TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter Van Avery
DATE: March 29, 2012

The ice is off Great Sacandaga Lake and, after a winter shutdown, work is back in high gear on the new Batchellerville Bridge. The contractor is still on track to have the bridge opened to traffic this November, just eight months off, reports NYS Department of Transportation Spokesperson Carol Breen.

The new bridge has 12 piers. Last year, steel beams were installed from the west abutment out to Pier 6 and from the east (Batchellerville) abutment out to Pier 9. Next week, the contractor expects to begin setting steel to close that gap in the middle portion of the bridge, connecting Piers 1- 6 with Piers 9-12. "We hope to complete steelwork by the end of April," Breen says.

Meanwhile, the contractor has begun to install forms for the bridge's concrete deck on the steelwork that's already in place. It will be really exciting to see that deck poured.

The existing bridge will be removed next year.

It seems like only yesterday -- actually it was August 3, 2010 -- when DOT held the groundbreaking ceremony for this $46.6 million project. The impressive progress to date is a reminder that given a goal and the means to achieve it, American workers and the companies they represent are second to none.

On March 8, with the surface of Great Sacandaga Lake at 749 feet above sea level (its winter drawdown target), water releases through the two turbines at the E.J. West hydro plant at the Conklingville Dam were halted. Since then, the reservoir has been refilling. Today's level: 758.15 -- putting it halfway back to the targeted maximum lake elevation of 768.

Last year on this date, the lake was about a foot lower. Then, in mid-April, the deluge hit -- a massive inflow of water from above-average snowmelt combined with extremely heavy rains. By May 1, the lake had surged to a record high of 774.46 feet above sea level, swamping the shoreline. A 3.46-foot-high torrent of water gushed over the Conklingville Dam's spillway, turning it into a miniature Niagara Falls.

This year, because of the below-average snowfall and a hot March, the snow cover in the mountains has already melted. Will Mother Nature provide enough spring precipitation to make up the difference? Considering the crazy weather we've had, I wouldn't vote against it.

As noted above, water is typically released from the reservoir through the two hydro turbines at the power plant at the dam. As an educational footnote for new permit holders (welcome to the lake!), the Regulating District also can release water in an emergency through any or all of three huge valves embedded near the base of the dam. This occurs only infrequently. The last time that happened was last September, when Tropical Storm Irene swept through the area.

The Regulating District has posted its 2011 Annual Report at Some sections make for tough reading, but the document will help you to understand how the District is struggling to survive near-bankruptcy. Plus annual reports often contain interesting factoids. Here are a couple:

In November 2008, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the District could no longer bill downstream hydro plants licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for its operating costs. This cut off more than 80% of the District's revenues, forcing it to reduce staff and postpone property tax payments.

Under the Federal Power Act, the District can assess 15 downstream hydro plant operators on the Hudson River for its interest, maintenance, and depreciation (but not operating) costs. These plants operate at a range of capacities. The tough challenge: to determine how much energy gain each individual plant realizes from the existence of the reservoir and then to bill each plant proportionately for "headwater benefits."

In 2010, acting at the District's request, FERC hired Oak Ridge National Laboratory to conduct a headwater benefits study at a cost of about $305,000, half of which is to be borne by the District. The 250-page study, which analyzes headwater benefits for the 2003-2008 period, is now in draft form. The District has posted a copy at

Don't jump to the conclusion that the District may soon have a new source of revenue. Check out the following excerpt from its 2011 Annual Report:

"Until FERC completes its headwater benefits investigation, the Regulating District will not receive any further funding from downstream hydropower operators. To the extent that FERC makes its headwater benefits determination retroactive, the downstream projects may be given credits against their headwater benefits invoices for the difference between the FERC charge and the amount the project owner paid to the Regulating District during the relevant period. Since the headwater benefits charges are likely to be only a fraction of each entity's prior annual assessments, it could take many years before each hydro project operator uses up its credits from past over-collections."

Permit holders get a little antsy at times when the District is looking for "beneficiaries" to bill for its costs. Executive Director Mike Clark recently assured me: "GSL access permit holders are not, by NYS statute, beneficiaries. The permit holders are also not considered headwater beneficiaries in the draft Headwater Benefits Study performed by FERC (via Oak Ridge)."

The next meeting of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, April 10, 2012, at the Warren County Municipal Center, 1340 State Route 9, Lake George, NY.