TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter Van Avery
DATE: January 29, 2014

Let's take a look back at some highlights of 2013:

NUMBER 1-- THE BRIDGE. Harrison & Burrowes, Inc., contractor for the Batchellerville Bridge replacement project, completed removal of the original span across Great Sacandaga Lake at Edinburg. That dilapidated and rusting structure, 3,000 feet long, dated back to 1930. For local property owners, this made for a raucous summer and fall, concluding with a series of loud explosions as the old bridge's concrete piers were pulverized one by one.

In deeper water, the chunks of concrete were allowed to settle on the lake's bottom to form fish habitat. Piers closest to shore were completely removed to prevent a navigation hazard as the lake level falls in spring, summer, and fall.

The piers out in the deepest water were not totally destroyed -- simply sheared off at an elevation of 740 feet above sea level. That will allow the safe passage of boats even at the lowest conceivable lake level. Next time you're boating above the site, give some thought to the nubs of those old piers down below, sticking up like the gaping teeth in the lower jaw of a Halloween pumpkin.

Unlike its predecessor, which was low and flat and acted as a barrier for all but the smallest sailboats (and sometimes even them when the reservoir overfilled), the new span is high and arched. For the first time, most sailboats have access to the whole lake.

This is especially good news to sailboaters located north of the bridge. Although the span splits the 29-mile-long lake roughly in two, the water surface is unevenly distributed. About 70 percent lies to the bridge's south, where sailing is best and most sailboats are docked. Now, the 30 percenters can sail to the widest part of the lake.

Under the deal struck at the beginning of the replacement project, New York State built the bridge with the understanding that Saratoga County will assume ownership and responsibility for its upkeep. Transfer of ownership will probably not take place until June or later. The contractor still has some minor chores to complete, such as finishing removal of the causeway built out from the Batchellerville side to allow heavy machinery better access to the construction site.

NUMBER 2 -- FUNDING. In 2013, the source of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's operating funds for its Hudson River Area -- more than 80% of its budget -- was switched from one set of downstream beneficiaries to another.

Previously, from Day One back in 1930, the bucks had come from an annual assessment on hydroelectric stations on the Upper Hudson. They profit from the Conklingville Dam's ability to regulate the river's flow, providing a steady source of water to spin their turbines even during dry spells.

But in 2013, the District transferred most of its annual assessment to the five counties (Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Warren, and Washington) directly below the dam. They benefit from the dam's ability to prevent floods. The remainder was charged to the state, which owns roads and structures on the flood plain in those counties.

The amount of money involved is not huge -- a total of about $3 million annually from the counties plus $800,000 from the state. But for taxpayers in those counties, this is yet another pinprick in the ever-deflating middle-class balloon. What brought about this Big Switch?

Back in the 1920s, when the reservoir was under construction, those hydro station operators had agreed to share more than 95% of the cost of buying the land and damming the Sacandaga River at Conklingville. (The remainder was paid by the cities of Albany, Watervliet, Troy, and Rensselaer and the Village of Green Island.) All agreed to share in perpetuity (huh?) all of the District's operating and maintenance costs. That business plan held up until 2002, when a new Federal license was issued on the project.

The original Federal license covered only the powerhouse and generating facilities at the dam. During negotiations on the new license, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) insisted that it also cover the dam itself and Great Sacandaga Lake. This was a major change. It meant that the lake, the dam, the powerhouse, and the generating facilities were now subject to the provisions of the Federal Power Act.

That spelled trouble. Enter Albany Engineering Corporation, one of the downstream hydro station owners. It brought suit against FERC, arguing that the Federal Power Act prohibited the Regulating District from billing it for the District's operating expenses. A legal slugfest ensued, ending in November 2008 when a Federal Appeals Court ruled in Albany Engineering's favor. The decision applied to the other hydros as well. Most of the District's revenues dried up.

In 2010, to replace the hydros, the District billed the five counties immediately downstream of the dam for flood-control benefits. The counties fought back with lawsuits, arguing that the state lacked the legal right to impose that assessment. Litigation ended in May 2012 after a mid-level appellate court upheld a state Supreme Court ruling against the counties. But the counties did win one significant victory. The appellate court ruled that the state also qualified as a beneficiary and should share payment of the District's annual assessment.

For the next several months, the District and the counties argued out the final terms of the settlement. The assessments finally went out to the counties and state last spring.

While the downstream hydros have escaped paying for the District's operating expenses, FERC has ruled that they can still be charged for "headwater benefits" (the energy gain realized from the existence of the reservoir). Annual total: $787,000. This has resulted in more litigation.

Also, the hydros have begun to litigate for refunds of the assessments they paid from 2002 (when the new FERC license was issued) to 2008 (when the Federal appeals court ruled that such assessments were illegal). First to settle: Albany Engineering Corporation for $841,374 (principal plus interest). If all hydros demand a refund, the total would hit $15 million.

To summarize: It was a positive year for hydro station operators, a negative year for taxpayers, and a positive-plus year for the legal profession.

We will continue our list of 2013 highlights in our next issue.

The Regulating District's board is not scheduled to meet in February. The next board meeting will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at Boonville Village Office, 13149 State Route 12, Boonville, NY.

Great Sacandaga Lake is at 751 feet above sea level, about 6" above target.