TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: October 29, 2009

ALERT! Alarmed about the deteriorating Batchellerville Bridge across Great Sacandaga Lake at Edinburg? Not thrilled by the prospect of taking a 35-mile detour around the lake to reach your job or camp? Concerned about how quickly an ambulance or fire truck can respond to an emergency on the south shore? Then turn out for a rally at the bridge at 10:00 a.m. this Saturday, October 31. Send a message to Albany: Fix the old bridge or build a new one ... NOW!

The rally, called a "Bridge of Life Walk," is sponsored by the Bridge of Life Committee recently formed by the Edinburg Fire Department and Edinburg Emergency Squad. The more people who participate, the louder the message. So inform your friends and neighbors. The walk, which will start from both ends of the bridge, will be held rain or shine.

You also can show your support by buying and using one or more of the committee's decals, available at Fuller's Store and the Four Corners Diner in Edinburg, The Robin Station in Northville, and Clear Image on Route 30, Northville.

After a NYS Department of Transportation inspection, the bridge was converted in August to alternating one-way traffic, with a maximum 15-ton weight limit. Edinburg's volunteer fire fighters and ambulance crews are worried that this downgrade could slow their response time in emergencies where minutes saved can spell the difference between life and death.

Beyond that, many bridge users fear that the next State inspection might result in its sudden closure. That happened when the State shut down the bridge across Lake Champlain at Crown Point. For commuters who rely on the Batchellerville Bridge, this would add 70 extra miles to their daily round trip, or 18,000 miles a year. Once funding becomes available, construction of a replacement bridge could take two to three years.

The State originally budgeted $39 million for the replacement project -- but the lowest bid came in $25 million higher. Now, the NYS Department of Transportation is redesigning the bridge to reduce its expected cost to $50 million, still about $10 million over budget. So far, the State has balked at providing this additional amount.

One-way traffic on the Batchellerville Bridge is controlled by traffic lights at either end. Emergency crews can override the lights but have to wait until any vehicles heading toward them clear the structure.

The bridge's weight limit poses a serious problem for Edinburg's largest tanker truck, which weighs 18 tons. In the event of a fire on South Shore Road or Fox Hill Road, the loaded tanker would have to dump its water in the firehouse parking lot, causing a delay of 3-4 minutes. Once across the bridge, it would have to be refilled, wasting more time.

In a recent drill, emergency crews responded from their residences to the Fire House and EMS Squad Building on the north side of the lake and then set out to a mock structure fire at a location on South Shore Road, 2.9 miles north of the bridge. Total mileage from the stations to the drill: less than five miles. The Fire Chief and the ambulance arrived in 21 minutes, immediately followed by the first two fire trucks. But the largest tanker took nearly twice as long. If this had been a real fire, the structure would have been lost.

About 40 percent of Edinburg's 1,600 residents live on the south shore. In her monthly column in the September issue of the Edinburg Newsletter, Town Supervisor Jean Raymond warned: "If the State closes the bridge, it will lead to the obvious public safety, school bus, and public works issues which will lead to tax increases to fund alternatives."

Ten years have passed since the State first announced plans to replace the bridge. After holding three public comment meetings, it announced a preferred design (endorsed by the BBAC) in 2002. 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 Hudson River-Black River Regulating District owes $1.4 million in school taxes this year, and it can't afford to pay them. That's bad news for five school districts around Great Sacandaga. It's also bad news for taxpayers in Fulton, Saratoga, and Hamilton counties. When a school district or municipality cannot collect taxes, the county must make up the difference.

The affected school districts are Broadalbin-Perth, Edinburg, Mayfield, Northville, and Wells. According to the Daily Gazette, the Regulating District is the largest single taxpayer for Northville and Broadalbin-Perth, owing them $326,000 and $256,000 respectively for the 2009-10 school year. It owes the Mayfield Central School District $354,000.

In January, the District will receive property tax bills totaling another $1 million, which it probably won't be able to pay either.

The District says that it expects to pay these tax bills ... eventually. Initially, it sought to solve its tax problem by borrowing $2.6 million from its Black River Area component. However, the NYS Comptroller said that this would not be legal. Now, as a fallback, the District has hired a consultant to advise it on finding a loan.

The District fell into this financial mess after the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled last November that it could no longer assess downstream hydropower plants licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the reservoir's operating costs, including payment of taxes. That cut $4 million out of its $5.4 million budget. In the future, the District will be able to bill those hydro plants only for a portion of its maintenance, debt, and depreciation costs.

To make up its operating deficit, the District will hire the Washington-based American Economics Group to identify additional downstream municipalities that rely on a regulated river flow to stop spring flooding and to sweep away effluvia from sewage treatment plants. They will then be subject to an annual assessment, as is already the case with Albany, Troy, Watervliet, Rensselaer, and the Village of Green Island.

The lake's level is currently at 761 feet above sea level -- 2.5 feet above target.