is a threat to the economy of three counties and to the health, safety, quality of life, and property values of residents in the Great Sacandaga community. It needs to end -- now!

This situation calls for a repeat of your actions during the recent crisis over the Regulating District's rule-making process. Start by taking a couple of minutes to call the Governor's office: 474-8390. Urge him to provide the extra funds needed to build a new Batchellerville Bridge. Then bombard elected officials with telephone calls, e-mails, and letters to elected officials. You'll find a list of addresses on our web site ( Bridge users will have plenty of time to compose a forceful message as they wait and wait for the red light to change. Keep in mind that this is not just an Edinburg problem; it's a GSL community problem.

The Sacandaga Protection Committee will hold its second town-hall meeting on Monday, August 24 from 7:00-8:30 p.m. in the Northville Central School Auditorium. Its first meeting, held last month in Broadalbin, attracted more than 250 people.

I was one of the speakers at the Broadalbin meeting, and as I looked out at the faces of my neighbors around the lake, I was struck by the sea of grey hair I saw. Where was the next generation, the younger men and women who will inherit stewardship of the lake? I know they're busy working and taking their kids to soccer/football/baseball practice or to Tae Kwan Do, gymnastics, swimming lessons, and the like. But they also need to invest some sweat equity on GSL's future. Work on them. End of lecture.

Town of Northampton councilman Guy Poulin wants to have a little fun before the town-hall meeting. In a letter to the Leader-Herald, he writes: "Let's meet at 6:15 at the school parking lot, walk to the Northville Bridge, and have a tea party. Then we can go to the meeting together."

At the meeting, I will represent the BBAC, and I hope to see you there.

From the Sacandaga Protection Committee's Press Release on the August 24 Town-Hall Meeting:

A paramount issue to be discussed will be this year's damaging lake regulations proposed by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District. During the meeting, sponsored by the Fulton County Chamber of Commerce & Industry, representatives from the Great Sacandaga Lake Business Association, Great Sacandaga Lake Association, Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee, and Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation will discuss their own concerns with the proposals regarding public access, fees, water levels, and how they would drastically affect area businesses and the economy, the environment, and quality of life around Great Sacandaga Lake.

The SPC will formerly introduce itself to the lake community, and explain how it has launched a grass roots movement to contact all lake residents and businesses in an effort to mobilize a campaign working against any future damaging regulations offered up by the DEC and HRBRRD. The government has made clear that it still considers the 129-mile shoreline of the lake public beach. What are the ramifications of that? Come to our town hall meeting and find out why this is the most serious threat ever leveled at our lake community. A Q&A period will follow the presentation.

"Some people have the impression that the problems that result from the proposed rules changes and their restrictions imposed on the lake community have gone away," said SPC Co-Chairman Joe Sullivan. "Nothing could be further from the truth. The governor's office has stated that this is only a cooling off period and a time to relook at the issues, and that they will be revisited. The lake community needs to be ever vigilant."

The Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board does not plan to meet in August. Its next meeting will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at Courtyard by Marriott, 11 Excelsior Avenue, Saratoga Springs, NY. This will be the final board meeting of the year in the Hudson River Area.