TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter Van Avery
DATE: December 31, 2011

What's the best news to come out of the Great Sacandaga Lake region in 2011? My vote is for the tremendous progress that's been made on the construction of the new Batchellerville Bridge across the lake at Edinburg. Despite high water levels, which didn't help, the new structure is scheduled to open a year ahead of schedule in October 2012.

As the year ends, all 12 of the new bridge's piers are out of the water, and steel beams have been installed on eight of them (counting out from the west abutment: Piers 1-4 and Piers 9-12). If the project continues to go well, all the steel will be in place before work is suspended for the winter (probably around February 1).

Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors, Inc., of Glenmont, NY, is putting up the bridge. In a region where problems typically generate lots of talk and very little action, it's extremely refreshing to see people roll up their sleeves and get a tough job done fast. Maybe, just maybe, the project will move ahead even faster than anticipated in 2012, making possible a grand opening a month earlier, on September 1.

On next Labor Day Weekend, wouldn't it be great to stand on the bridge's sidewalk (its predecessor doesn't have one) during the annual end-of-season Ring of Fire celebration? You'd see hundreds and hundreds of bonfires create a glittering necklace around the lake's perimeter.

As for the worst news of the year, my award goes to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation for its continuing insistence that the state-owned access permit zone is part of the forever-wild Forest Preserve and should therefore be open to the public.

Acting on DEC's advice, Fulton County D.A. Louise Sira still maintains that access permit holders in that county do not have "exclusive use" of their permit areas -- even though the annual permit that they purchase from the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District specifically states that they do. Result? The county sheriff will not to respond to complaints about trespassers as long as they reached the access permit zone legally. According to one estimate, the loss of "exclusive use" could undercut a property's value by as much as 40 percent.

Just to underline the obvious: This is another one of those problems that has generated a lot of hot air and zero solutions.

My nomination for "Person of the Year" goes to State Supreme Court Justice Richard T. Aulisi who ruled in favor of Fulton County in its suit against the Regulating District for two years of back taxes (more than $3 million worth). Although the District's Hudson River Area was broke, its Black River Area was flush. The obvious solution -- letting the Hudson River Area borrow the bucks from the Black River Area -- was against state law.

This conundrum seemed to defy solution. In the state legislature, bills were introduced that would have changed the law, but they went nowhere. It took Judge Aulisi to cut through this Gordian Knot with a court order against the entire District, not just its Black River or Hudson River arms. The court order instructed the District to pay up fast (with an implied "or else"). The District got the message. Way to go!

Now, the District is facing a new round of tax bills, which it can't pay, for 2011-12. The District's plan to bill five downstream counties (Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Warren, and Washington) for flood-control benefits remains tied up in court.

Mother Nature was not kind to us this year. According to Steve Caporizzo, News10's chief meteorologist, 2011 was the third wettest year (53.65 inches) in history (the records go back to 1826) and the wettest since 1871 (#1 with 56.78 inches). On May 1, snow melt and heavy rains sent the lake surging to a record high of 774.46 feet above sea level. A 3.46-foot-high torrent of water roared over the Conklingville Dam's spillway.

For much of the year, folks with a steep shoreline had little or no beach. The annual Ring of Fire celebration on Labor Day Weekend was rained out. Here's hoping for a dryer 2012.

At the District's December board meeting, Philip Klein tendered his resignation. He was the board's sole remaining Pataki appointee. Although his term had expired on September 1, the law permitted him to serve until he was replaced or opted to leave. The seven-member board now has two open seats. The other one was vacated in January by the death of Paul Cornell.

I hope the five remaining members have had their flu shots. The board needs a quorum of four members before it can conduct any business. A vacation combined with an unexpected illness could torpedo one of its monthly sessions.

Here are two recent major appointments:

Governor Cuomo announced that Leilani Crafts Ulrich will serve as chairwoman of the Adirondack Park Agency. A resident of Old Forge, she has served on the agency since 2004 (for her biography, click on

Joe Martens, Commissioner of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, announced that Robert S. Stegemann will join the agency as its Regional Director for the eastern Adirondacks. He replaces former Region V Director Betsy Lowe, who resigned in November. See DEC's press release announcing his appointment at

The Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board will hold an Organizational Meeting at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, January 10, 2012, at the Mayfield Municipal Complex, 28 North School Street, Mayfield, NY. It will be followed by a meeting of the Governance Committee, after which the board's regular December meeting will take place.

The lake is at 758 feet above sea level, about 5.5 feet above target.