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

Melting snow and heavy precipitation have filled Great Sacandaga Lake to the brim, with two feet of water surging over the spillway at the Conklingville Dam and another foot or more to come. The forecast is for the lake to crest at 774.4 feet above sea level, an historical 81-year record. (The spillway tops off at 771.) The last time the lake overflowed was spring 2008.

While dodging thunderstorms, the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's crew is already hard at work clearing away loose docks, barrels, trees, and other objects that have drifted up against the log boom protecting the dam.

The high water is making life difficult for workers on the Batchellerville Bridge replacement project. On the west side of the lake, the rising waters submerged the cofferdams for Piers 3 and 4, putting work on hold until the water subsides. On the east side, the causeway built to allow access to the site by heavy equipment is also under water.

Fortunately, the project is still ahead of schedule. Until the water recedes, the contractor will continue capping the four (out of 12) finished piers (1, 2, 11, and 12). Each pier consists of two 7-foot-diameter, side-by-side concrete columns, linked by a concrete cap. The huge steel girders supporting the roadbed will rest on this cap.

The cofferdams for Piers 1, 2, 11, and 12 have been removed. In the immediate future, work will focus on the east abutment and on driving piles (mainly hollow cylinders that will be filled with concrete) deep into the lake's bottom to anchor new piers. Steel work is expected to begin in the fall.

Another casualty of Great Sacandaga's high water is the lake's shoreline, which large waves are scouring. It is distressing to watch your frontage disappear -- especially since the Regulating District is in a financial crisis and can no longer afford to repair eroded areas with rip-rap.

The Regulating District, which controls Great Sacandaga Lake, is a state authority. So when Governor Cuomo announced in January during his State of the State address that he had created a Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission to eliminate at least 20 percent of the total number of state agencies, authorities, and other bodies, the lake's 4,800 access permit holders perked up their ears.

"The excessive number of agencies and authorities in New York State government has become inefficient, unproductive, and frankly unworkable," said Governor Cuomo. It seemed obvious that the SAGE Commission would at least take a hard look at the Regulating District, a small organization that, over the decades, has repeatedly generated bad publicity for the governor of the day. The District reports directly to the Governor.

Would the District, currently embroiled in a seemingly endless financial crisis and unable to pay its taxes for the past two years, be merged with another state agency or authority? Would that be good or bad for us? It appeared that we wouldn't have to wait long for an answer. The timetable called for the Commission to report its initial recommendations to the Governor by May 1.

Disappointingly, that deadline was blown. The Governor didn't name the Commission's 25 members until April 19, nearly four months late. The announcement issued on that date does not mention the May 1 deadline, but says that the commission will deliver periodic progress reports, with final recommendations due June 1, 2012.

So the Regulating District has dodged the bullet ... at least for now.

May is the month for grieving tax assessments. There are two reasons why you might want to consider doing this.

First, with home prices plummeting, you might want to check sales in your neighborhood. If you can demonstrate that your assessment is higher than recent selling prices of similar properties, you may have a good case for a reduction.

Second, if you own lake property in Fulton County, donít forget that County D.A. Louise Sira and Sheriff Thomas Lorey suddenly decided last year that access permit holders did not have "exclusive use" of their permit areas -- even though the annual permit that you purchase from the Regulating District specifically states that you do. Consequently, the Sheriff says he will not respond to complaints about trespassers. According to one estimate, the loss of "exclusive use" could undercut a property's value by as much as 40 percent.

The D.A. and the Sheriff say they are acting on the advice of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Why they chose to interject themselves into a continuing argument between two state bodies -- the Regulating District and the Department of Environmental Conservation -- is beyond me.

DEC argues that the buffer zone is part of the forever-wild Forest Preserve and therefore open to members of the public as long as they can reach it without crossing someone's private property. The District disagrees and continues, as it has done for nearly eight decades, to issue permits and post signs proclaiming that the holder has "exclusive use" of the permit area.

Obviously, the issue has not been resolved. Eventually, since both bodies report directly to the Governor, it will be. In the meantime, it is unreasonable for the D.A. and the Sheriff to favor DEC. Why not wait? Of course, if home values plummet, so will property taxes, which will have to be made up by higher taxes on property owners not on the lake.

The Regulating District has failed to pay property and school taxes for two years running. It is totally unacceptable that a state authority can skip paying taxes for one year -- let alone two. The state should fix this intolerable situation immediately. In this highly competitive work world, it is criminal negligence for our so-called political leaders to deny kids a solid education.

The District's unpaid taxes, coupled with cuts in state aid to education, have prompted the Northville Central School Board to propose a 2011-12 budget calling for a tax hike of nearly 21 percent. That's on top of cuts to staff and sports. The Leader-Herald addressed this situation in an editorial (April 23). Here's part of what it said:

"Nobody says it better than Superintendent Kathy Dougherty: 'The blame for a full 15 percent of this tax-levy increase can be laid directly at the door of New York state, due to its refusal to pay the district the $659,000 in property taxes long overdue us by the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District.' The community and the school district have negotiated for more than two years with state representatives and the staff of the regulating district to seek a resolution. The superintendent is right. It's a 'clear and deliberate indifference to the plight of our students and taxpayers by our elected officials.' Shame on them."

The next meeting of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, May 10, 2011, at Johnstown Town Hall, 2753 State Highway 29, Johnstown, NY.