TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter Van Avery
DATE: January 31, 2012

Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors, Inc., the builder of the new Batchellerville Bridge, is shutting down work for the winter. Although it didn't quite make its goal of installing all the steel beams, the project is still running about a year ahead of schedule. According to Carol Breen, NYS Department of Transportation spokesperson, "The bridge is on schedule to open to traffic sometime this fall, hopefully in November."

The new bridge has 12 piers. Steel is now in place from the west abutment out to Pier 6 and from the east (Batchellerville) abutment out to Pier 9. Steel will be installed between Piers 6 and 9 in the spring. Some sidewalk superintendents have wondered whether the concrete deck would be pre-cast in sections and transported to the construction site or poured in place. Says Breen: "The concrete deck will be poured in place."

Summing up last year's progress, Breen said: "The foundations and piers have all been completed, and two-thirds of the structural steel is in place. In the spring, we can continue setting steel and begin doing concrete work to form the deck."

With this winter's lack of snow cover, some folks may be wondering if the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District will be able to refill the reservoir come spring.

District Executive Director Mike Clark's response: "Even if it does not snow at all, the reservoir will refill every year by the end of May. The water from snowmelt is generally stored only a short while -- it is released as it comes in (as the Hudson allows). The water that comes in the form of rain after the snowmelt is the water (if you want to track molecules) that fills the reservoir for the season. While the local snowpack is currently lower than normal, the snowpack in the mountains is a lot deeper. We monitor and measure biweekly."

According to Steve Caporizzo, News10's chief meteorologist, Albany has seen only 13.7" of snowfall so far this season. Normal is 33.6". Last year at this time: 47.4".

If you attend Regulating District board meetings -- or, for that matter, sessions of other public bodies -- you frequently don't have a clue about what's happening. That's because while board members have copies of the documents under discussion, you don't. It looks as if that's about to change. Check out this excerpt from a news release issued by the Department of State Committee on Open Government:

"Members of the public have on many occasions complained that they cannot fully understand discussions among members of public bodies, even though the discussions occur in public. For example, a board member might refer to the second paragraph of page 3 of a record without disclosing its content prior to the meeting. Although the public has the right to be present, the ability to understand or contribute to the decision-making process may be minimal and frustrating.

"Effective February 2, 2012, a new section 103(e) is added to the Open Meetings Law. The purpose of the legislation is simple: those interested in the work of public bodies should have the ability, within reasonable limitations, to see the records scheduled to be discussed during open meetings prior to the meetings. The language of the amendment appears in the text of the Open Meetings Law.

"The amendment addresses two types of records: first, those that are required to be made available pursuant to FOIL [Freedom of Information Law]; and second, proposed resolutions, law, rules, regulations, policies or amendments thereto. When either is scheduled to be discussed during an open meeting, the law requires that they be made available to the public, to the extent practicable, either prior to or at the meeting.

"To comply with the new provisions, copies of records must be made available to the public prior to or at the meeting for a reasonable fee, or by posting them online prior to the meeting. The amendment authorizes an agency to determine when and what may be 'practicable' in making records available.

"It is important to stress that the amendment involves an effort to take advantage of today's information technology to promote transparency and citizens' participation in government, and to reduce waste. If the agency in which a public body functions (i.e., a state department, a county, city, town, village or school district) 'maintains a regularly and routinely updated website and utilizes a high speed internet connection,' the records described above that are scheduled to be discussed in public 'shall be posted on the website to the extent practicable as determined by the agency...'

"Posting records online can reduce an agency's costs associated with requests made under FOIL. Staff does not have to spend time retrieving paper records, photocopying the records, or carrying out the administrative tasks involved with charging fees for copies."

One of the above sentences -- "The amendment authorizes an agency to determine when and what may be 'practicable' in making records available." -- makes me a trifle uneasy. It will be interesting to see how many public bodies use this authorization as an excuse to finesse the well-meaning intent of this new section of the Open Meetings Law.

Here's a link to the complete news release:

The lake is now at 752.9 feet above sea level, about 2 feet over target.

The Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board does not plan to meet in February. The board's next regularly scheduled meeting will be held at 10:00 a.m. on March 13, 2012 at the Utica State Office Building, 207 Genesee Street, Utica, NY.

Let's end on a positive note: There are only 49 days until spring.