TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: January 30, 2010

The state Department of Transportation has announced a delay in its plans to put the Batchellerville Bridge Replacement Project out to bid. It originally expected to complete its revision of the design this month, but now that might not happen until May. It's also still looking for an additional $11 million or so to pay for the estimated $50 million project.

To get the funds for the bridge, we need to keep pressure on the Governor (518-474-8390) and other elected officials. The replacement project falls within the districts represented by U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (518-431-4070) and Kirsten Gillibrand (518-431-0120), Congressman Scott Murphy (518-581-8247), State Senator Hugh T. Farley (518-455-2181), and State Assemblywoman Teresa R. Sayward (518-792-4546). Keep their phones ringing!

With the state in fiscal crisis, there is plenty of competition for a limited pot of money. Earlier this month, NYS Comptroller Thomas D. DiNapoli reported that 93 bridges in the state have a condition rating at or below that given to the Lake Champlain Bridge at Crown Point before its closure last year. The Batchellerville Bridge (rated by DOT last July at 3.085 out of 7) was in slightly worse shape than the Lake Champlain Bridge.

For its part, DOT stresses that condition ratings "do not directly link" to the structural safety of a bridge. Acting DOT Commissioner Stanley Gee says: "I want to once again assure the traveling public that if a bridge is open in New York State, it is safe for use." On the other hand, the Lake Champlain Bridge was open one day and suddenly closed the next. What's to assure that the same fate couldn't befall the Batchellerville Bridge, with devastating impact on its users?

Why are the state's bridges (and highways) in such terrible shape? Because, since 1991, only one-third of the money in the state's Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund has gone directly toward their repair and improvement. The remainder -- or two out of every three dollars -- has been siphoned off to fund state agency operations. Roads and bridges are basic components of the infrastructure that supports a state's economy. A state lets its infrastructure rot at its peril.

Meanwhile, at its January 12 meeting, the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board -- acting at DOT's request -- passed a resolution in support of the Batchellerville Bridge's replacement.

At its January 12 meeting, the Regulating District's board approved an emergency plan to solve its financial crisis by billing five downstream counties -- Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Washington, and Warren -- for a total of about $4,500,000 for flood-control benefits. Due date: June 30 (the end of the District's 2009-10 fiscal year).

This is the first time that downstream counties have been billed as beneficiaries of the Conklingville Dam, which impounds Great Sacandaga Lake. Originally, 95.34 percent of the cost of constructing the reservoir was funded by the owners of some 37 riverside properties (mainly hydro plant operators) in the counties mentioned above. The remainder was shared among the cities of Albany, Watervliet, Troy, and Rensselaer, and the Village of Green Island.

The same property owners and municipalities obligated themselves to share in perpetuity all of the District's operating and maintenance costs not recovered by other revenues. This funding scheme was overturned in November 2008 when the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the District could no longer bill downstream hydro plants for its operating expenses (which include taxes). This shut off 82 percent of the District's revenues in the Hudson River Area. As a result, the District was unable to pay its 2009 school taxes and 2010 property taxes.

Here's how the emergency funding scheme will impact the five downstream counties: Albany County (38.38 percent or $1,709,342), Rensselaer County (17.55 percent or $781,400), Saratoga County (33.69 percent or $1,500,489), Warren County (6.53 percent or $290,616), and Washington County (3.85 percent or $171,357).

The five counties affected will be able to grieve this unexpected assessment at the District's next board meeting, to be held March 30 in Saratoga Springs (see below for details). Will five separate lawsuits result? It's ironic that folks in Edinburg and Day, who own property ABOVE the Conklingville Dam, are now considered flood-control "beneficiaries" of that structure.

For the District's longer-range efforts to extricate itself from its financial crisis, see the December 30, 2009 issue of this newsletter.

If you've ever wondered how your state and local tax dollars are spent, here's an excellent web site that provides some answers: With it, you can search government payrolls, contracts, and expenditures in counties, cities, towns, villages, school districts, and public authorities throughout New York. It also provides links to additional material on other web sites (e.g., per-pupil spending for school districts).

The downturn in the U.S. economy has obviously impacted property sales on Great Sacandaga. In August 2008, I looped the northern segment of the lake from the Batchellerville Bridge to the Conklingville Dam and back down the other side. I counted 47 For Sale signs. In August 2009, I repeated the drive. This time, the count was 55 For Sale signs, a 17 percent increase.

The Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board does not plan to meet in February. Its next meeting is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 30, 2010, at the Holiday Inn, 232 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY.

The lake is at 753.5 feet above sea level, about 3 feet above target.