TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter Van Avery
DATE: March 28, 2010

At the request of the New York State Department of Transportation, the Capital District Transportation Committee has allocated an additional $20 million in federal funds for the Batchellerville Bridge replacement project. That brings the total federal and state commitment to the project to $58 million, which DOT believes will be enough to pay for replacement of the 80-year-old, 3,078-foot-long bridge across Great Sacandaga Lake at Edinburg.

Competitive bids for the bridge's construction are scheduled to be opened on May 6. Construction is expected to begin this summer and be completed by early 2012.

When the project was initially put out to bid in November 2008, DOT expected to replace the bridge for $39 million. But only two construction companies submitted bids, the lower of which was for a whopping $64 million. That amount was 65% over DOT's budget, and the agency rejected it.

This time around, DOT believes that the nation's faltering economy, which may make contractors hungrier -- plus lower steel and concrete prices -- will let it get the job done for $58 million. Most of the money is coming from the federal Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program.

In addition, DOT has taken major steps to cut construction costs. For example, the new bridge will have fewer piers (12 instead of 20). To ease access by cranes and other heavy equipment, temporary causeways will be built as much as 350 feet out into the lake alongside each abutment. Another saving: While the steel frame of the existing bridge will be carted away, concrete from its piers will be broken up and dropped into the lake to form a fish habitat.

These changes have been approved by the Adirondack Park Agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

At this point, the new bridge finally looks like a go. Keep your fingers crossed!

Faced with the threat that the Batchellerville Bridge might not be replaced, thousands of its users took their case to elected officials in Albany and Washington. Emergency responders formed the Edinburg Bridge of Life Committee, which held rallies at the bridge and on the Capitol steps in Albany. And thousands of permanent and seasonal residents of the area called the Governor and other elected officials and also bombarded them with letters and e-mails. Altogether, an army of people worked hard to convince the powers-that-be that the bridge was crucial not just to the local economy but to the state economy as well. That additional $20 million would not have materialized without this massive effort. Congratulations and thanks to all you folks who fought for it.

The next meeting of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's Board is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 30, 2010, at the Holiday Inn, 232 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY. A key agenda item will be a "Hudson River Area Apportionment Grievance Hearing" at which representatives from five counties -- Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Warren, and Washington -- will oppose the Regulating District's emergency plan to bill them a total of $4.5 million for the flood-control benefits they receive from the Conklingville Dam.

In November 2008, 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 ruling shut off 82% of the Hudson River Area's revenues. Since then, the District and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have been working out a new approach to funding the District's operations. At the very least, this fix will take a year or more to implement.

In the meantime, the District is desperately looking for a short-term solution to its fiscal crisis. To pay school and property taxes (among other pressing bills), it needs to find a source of funds before its current fiscal year runs out on June 30. Its solution: Charge the five counties mentioned above for flood-control benefits for the first time in history. But those counties, already dealing with their own fiscal nightmares, say this is unfair and are threatening to sue the state.

Obviously, the five counties have a point. Great Sacandaga Lake is a river-regulating reservoir, and communities along the Hudson River far below Albany benefit from the existence of the Conklingville Dam. In the event of a major flood -- to say nothing of devastating 100-year or 1,000-year floods -- the dam would prevent millions of dollars of damage to shoreline properties. Conversely, in dry spells, water released from the reservoir aids navigation and recreation, swirls away effluvia from sewage-treatment plants, and keeps the "salt front" from reaching Poughkeepsie (which draws its drinking water from the Hudson).

If the District expects downstream beneficiaries to pay for flood control, all affected counties should ante up -- not just a select few.

The reservoir is at 760 feet above sea level, about 12 feet above target, and filling up quickly.