TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter Van Avery
DATE: December 31, 2010

To put it bluntly, 2011 promises to be the year that makes or breaks property owners around Great Sacandaga Lake. Do each of us 4,800 access permit holders have "exclusive use" of our specific segment of the state-owned buffer zone around the lake, as the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District maintains? Or is the buffer zone part of the forever-wild Forest Preserve, making it a public park open 24/7, as the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation contends?

If this crisis is resolved in DEC's favor, the value of our lake property could plunge as much as 40 percent, according to one estimate. As for our quality of life, forget about it! Of course, as total tax collections around the lake plummet by tens of millions of dollars, the difference will have to be made up by sharply higher taxes imposed on folks in local towns, villages, and hamlets who don't live on the lake. That could trigger an exodus of taxpayers who can no longer afford to live in the area, increasing the burden on those who remain.

Also keep in mind that businesses -- marinas, for example -- are not welcome on Forest Preserve land. If marinas are forced to close, imagine the impact on the local economy.

For nearly 80 years, the District has guaranteed "exclusive use" of the state-owned "buffer zone" to neighboring property owners to whom it has awarded permits providing access to the lake. On the basis of that "exclusive use" guarantee, you and I paid a premium for lake property. We've also paid painfully high taxes over the years. If the DEC succeeds in its grab for power, the public will swarm over the buffer zone, swimming and picnicking and partying at will. Our dream homes in the Adirondacks will become a nightmare.

Although DEC and the Regulating District both report directly to Governor Andrew Cuomo, the former agency is the senior partner. Under Title 21 of NYS Conservation Law, the Regulating District's board "shall have power to make all necessary rules and regulations which shall be effective when approved by" DEC.

The threat from DEC first became apparent in April 2009 as the District's two-year-long rule-revision process neared its deadline for completion. The DEC suddenly recommended that the rules be changed to allow public access to the buffer zone. Unsurprisingly, lake property owners screamed bloody murder. In response, in June 2009, the state terminated the entire rule-revision process. However, Governor Paterson's spokeswoman made it clear that this was just a "time out." She said that the administration still viewed the buffer zone as Forest Preserve land and had not given up on reforming the permit system.

DEC went back on the attack in October 2010 when an access permit holder asked the agency if it was legal for him to step off his permit area and walk elsewhere on the buffer zone. Lt. John Ellithorpe, a DEC Environmental Conservation Officer, replied: "Pedestrian use of any access permit area is not restricted so long as the pedestrian traffic was legally gained.... Pedestrian traffic cannot trespass across private lands to gain access to the state-owned land."

When the permit holder ventured out onto adjoining permit areas, a neighbor complained to DEC and was told that the buffer zone was open to the public as long as access was gained without crossing someone else's private property. The neighbor then asked Fulton County Sheriff Thomas Lorey for help. The Sheriff responded that after discussions with Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira, he would no longer entertain complaints about "trespassers" as long as they reached the buffer zone legally. As for the Regulating District, while it insists that permit holders have "exclusive use" of their permit areas, it has no enforcement arm.

While the Sheriffs of the other counties ringing Great Sacandaga Lake have yet to weigh in on this matter, it is obvious to me that this is a lake-wide issue and threat.

In its wisdom, DEC has made no provision for police protection, rest rooms, or trash collection along the 129-mile-long buffer zone around the lake. Considering the fact that the Administration in Albany is currently pruning DEC's budget and lopping off hundreds of its employees, such services might not be available for years at the very least. Want to see an example of how an unsupervised public can treat a beautiful Adirondack setting? Just visit Sand Island ... but watch where you step.

Under DEC's plan, the public would be free to utilize the buffer zone 24/7. While the public can't legally cross private property to reach the buffer zone, access is available via numerous public rights of way. In many areas, in fact, the buffer zone is immediately adjacent to long stretches of public roads. And one can always sneak across private property or arrive by boat.

Some newspaper articles have given the impression that DEC wants only the lake's beaches to be open to the public. That's far from accurate -- DEC wants to open the door to the whole buffer zone.

Here's how the Regulating District's handbook for access permit holders defines the buffer zone: "In general, land for the reservoir was acquired to an elevation of 7 feet above the height of the Conklingville Dam spillway. This was to create a 'buffer zone' around the man-made lake within which the flooding and erosion normally associated with reservoir operation could take place without threatening private property or private roads." Depending upon the slope of the land, the depth of the buffer zone varies from a few feet to as much as 2500 feet.

Every one of the lake's 4,800 separate access permit areas is posted with a Regulating District sign stating that the permit holder has "exclusive use" of that particular slice of the buffer zone. Many permit holders have built expensive homes near the line dividing private from state property. If DEC has its way, property owners could experience wild parties taking place within a few feet of their front windows. As for who picks up the dirty diapers, broken glass, cans, and other debris, DEC is silent.

And what insurance company would provide liability coverage for a property owner's docks, boats, and other beach assets now suddenly situated in a public park? Also keep in mind that 300 people are on the District's waiting list for access permits, some for many years. If DEC prevails, they won't have to wait any longer.

So what should be our response to this crisis?

Contact:

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Telephone: 518-474-8390
Email: www.governor.ny.gov and click on "Contact"

In sum, now is the time for all of us to start taking forceful action. If we lose this battle, the impact will be devastating.


The next meeting of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, January 11, 2011, at Mayfield Town Hall, 28 North School Street, Mayfield, NY.


In a change of plans, Harrison and Burrowes Bridge Constructors has decided to work through the winter on the new Batchellerville Bridge. Since I've run out of space, I'll provide you with a progress report on this and other matters early in January. In the meantime, I urge you snowmobilers to exercise extra caution around the bridge construction site. Happy New Year!