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

Last week, State Inspector General Ellen Biben announced the findings of an investigation into allegations of misconduct by former Executive Director Glenn LaFave and the Board of Directors of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District. I'm certain that you were as appalled as I was at what we read -- although it certainly comes as no surprise. The District has a long history of malfeasance and mismanagement. Just consider the report's first two paragraphs:

"The Inspector General's investigation determined that Glenn LaFave, while a Board member and Executive Director of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District, abused and violated agency policy for personal benefit. Among other conduct, LaFave, supported by the Board, effectively appointed himself to a paid Regulating District position, raising ethical concerns. In addition, LaFave abused agency 'flex' time and vacation buy-back policies to improperly receive payments totaling almost $15,000. LaFave also violated state guidelines on agency vehicle use and used a Regulating District credit card for non-business purposes.

"The Inspector General also found that the Regulating District's Board of Directors failed to ensure that the Regulating District operated in accordance with its own by-laws and state policies. In particular, the Board incurred unnecessary and excessive expenses related to its meetings. Further, the Board allowed LaFave to reside in Watertown while working regularly in Albany, resulting in more than $45,000 in unnecessary travel expenses."

If these allegations hold true, they couldn't have come at a worse time for Great Sacandaga's access permit holders. After Governor Cuomo took office in January, he immediately set up a Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission to make the state more efficient by eliminating at least 20 percent of the total number of state agencies, authorities, and other bodies. I'm not the only person who thinks that the District is low-hanging fruit that's practically begging the SAGE Commission to pick it.

One extremely unpleasant scenario is that the District be folded into the state Department of Environmental Conservation. That could have disastrous consequences on our property values and quality of life. DEC is on record that the state-owned buffer zone around the lake should be opened to members of the public (as long as they can reach it without crossing someone's private property) and that the "exclusive use" phrase on our access permits has no validity.

At its July meeting, the board named Michael A. Clark, P.E., as the District's new Executive Director. Since last September, he had served concurrently as Acting Executive Director and as (his regular position) Hudson River Area Administrator. His predecessor as Executive Director was Glenn LaFave, who retired last September and who made front-page news last week as the subject of the Inspector General's investigation.

Unlike Mr. LaFave, who was an elementary school teacher, Mr. Clark is an engineer. Having an engineer at the helm of a system of river-regulating reservoirs, where a mistake can cost massive property damage and loss of life, is certainly an improvement. He holds a B.S. in civil engineering from Union College and is a licensed professional engineer in New York State.

The board appointed John M. Hodgson, Sr., as Acting Hudson River Area Administrator.

Last month, the board finally began to look into the excessively high water levels that have plagued Great Sacandaga since a new federal license was issued in 2002. At that meeting, Mr. Clark told the board that he and staff held a series of meetings with DEC representatives to explore the causes for the elevated reservoir and river flow levels resulting from this year's wet spring. He said a consensus was reached with DEC regarding an interpretation of the Office of Settlement permitting deviations from the elevation and flow tables when conditions indicate that the lake will overflow the dam's spillway.

The board then asked Mr. Clark to seek confirmation in writing that DEC concurs with the District's interpretation. At this month's board meeting, he reported that the DEC representatives had refused. In my opinion, this casts doubts on the validity of their previous green light.

This month, the board agreed to establish a lake-wide advisory council. While wishing the organizers of this initiative good luck, I have turned down an invitation to join the planning group. The BBAC is an independent and outspoken voice for the non-commercial access permit holders on Great Sacandaga Lake. To preserve that independence and to prevent our voice from being muffled, I don't believe it wise to participate on that council.

Nor am I comfortable with the thought of working with a dysfunctional state authority seemingly unable to escape a long tradition of corruption and incompetence. The Inspector General's latest allegations about misconduct were followed by the board's usual protestations that the problems have been solved (i.e., until next time). Enough is enough.

We will continue to communicate directly with the District's board and management via this newsletter (they are on its distribution list) and by statements at board meetings.

The next time you go sightseeing at the Batchellerville Bridge replacement project and look at the new piers starting to march across the lake, keep the number 9.5 feet in mind. If you add it to the height of each pier you see, you'll have a fairly good idea of what the completed bridge's profile will look like (minus railings and lamp posts).

The horizontal girders will rest on bearings that sit atop the piers. The girders will be about 7 feet 10 inches tall, while the bearings should be less than 1 foot in height. The girders, in turn, will support a reinforced concrete deck about 9.5 inches thick.

The maximum vertical clearance -- the distance between the water's surface and the underside of the deck -- will be 42 feet when the lake is at 768 feet above sea level. The maximum clearance will occur between Piers 6 and 7.

The next meeting of the Regulating District's board will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 13, 2011, at Lowville Town Offices, 5533 Bostwick Street, Lowville, NY.

The lake is at 765 feet above sea level, about 1 foot under target.