TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: September 26, 2009

First and foremost, keep the pressure on Governor Paterson to speed replacement of the Batchellerville Bridge. His phone number: 474-8390. You'll be asked for your zip code. If you are a seasonal resident who lives elsewhere in the state, use that zip code. It will show him that people impacted by the bridge live (and vote) all over the state. Please give that call top priority. Urge family members and friends to follow your lead. And keep writing your elected officials. You'll find a list of contacts on our web site:

As the result of a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling handed down last November, hydroelectric plants downstream of the Conklingville Dam and Great Sacandaga Lake have stopped paying their annual assessments as beneficiaries of the river-regulating reservoir.

This will immediately deprive the District of $4 million annually -- or 82 percent of its operating budget for the Hudson River Area.

The District's financial reserves will carry it through the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2010. After that, it will no longer be able to pay school and property taxes until it can work out a new assessment process. That will involve the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which issued a license in 2002 covering the reservoir/dam/power plant and continuing the District's annual assessments on downstream beneficiaries under state law.

The fix may take 18 months or more. How lake-area municipalities and counties will cope with this sudden loss of tax revenue remains to be seen.

The District operated for 83 years under a state law that authorized it to assess downstream hydroelectric plants for the annual operating and maintenance costs of running the reservoir. Operating costs include tax payments required by state law.

In 2006, Albany Engineering, a hydro plant operator, sued FERC, arguing that the Federal Power Act -- which supersedes state law -- did not allow the District to assess FERC-licensed hydroelectric plants for operating costs.

After the Federal court ruled in Albany Engineering's favor last November, FERC ordered the District and its downstream beneficiaries to try to work out a solution. Those talks, held in front of a Washington, DC, judge, broke down, triggering the present crisis.

Under the Federal Power Act, FERC is allowed to levy annual "headwater benefits" charges on its hydroelectric licensees for a portion of the Regulating District's interest, maintenance, and depreciation expenses. FERC is now determining what those charges should be.

The District, in turn, is now weighing its options for covering its operating budget and complying with mandated tax payments. It may shift a portion of its costs from hydropower companies to others that benefit from its Hudson River Area operations. This could include additional municipalities that receive flood-control benefits. The cities of Albany, Watervliet, Troy, and Rensselaer -- plus the Village of Green Island -- already pay a modest annual assessment.

The District also plans to hire a contractor to help it identify new beneficiaries to be assessed. In 2003, the District commissioned a similar study but never accepted the results. Here's a scary quote from that document: "One of the biggest benefits of Great Sacandaga Lake is the creation of 125 miles of lakeshore property." It's followed by an analysis of the market value of the total housing units in the Great Sacandaga Lake Region.

Permit holders will be watching closely to see how effectively the District meets this financial crisis. Its past difficulties in devising new rules for permit holders (a project scrapped after four years of struggle) and in determining the cost of the access permit system (a project still under way after six years of effort) do not inspire confidence.

The Governor, distracted by other issues, appears to be paying little attention to the Regulating District's many problems. As I've noted before, it's hard to believe that 33 months after Governor Pataki left office, his appointees still hold a 4 to 3 majority on the board. At this late date, that should not be the case.

Although John Bartow, Jr.'s, board term expired last December 7, the Governor has yet to name a replacement. Nor has he replaced Pamela Beyor, whose term expired on September 1. And then there's Audrey Dunning, who in April 2008 was Governor Paterson's first board appointee. She has been a no-show at 10 of the 15 board meetings held since then, attending only one board meeting so far this year. The Governor may see no problem with this -- but Great Sacandaga's permit holders certainly do.

GSL Permit Holders and Authors Russell Dunn and Barbara Delaney, state-licensed guides, have just published their latest book: Adirondack Trails With Tales: History Hikes Through the Adirondack Park and the Lake George, Lake Champlain & Mohawk Valley Regions. It describes the history and natural history of 26 hikes, paddles, bike rides, and cross-country ski tours along beautiful trails in the Adirondack Mountain high peaks and foothills. The paperback is published by Black Dome Press.

The next meeting of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday October 13, 2009, at the Stillwater Hotel, 2591 Stillwater Road, Lowville, NY. Barring an emergency, the board will not return to the Hudson River Area until January 2010.

The lake's level is now at 760.9 feet above sea level, about a half-foot below target.