Amsterdam, NY
August 25, 2009

Packed house

By HEATHER NELLIS, Recorder News Staff

NORTHVILLE - The land around the Great Sacandaga Lake is not forest preserve.

That's according to Hodgson Russ, LLC, a legal firm hired by the Sacandaga Protection Committee.

At the committee's meeting at Northville Central School Monday, co-Chairman Joe Sullivan announced that the law firm has determined "the land around the lake is not forest preserve as suggested by DEC," as the notion does "not reflect historical or present day realities."

The firm was hired to determine whether or not the state Department of Environmental Conservation has the authority to classify and limit the land's use under Forever Wild policies. While the law firm told the committee to "refrain from discussing specific legal matters because legal advice and discussions are of high value to parties that might oppose [them]," Sullivan read a prepared statement.

When the Great Sacandaga Lake was created in the 1920s, he read, the area was not wilderness or forest preserve. It was comprised of farmland, factories, communities, a thriving railroad, and even an amusement park.

"The fact that this area was not wilderness or forest preserve can be seen in the relocation of 12,000 homes and the transfer of nearly 4,000 bodies from 22 local cemeteries," he continued. Coupling this with the state's legislative action for the reservoir and acquiring land for its creation "bolsters the fact that this is not forest preserve," said Sullivan.

At the committee's first town hall-style meeting in Broadalbin July 27, DEC representative Tom Hall suggested amending the state constitution to alleviate problems that have arisen out of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's Access Permit System. DEC has determined the system allows permit holder's "exclusive use" of state-owned land represents "legal problems," he said.

"We do not think a constitutional amendment is the best choice. It's clear that DEC is not looking out for our best interests. We are on our own," Sullivan said, noting Hodgson Russ will continue researching the lake's legislation.

Northampton Supervisor Linda Kemper said she would "absolutely not" support a constitutional amendment.

"It's poor public policy - a quick fix. It would put control completely in their hands," she said. "And how can you even do an amendment on something when you have no right to in the first place?"

Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, was in attendance, and based on concerns raised at the meeting, said the amendment "is not something that has a groundswell of support."

"It would be a long-term solution with questionable results," he said.

An amendment to the state constitution requires approval from both legislative houses by a majority vote, and then another majority vote following an election. Legislative elections are held in November of every even-numbered year. If these conditions are met, the amendment becomes valid if agreed to by state voters at a referendum.

Sen. Hugh T. Farley, R-Niskayuna, who was not present at the meeting, said it would be very difficult for an amendment to pass in both the Senate and the Assembly, and the necessity of such an amendment is questionable.

"Whether the Great Sacandaga Lake is apart of the Adirondack Park Agency is questionable," he said. "When it was built [in 1929], the state did not consider it part of forest preserve. It's a new interpretation that's open to question."

No representatives from DEC, APA, or Hudson River-Black River Regulating District were present due to scheduling conflicts. Hall agreed to attend, but "only if we really asked, because he didn't want to be the only one here," said Fulton County Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Wally Hart, who moderated the meeting.

DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino said since Hall's announcement, "the department has not been involved in any serious external discussions" on the details of a possible amendment.

"Any such amendment would likely be complex so at this point, DEC can't comment or speculate at this time on what it would or wouldn't support," she said. However, "DEC stands by its statement that options exist."

Sullivan said the viable option would be to sit down and discuss the matters with all associated government agencies.

"Our first choice is not a lawsuit," he said, "but trust me, we're not scared to go to there."

Gloversville, NY
August 25, 2009

Hundreds attend Sacandaga meeting

By ZACH SUBAR, The Leader-Herald

NORTHVILLE - Nearly every seat in the Northville Central School auditorium was filled Monday night with Great Sacandaga Lake residents eager to hear about the work the Sacandaga Protection Committee has done so far and to ask the committee questions that spanned a wide variety of topics.

While some of the more than 400 people at the meeting said they did not necessarily learn anything new at the meeting about issues facing access permit holders - some of what was discussed had already been hashed out at a previous town hall meeting, held July 27 in Broadalbin - they said they got something from the information the Sacandaga Protection Committee provided about its operations.

Committee Chairman Joe Sullivan told the crowd the committee had elected a Board of Directors and written its by-laws. He also said its law firm, Hodgson Russ, was in the process of researching lake issues and would need plenty more donations to continue to do its work. The SPC has been at work trying to attract funds to pay its legal team - a table at the meeting was staffed by three people tasked with collecting checks and money.

"I wanted to know a lot of the details," resident Judy Campbell said. "And I got the details."

When Sullivan asserted the land around the lake has never been Forest Preserve - contrary to the state Department of Environmental Conservation's opinion - the crowd cheered.

DEC made its controversial revisions to the proposed access permit system rules on the basis of its belief the land is public, since it is owned by the state. But Sullivan said when the lake was created in the 1920s, the area surrounding it was composed of farms, factories and an amusement park, and was never the public preserve DEC suggests it is now.

"The Hudson River-Black River Regulating District and the state ... should not seek to create wilderness where none exists," Sullivan said. "We can have our lake and enjoy it too."

The meeting's format allowed people to pass forward their questions on index cards to Sullivan and fellow panelists Peter Byron of the Great Sacandaga Lake Association, Peter Van Avery of the Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee and Richard Kedik of the Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation.

Questions at the meeting focused on Forest Preserve issues but also touched on topics as far-ranging as the Batchellerville Bridge, permit fees and Sand Island, an area on the lake frequented by boaters.

Representatives from the DEC, the regulating district and the Adirondack Park Agency did not attend the meeting, citing scheduling conflicts, though DEC representative Tom Hall said he wanted all DEC-related questions forwarded to him so he could provide answers. Each agency had a representative at the Broadalbin meeting.

"It is time for the community to move from the various opinions that we have heard about the forest preserve, state land and other issues," Byron said. "Let's uncover the facts and move on."

Assemblyman Marc Butler attended the meeting, as did representatives from the offices of state Sen. Hugh Farley and U.S. Rep. Scott Murphy. Several members of the Fulton and Saratoga County Boards of Supervisors were also in attendance.