Statement
Peter VanAvery, Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee
Town Hall Meeting
Northville Central High School
August 24, 2009

I'm Pete VanAvery, representing the Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee -- BBAC for short. Our group nowadays concerns itself with issues affecting non-commercial access permit holders around the lake. My wife and I have owned a front-lot home in Edinburg for 40 years.

I've been asked to talk about some of the issues facing Great Sacandaga's permit holders.

Why isn't the state doing a better job of keeping out invasive species like the spiny water flea that's flourishing in Great Sacandaga and threatening the fishery?

Why aren't target water levels in the 2002 Federal license fine-tuned so that people with steep permit areas have more than a sliver of beach at this time of year? That's tough on the kids and grandkids ... and forget about participation in the Ring of Fire.

How can we get some relief from high property taxes? Why should seasonal property owners have to pay through the nose for services, like schools, they never use?

Where's the new Batchellerville Bridge? I'll spend a couple of minutes on this classic case of buck-passing.

The bridge was built by the Hudson River Regulating District in 1930. Somewhere along the line, the District says it transferred ownership to either the state or Saratoga County. But the paperwork (if it ever existed) has vanished, making the bridge a 3,000-foot-long orphan. Neither the state nor the county wants the responsibility.

In 1999, the state began plans for a replacement. To learn what the public wanted, as required by law, the state held public meetings in 1999, 2000, and 2001. Our group, the BBAC, was formed after the second meeting to make certain that the people who'd use and live with the bridge fully understood the issues.

In 2002, the state announced a preferred design, which we endorsed. Then something incredible and very unfortunate happened: a four-year delay while the state and the county squabbled over who would pay for construction. This stalemate lasted until 2006 when the state said it would build the bridge, after which the county would own and maintain it.

The NYS Department of Transportation budgeted $39 million for the project. But the lowest bid came in $25 million higher. So the project is on hold while DOT redesigns the bridge to cut its cost by $15 million. The thinking is that a $10 million shortfall will be easier to make up than a $25 million one. Meanwhile, the old bridge flunked its latest state inspection and has been converted to alternating one-way traffic.

The governor's office is receiving a barrage of angry phone calls that we hope will be as effective as the ones that caused him to pull the plug two months ago on the Regulating District's unacceptable rule book. If you or your loved ones or your friends use the bridge -- or if you just want to help the cause -- be sure to add your call to theirs.

Next question: Can't we relax now that we have forced the governor to kill off the Regulating District's awful new rules?

Don't kid yourself. We didn't win a victory ... we just won a lull in the battle.

In 2005, the District began to update the rules for access permit holders. They put on a show of asking for public input but then ignored most of our key recommendations. They never even had the decency to explain why.

For decades, the District told us that we had "exclusive use" of our access permit areas. The permit sign in front of my house says just that. Then, this past May, the state Department of Environmental Conservation suddenly added some "suggested changes" that included converting the access permit zone into a public park, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. DEC says the permit zone is part of the forever-wild Forest Preserve and ought to be open to the public.

To its discredit, the District's board -- without any discussion -- rubber-stamped the "suggested changes" and rushed them up the approval mill. It took a huge public outcry to force the governor to toss out the new rule book. It's dead for now, but the state has threatened to try again.

Is there any way to get the District and the DEC off our backs?

That's why you're here to learn about the Sacandaga Protection Committee's plans. As you heard tonight, DEC's assertion that the access permit zone is part of the Forest Preserve is being challenged by first-rate lawyers looking out for us. Make no mistake, this is going to be a long, tough, and expensive battle against opponents whose defense will be funded by OUR OWN tax dollars. We're going to have to hang in there as our lawyers, hired by the committee and funded by our donations, work to guide us out of this legal swamp.

Finally, what are the BBAC's goals in this struggle? Our group feels that the most desirable solution would be for the state to sell access permit areas to their current holders -- back-lotters and front-lotters alike. From a legal point of view, this could be complicated and time-consuming -- but it would be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Thank you.