DAILY GAZETTE
Schenectady, NY
May 15, 2009
FRONT PAGE

GREAT SACANDAGA LAKE

DEC proposes lake access rule change
Crossing private land would be prohibited

BY JASON SUBIK, Gazette Reporter

Almost all of the shoreline of the Great Sacandaga Lake would become a free public park under the state Department of Environmental Conservation's new revisions to the proposed rules for the lake's access permit system.

Anyone would be allowed access to the shore on almost any part of the lake, including the beaches in front of houses worth upward of $1 million. But they'd have to get to it from the water, as all access across private land would be eliminated.

The Hudson River Black River Regulating District posted the proposed rules for the Great Sacandaga Lake access permit system on its Web site Thursday. The 76-page document includes revisions from DEC to the district's original proposals for changing the permit system.

At its meeting Tuesday at the Johnstown Holiday Inn, the regulating district's board voted to pass a resolution amending its proposed permit system rules to reflect DEC's comments and to submit the revised rules to the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform. Upon approval by that office, which is expected, the regulating district will send the rules to the state Department of State, setting off a 30-day comment period.

A lot of comment is likely on what in many ways is a reversal of how people access the lake. Already Thursday, the proposal was sparking anger in the lake community.

The DEC's changes constitute sweeping reforms of the decades-old access permit system, which DEC officials say allowed permit holders to exclude the general public from using the strip of state land between their homes and the water.

In an April 24 letter to the regulating district, DEC Deputy Commissioner Alison Crocker acknowledged the long history of the permit system. Crocker wrote that completely eliminating the permit system could result in overwhelming the public boat launch sites on the lake.

"However, we are especially concerned about the legality of provisions in the regulations which allow permittees to use this land for activities that are unrelated to lake access and, in many ways, allow permittees to treat this land as if it is their own," Crocker wrote.

DEC's revisions to the rules include prohibiting privileges now allowed permit holders with district approval, like building fireplaces or placing picnic tables on access permit land. DEC officials also want to prohibit landscaping of access permit land, including mowing grass, cutting down trees and removing significant amounts of brush.

Regulating district Executive Director Glenn LaFave said the enabling legislation for the district gives DEC approval authority over any rules changes within the district. He said DEC's revisions would bring the access permit lands into closer conformity with other state-owned property.

"If you go to a state park, you're not allowed to cut down the trees. This is also state land," LaFave said. The goal, he said, is to return the lake's edge to a more natural state.

Peter VanAvery, a lake access permit holder and the spokesman for the Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee, said DECís revisions amount to battle lines being drawn.

"It sure looks to me that DEC has declared war on the access permit holders on Great Sacandaga Lake. What they need to do at this point is go back to the drawing board and say 'why do you need an access permit anymore?' " VanAvery said.

LaFave said access permit holders would still have the privilege of building docks or stairs on access permit land. He said if the rule changes are approved, some permit holders may choose to simply let permits lapse and save the money for the fee.

"People are not required to have these permits. It's not a tax. If somebody doesn't want their access permit they don't have to get one and they can still walk out and use the water," he said.

But they won't be able to walk on private property to gain access to the shoreline. According to DEC's revisions, the Hudson River Black River Regulating District would no longer have the authority to create "pedestrian footpaths" for "back lot" access permit holders who donít own land adjacent to the shore, long a sore spot among "front lot" permit holders. According to the proposed rules, members of the public and back lot permit holders will need to use a public point of access to the lake to gain access to the shoreline, or come to it from the water.

"I totally agree with that," said Guy Poulin, a front lot access permit holder and a member of the Northampton Town Board.

Poulin said he's most concerned with whether he'll be held liable for injuries to individuals using the land within his access permit.

LaFave said the regulating district anticipates the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform will approve the rules changes and the 30-day comment period will start sometime in June or July.