TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter Van Avery
DATE: March 31, 2014

Let's begin by wrapping up our review of 2013's highlights. Last time, I dealt with two subjects (demolition of the old Batchellerville Bridge and the District's funding). Next on the list ...

Number 3 -- EXCLUSIVE ACCESS. The biggest disappointment of last year was that it ended, as it had begun, with no resolution of the long-running dispute between the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Regulating District over the status of the access permit zone around Great Sacandaga Lake.

Since 2009, DEC has argued that the state-owned zone is part of the forever-wild Forest Preserve and should therefore be open to the public. The District's position, on the other hand, is that individual access permit holders have "exclusive access" to their slice of the zone. The annual access permits we buy from the District state that explicitly, as does the sign that the District posts on each and every permit area. According to one estimate, the loss of "exclusive access" could reduce a property's value by as much as 40 percent.

I used to think that no Governor with his eye on the next election would dare to undercut the property values of the many thousands of property owners and their friends and families with a financial tie to the lake. That was before Governor Cuomo angered a far larger community of voters -- gun owners -- by signing the nation's toughest gun-control legislation (the Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act) into law on January 15, 2013. While that law still may be softened or repealed (it's in the National Rifle Association's sights), the fact remains that it's still on the books. So is "exclusive access" safe? Maybe. Maybe not.

NUMBER 4 -- THE DISTRICT'S BOARD. Members of the District's board are appointed by the Governor. According to state law, the Board is supposed to have seven members. Yet a resignation in 2013 brought the total number of vacancies to three seats, one of which has now been open for an astounding three years. The law also states that the board requires a quorum of four members before it can conduct any business.

So if one of the current four members can't attend a meeting at the last minute because of illness, bad weather, a family crisis, or even a flat tire, the session would be a waste of time even if the other three members showed up. This situation is unfair to board members who, depending on the meeting's location, may have to drive a long distance (the Hudson River Area and the Black River Area are hardly next-door neighbors). Since board members don't get paid, a last-minute cancellation would be particularly galling.

When the Governor does find time to appoint some new board members, I hope he strips the group of its dubious distinction of being an Old Boys' Club. All four current members are guys, and that needs to change. The board needs to catch up with the rest of the world. After all, three women sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. The chair of the powerful Federal Reserve Board is a woman. So is the chancellor of Germany, Europe's leading economic power. Even General Motors, formerly known as Old Boys' Club Central, has a female chief executive officer.

What continues to surprise me is that the political leaders of Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Warren, and Washington counties are not pushing hard for representation on the board. Last year, for the first time in history, those five counties were required to pay most of the District's operating expenses. You'd think that those political leaders would want oversight to assure that their bucks are spent effectively and that future assessment increases are kept to a minimum.

NUMBER 5 -- SPEED LIMIT. Construction of the new Batchellerville Bridge was delayed for many years because of a debate over who "owned" it and who had to pay for it. New York State said the structure belonged to Saratoga County, where the bridge is located. But Saratoga County claimed that the bridge was owned by the state. The debate didn't end until a compromise was struck: the state would fund construction, after which the county would take over ownership of the completed structure and its future maintenance.

The transfer from state to county ownership is expected to take place later this year after the state checks off the final items on its "to do" construction list.

When the bridge was opened in November 2012, the state did not post a speed limit on it. Since the structure links two county roads posted at 45 mph on opposite sides of the lake, I guess the assumption was that motorists would realize that was the bridge's speed limit, too. Apparently, though, some bridge users reasoned that since the bridge was still owned by the state, the speed limit was 55 mph. They were therefore a bit dismayed when they received speeding tickets.

Last September, when I learned about this problem, I asked Keith Manz, Commissioner of Saratoga County's Department of Public Works, to confirm the speed limit. His response (which I reported in that month's newsletter): 45 mph. He also said that the county would consider posting the bridge after it took ownership. Well, even though the state still owns the bridge, it has suddenly sprouted 45-mph speed limit signs. What happened? I don't know the facts, but the buzz is that some of the ticketed folks hired lawyers who got them off the hook by successfully arguing that the bridge's speed limit was ambiguous.

In any event, in my latest (two days ago) exchange of emails with Mr. Manz, he said that the county "helped the state with speed postings." From the point of view of property owners within earshot of the bridge, this 45-mph speed limit is a big plus. The surface of the bridge's deck is streaked with tiny channels that run from one end of the span to the other to transport away water. Unfortunately, as vehicles drive over this grooved surface, their tires yowl. The faster the speed, the louder the tire/pavement racket. So a lower speed limit means less noise pollution.

Also, the lower speed limit should give pedestrians on the bridge's raised sidewalk a greater sense of security. The guard rail that the state Department of Transportation promised to install to shield pedestrians against vehicles whooshing past did not materialize. A lower speed limit may reduce the possibility that a driver gawking at the scenery or inebriated will lose control of his vehicle, bump up onto the sidewalk, and wipe out somebody.

That ends our look back at 2013. I'm sure that 2014 will bring its own set of challenges and solutions. For example, Fulton County officials recently initiated a discussion with the Regulating District about the possibility of tapping into Great Sacandaga Lake as a source of water. When I asked District Executive Director Michael Clark about this, he reported: "No progress since that time. My understanding is that the County has a cost/benefit analysis in the works. I have had no further updates." What effects, if any, this proposed project would have on recreational uses of the lake remain to be seen. This will bear our close watching.

I want to note here that when I emailed queries this past Saturday to Keith Manz of Saratoga County and Mike Clark of the Regulating District, I didn't expect answers until today (Monday) at the earliest. Yet each responded promptly on Saturday. Impressive! Kudos to both gentlemen.

The next meeting of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, April 8, 2014, at the Warren County Municipal Center, 1340 State Route 9, Lake George, NY.

The lake is at 749 feet above sea level, exactly on target and all set for the spring runoff.