TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter Van Avery
DATE: February 28, 2011

Let's kick this off with some good news: Spring is only 21 days away!

Speaking of the calendar, May 1 is only two months hence. That's the deadline for Governor Cuomo's SAGE (short for Spending and Government Efficiency) Commission to submit its recommendations on how to make the state more efficient by reducing the number of agencies, authorities, and commissions by 20 percent.

With the recommendations in hand, the Governor will submit a plan to the Legislature for action. It will go into effect unless the Legislature acts within 30 days to reject it. The burning question: Will the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District, the state authority that controls the fate of property owners at Great Sacandaga Lake, make the hit list?

The untimely death of Paul J. Cornell of Gloversville on February 4 has created an opening on the Regulating District's seven-member board. He had served on the board since his appointment in June 2009 by Governor David Paterson.

I hope that Governor Cuomo will appoint a woman as Mr. Cornell's successor, breaking the ranks of what has unfortunately become an old-boy (all male) club. Women represent at least one-half of the population in the Hudson River Area and should hold at least three or four seats on the board as opposed to the present none.

If you know a qualified woman who would be willing to serve on the board, contact the Governor and seek endorsements from your local elected officials. Here's how to reach him:

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

On January 20, via a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, I asked the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to document its position on the "exclusive use" issue. Is the band of state-owned land separating private property from Great Sacandaga Lake part of the forever-wild Forest Preserve and therefore open to the public (as DEC contends)? Or is it reserved for the "exclusive use" of nearby property owners who obtain access permits (as the Regulating District argues)?

On February 24, I received a response from Scott Abramson, Acting Regional Attorney, Office of General Counsel, for the DEC's Region 5 (which includes Great Sacandaga Lake). It included three documents that Mr. Abramson said "support the Department's position."

The first document is a copy of a letter sent on April 24, 2009 by Alison Crocker, the DEC's Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel, to the Regulating District's former Executive Director Glenn LaFave. This was a cover letter transmitting DEC's changes to the District's proposed new set of rules for access permit holders. (Environmental Conservation Law provides that the District's rules and regulations are not effective until "approved by" DEC.) Mr. Abramson highlighted the following comment by Ms. Crocker: "...We are concerned about provisions which allow permittees to exclude the general public from this land."

The second document is a copy of the Regulating District's proposed new rules, complete with numerous handwritten changes by DEC. One extremely important DEC deletion: the section titled "Access permit areas limited to access permit holders."

The third document is a copy of the Upper Hudson/Sacandaga River Offer of Settlement. In Section B, Mr. Abramson highlighted a section titled "New York State Constitution." It says in part: "The project lands of The Great Sacandaga Lake Project, E.J. West Project, Stewarts Bridge Project, Hudson River Project and Feeder Dam Project are located in Hamilton, Fulton, Saratoga and Warren Counties, all counties where state land ownership equates to those state lands being part of New York State's Forest Preserve. Nothing in the Settlement Offer is inconsistent with this constraint of the New York State Constitution."

In 2009, when Great Sacandaga's property owners heard about DEC's changes to the Regulating District's proposed new rules, the resulting outrage prompted Governor Paterson to terminate the rule-revision process. At the time, DEC's brass stated that this was just a time out and that these changes were still on its agenda. As Mr. Abramson's letter indicates, DEC is still "thumbs-down" on "exclusive use."

That leaves the lake's property owners stuck in limbo between two warring state agencies, each of which reports directly to the Governor. Clearly, what's needed here is that elusive quantity called leadership.

Let me ask your advice about something. I've received an inquiry from a person who's thinking about selling her house in the Capital District and expanding and converting her existing camp on the lake into a year-round home. This would cost a substantial amount of money. Considering the various unpleasant issues facing the lake's property owners -- e.g., the "exclusive use" fiasco -- she's wondering if this would be a smart move. I don't know what to advise her. If you have some thoughts on the subject, please send them to me, and I'll pass them along.

The next meeting of the Regulating District's board will take place at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 8, 2011, at the Utica State Office Building, 207 Genesee Street, Utica, NY.

The lake is at 749.47 feet above sea level -- just about on target.