TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter Van Avery
DATE: September 7, 2012

The next meeting of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, September 21, 2012, at the Warren County Municipal Center, 1340 State Route 9, Lake George, NY. Please note the change in date and location. The session will include an Apportionment Grievance Hearing. This will be the first board session since July.

From our beach near the Batchellerville Bridge, the Ring of Fire celebration last Sunday night was really spectacular. The evening was warm, a gentle offshore breeze wafted the sparks from our bonfire away from the family (and the dry foliage) and out over the water, a nearly full moon rose majestically from behind the mountains on the opposite shore, some of the folks across the lake dazzled us with beautiful firework displays, and -- as an extra thrill -- a meteor streaked silently across the sky overhead. It was a night to remember.

Next year, of course, a prime vantage point for viewing the Ring of Fire will be the sidewalk on the new Batchellerville Bridge, opening any month now. It occurs to me that the Town of Edinburg, where the bridge is located, might want to consider improving its budget situation by importing a troll from Norway to sell tickets to the sidewalk for that event. Since trolls like to live under bridges, a housing allowance would not be necessary.

Last December, when I reviewed 2011's highlights, I nominated State Supreme Court Justice Richard T. Aulisi for "Person of the Year" for ruling in favor of Fulton County in its suit against the Regulating District for two years of back taxes (more than $3 million worth). The District had stonewalled for months, saying that its Hudson River Area component was broke following a Federal appeals court ruling in 2008 that shut off most of its revenue. While the District's Black River Area component had enough funds in reserve to cover the taxes owed, the District argued that this money could not legally be lent to the Hudson River Area component.

Judge Aulisi's carefully worded ruling sliced through the legal mumbo-jumbo like a hot knife through butter, and -- just a few days later -- Fulton County received the District's check for all the back taxes. That left the District without any reserves whatsoever, so it has defaulted on Fulton County's latest round of school and property taxes -- a total of $1.7 million. That generated a second lawsuit by Fulton County. The District's response: We'll pay these back taxes when we can, but for now we're broke!

Last month, Judge Aulisi, while acknowledging the District's financial distress, once again ordered it to pay up and gave it a 10-day deadline -- later extended to September 15. If the District fails to meet this deadline, he said, the overdue taxes then become the responsibility of the District's board and should be paid by its five current members -- Michael F. Astafan, David W. Berkstresser, Mark M. Finkle, Albert J.Hayes, and Thomas Stover. That's $340,000 apiece! Ouch! Stay tuned.

Fulton County's latest lawsuit against the Regulating District (see above) was itself prompted by a lawsuit by three school districts (Mayfield Central School District, Northville Central School District, and Broadalbin-Perth Central School District) against the county. When the District failed to pay its 2012 property taxes and 2011-12 school taxes, the county had refused to make those school districts whole -- as required by state law. So the three school districts issued an Article 78 proceeding and won.

That victory came at a price. To force the county to do the right thing, the taxpayers in the three school districts not only had to fund the lawsuit, but also -- through their county taxes -- had to help pay to defend against it. That's a terrible waste of tax dollars in these extremely tough economic times. Just a couple of months ago, to save a measly $5,000, the county's board of supervisors eliminated funding for daily boat patrols on Great Sacandaga by the sheriff's department.

Here's an update on the District's plan to bill five downstream counties (Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Warren, and Washington) for about $4 million annually for flood-control benefits. This would replace the revenue it lost in 2008 when a Federal court ruled that it could no longer bill downstream hydro plants for its operating expenses -- as it had done for the preceding 80 years. The counties' response: a lawsuit.

In May, a mid-level state court ruled that the District had the legal right to bill the counties. But the five judges also found that the District had failed to subtract "benefits to the state." Obviously, state bridges and highways -- plus other infrastructure and state parks -- within those five counties also receive flood-protection benefits. This meant that the original apportionment was invalidated and had to be redone.

In response, the District's staff recalculated the apportionment and, in July, presented the revised version to the board, which approved it. The counties' annual share is now calculated at $3,387,000, with $460,000 billed to the state. Will the five counties and the state buy into this recalculated assessment? We'll find out at the next board meeting, scheduled for Friday, September 21 (see above for details). The meeting will include an Apportionment Grievance Hearing at which the five counties and the state will have an opportunity to respond.

Over in Edinburg, cats are in the news -- big cats. During the summer, several residents have reported seeing large cat-like animals. According to media reports, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation biologists have analyzed tracks found near the body of a mauled dog and determined that they belonged to a bobcat, an animal that weighs up to 40 pounds. However, some of the sightings in Edinburg are of animals considerably larger. Are mountain lions making a comeback here? Hunters wiped them out in the state as far back as 1894.

The lake is at 760.84 feet above sea level, about 2 feet below target.