TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter Van Avery
DATE: January 17, 2011

After taking a holiday break, the contractor is back at work on the new Batchellerville Bridge across Great Sacandaga Lake at Edinburg. The structure will have only 12 piers. Starting from the west end, the cofferdams for piers 1-4 have been completed. During the winter, the contractor hopes to finish cofferdams 5, 6, 10, 11, and 12. Construction of cofferdams 7-9 will begin in the spring.

Each cofferdam measures roughly 20' by 40'. After the ice goes out, the next step will be to seal their bottoms with a type of concrete that cures underwater. Then, they will be pumped dry one at a time, after which a concrete foundation will be poured into them. The cylindrical concrete piers that rise from the water and support the bridge will rest on that foundation.

Snowmobilers need to be extra careful around the construction sites, especially at night and during other periods when visibility is limited. In addition to the obstacles, watch out for patches of open water.

Now is the time for us to start convincing our new Governor to support the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's "exclusive use" practice by reining in the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation's attempt to convert the state-owned buffer zone around the lake into a public park. Remember that it's not just us lake property owners who will be devastated, but the whole local economy (see below). Here's how to reach the Governor (his Internet address has changed):

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Telephone: 518-474-8390
Fax: 518-474-1513

The "List of Official Contacts" that appears on our web site ( will be updated by the end of the week. Please let me know if you have any corrections/additions.

By now, you should have received your annual access permit renewal form. I urge all of you to return it to the Regulating District with your check ASAP. Please note that if the District has not received your application postmarked by March 15, 2011, your former permit area may become available to another eligible applicant.

There's an important change. The renewal form states that the permit allows the holder(s) "exclusive access" to Great Sacandaga Lake across a specific tract of the buffer zone. The "exclusive access" phrase was omitted by the District in 2008-10. Its return is welcome.

Inconceivably, Fulton County Sheriff Thomas Lorey, backed by County DA Louise Sira, still maintains that the buffer zone around the lake is open to members of the public (as long as they can reach it legally) and that the phrases "exclusive access" on your permit renewal application and "exclusive use" on the District's sign posted on your access permit area are invalid. Sheriff Lorey and DA Sira are acting on the advice of a DEC Environmental Conservation Officer (who retired in December).

This is an incredible situation. For nearly 80 years, the District's position has been that the state-owned buffer zone is reserved for the "exclusive use" or "exclusive access" of access permit holders. Suddenly, in May 2009, DEC launched an attempt to turn the buffer zone into a public park, an action that would send lake property values (and tax assessments) plummeting, necessitating huge tax increases on non-lake property and essentially bankrupting local towns, villages, and school systems. That ill-conceived attempt was withdrawn in the face of a public outcry.

This controversy is still obviously unresolved. As noted above, this year's permit renewal form promises us "exclusive access." In addition, when the District returns your approved application, you will find it accompanied by a cover letter that refers to your "exclusive use." If there's a tectonic change that overturns 80 years of practice, I expect that a high administration official will make the announcement. For Sheriff Lorey and DA Sira to act prematurely on the recommendation of a conservation officer somewhere down in the pecking order -- with its potential to devastate the lake economy -- is of questionable judgment.

Meanwhile, here's some feedback I've received from permit holders:

Governor Cuomo has issued an Executive Order creating the Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission to make state government more accountable and efficient by reducing the number of agencies, authorities, and commissions by 20 percent. The SAGE Commission is directed to submit its recommendations to the Governor by May 1. He would then submit the plan to the Legislature for action, with it going into effect unless the Legislature acted within 30 days to reject it.

Don't be surprised if the Regulating District makes the hit list. The authority is saddled with a long history of incompetence and corruption. On top of that, a Federal Appeals Court ruled in November 2008 that the District's business model in effect since 1930 -- that of billing downstream hydro plants for more than 80% of the Hudson River Area's costs -- was illegal.

Although the District has tried to fill its revenue gap by shifting those hydro plant assessments onto five downstream counties, they have refused to pay and have brought suit against the District. Even if the District wins the first round in court, the counties are likely to appeal. The case could drag on for years. In the meantime, the District has twice missed payment on its school/property taxes. We will need to watch this situation very carefully.

The Regulating District's board ended the year with a full complement of seven members. The newest, Gloversville businessman Mark M. Finkle, was introduced at the board's December meeting. Appointed by Governor Paterson, he is the incoming chairman of the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The good news is that he is an access permit holder on Great Sacandaga Lake, the only board member with this important qualification.

The Hudson River Area now has four representatives on the board: Paul J. Cornell, Mark M. Finkle, Albert J. Hayes, and Philip W. Klein. The Black River Area is represented by the remaining three: Michael F. Astafan, David W. Berkstresser, and Thomas Stover. This is a welcome break from the past when the two watersheds each had three representatives, with one member "at large". It makes sense for the Hudson River Area, which normally generates 80% of the District's revenues, to have more representatives.

At the January board meeting, Mr. Berkstresser was elected chairman, replacing Mr. Klein. It's amazing to me that the board has become an old-boy club, a departure from recent practice. Governor Cuomo's first chance to appoint a board member will come on September 1, when the term of Mr. Klein (the only remaining Pataki appointee) runs out.

Governor Cuomo has nominated Joseph Martens to serve as Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, a post vacated when Governor Paterson fired Pete Grannis for insubordination. Mr. Martens has served since 1998 as president of the Open Space Institute, directing and overseeing land acquisition, sustainable development, historic preservation, and farmland protection. Previously, he served from 1992-94 as Deputy Secretary to the Governor for Energy and the Environment. He holds an M.S. in resource management from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse University.

Last November, I drove up the North Shore Road from the Batchellerville Bridge to the Conklingville Dam and looped back to the bridge via the South Shore Road. My co-pilot counted 65 For Sale signs. This compares to 55 For Sale signs in August 2009 and 47 in 2008. IF DEC succeeds in converting the buffer zone into a public park, expect that total to soar.

The next meeting of the Regulating District's board will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 8, 2011, at Utica State Office Building, 207 Genesee Street, Utica, NY 13501. The board does not plan to meet in February.

The lake is at 754.5 feet above sea level -- about 3 feet above target.