TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter Van Avery
DATE: September 27, 2010

At its September 14 meeting, the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board passed a number of important resolutions, including a decision to bill five downstream counties -- Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Warren, and Washington -- a second time for flood-control benefits derived from the existence of the Conklingville Dam at the outlet of Great Sacandaga Lake.

In my opinion, this decision was of questionable legality. Also arguably null and void were every other motion, vote, and resolution passed at the meeting. Reason: The board was illegally constituted, with two individuals representing the same board seat.

Here's the story behind this travesty.

Board member Ronald Pintuff's term expired on September 1, creating two vacant seats on the board. Board member Audrey Dunning had resigned back in March.

About 20 minutes before the start of the September 14 meeting, Chairman Philip Klein was buttonholed by an aide of Governor David Paterson and introduced to Albert Hayes, the Governor's newest appointee to the board. Mr. Hayes was the Governor's choice to replace board member Ronald Pintuff.

Apparently, this information was communicated to Chairman Klein orally -- since Mr. Hayes's appointment letter did not specify whom he was replacing. Nor had the Governor's Office formally notified Mr. Pintuff of his replacement. For whatever reason, Mr. Pintuff did not step down -- nor was requested to do so by the Chairman. (A member whose term has expired can continue to sit on the board until replaced.)

So this led to two individuals representing the same board seat at the same time, with both participating in the meeting. On one resolution, whether to hire a land surveyor in the Hudson River Area, Mr. Pintuff cast an "Aye" vote, with Mr. Hayes voicing a "Nay." Outrageous! Not until near the end of the meeting, when Chairman Klein announced that Mr. Hayes would take over as chair of the Permit System Committee (a position held until then by Mr. Pintuff) did Mr. Pintuff bid the group farewell.

What a worthless meeting, a waste of time for all concerned!

Albert Hayes, the newest board member, recently retired from the Regulating District as a foreman with 21 years of experience at the Sacandaga Field Office. Prior to his Regulating District service, he was employed by the NYS Department of Transportation. The day before the September 14 board meeting, he resigned as Fulton County Democratic committee chairman.

In other business at its September meeting, the board appointed Michael C. Clark as Acting Executive Director, replacing Glenn LaFave who retired last month. Pending the board's appointment of a permanent replacement, Mr. Clark will continue to perform his duties as Hudson River Area Administrator. The board set his salary at $84,213. There should be plenty of competition for this top job. The last time I checked (2008), Mr. LaFave's salary was just over $100,000/year, making the position a patronage plum. Considering the questionable legality of this particular board meeting, Mr. Clark's appointment may need to be redone.

Here's the statement I made during the public comment period at the beginning of the September 14 board meeting:

I am Pete Van Avery, representing the Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee. The BBAC champions the interests of non-commercial access permit holders around Great Sacandaga Lake.

Your July meeting marked a turning point in the recent history of this board. The replacement of Ms. Beyor with Mr. Stover meant that -- for the first time -- Governor Paterson's appointees hold a majority on this board. Considering the fact that we've had a Democrat as governor since January 2007, it's been a long wait -- nearly four years -- for this to happen.

We wish you good fortune and hope that you can provide us with positive change. Unfortunately, to paraphrase Oliver Hardy, it's a nice mess that your predecessors have gotten you into.

The access permit system on Great Sacandaga Lake is supposed to pay for itself. I began to attend board meetings in 2003 after your predecessors attempted to jack up permit fees by 1,000 percent, triggering a public furor. After it quickly became evident that the Regulating District had no idea what the permit system cost, this move was rescinded, and the executive director resigned.

Shortly after that, the board hired a consultant to cost out the permit system. But after he consulted the District's records, he tossed in the towel. He couldn't find the data needed. That was back in 2005. So the District hired another consultant to set up a methodology for collecting the data. We still await the results.

Since the District is a tiny organization with only about 30 employees, not all of whom are involved with the permit system, this long delay is amateurism carried to its extreme. In the real world, such incompetence would be rewarded by an exit door slamming someone's fanny.

Last year, Niagara Mohawk brought a lawsuit against the District, arguing that the permit system was not paying for itself and that part of the bill was being passed along to downstream beneficiaries. The company argued, in part, that the permit system was illegal. This sent chills down the spines of the lake's 4,800 permit holders. Without the permit system, property values would plummet.

By placing the permit system in jeopardy, the District's management was seriously negligent. If you can't prove what the permit system costs, how can you dispute Niagara Mohawk's claims?

This is just one of the problems that your predecessors have bequeathed you. Another is the fact that a court ruling in 2008 shut off more than 80 percent of the Hudson River Area's revenues by preventing the District from billing downstream hydroplants for its operating costs. Result: The District has defaulted on its property and school taxes, and its attempt to find new sources of revenue has generated a flurry of lawsuits.

This blow could have been softened if the District had carried out a promise it made back in 2002, in the Offer of Settlement, when it said it would identify additional downstream beneficiaries. If the District had done so, some of the lawsuits would have been resolved by now.

Another item on your "To Do" list is the need to update the District's 1993 rules for permit holders. A multi-year project to update them was terminated by the Governor last year after the District joined DEC in an ill-advised attempt to convert the access permit zone into a public park, open 24/7. Permit holders rightly viewed this as an assault on their property values and quality of life, and bombarded the Governor with complaints.

You also need to hire a new executive director. The Regulating District is a public benefit corporation with an annual budget of about $7 million. The person at the helm should have strong business credentials. Engineering experience would be an additional plus. For too long, the District has been reactive instead of proactive. Its executive director needs vision combined with strong leadership and communications skills.

Finally, you need to improve your communications with the Great Sacandaga Lake community. I urge you to reinstate the Town Meeting section of Board Meetings, giving permit holders an opportunity to ask you questions and receive answers. A board should not be afraid to go face-to-face with the individuals impacted by its decisions.

Thank you and good luck!

The first four piers of the new Batchellerville Bridge are under construction. If you walk out on the west end of the existing bridge, you'll be able to take some great photos for the family album. Update: In some copies of the August 1 newsletter, based on information given me by a NYSDOT spokesman, I reported that the new bridge will have an estimated life span of 50 years. The agency now says that the life span will be 75 years.

The next meeting of the Regulating District's board will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, October 13, 2010, at the Stillwater Hotel, 2591 Stillwater Road, Lowville, NY.

The lake is at 761 feet above sea level, about four inches below target.