DAILY GAZETTE
Schenectady, NY
June 12, 2009

GREAT SACANDAGA LAKE

Lake access rules changes spiked
Governor, DEC bow to pressure

BY JASON SUBIK, Gazette Reporter

Gov. David Paterson threw out the proposed rules changes for the Great Sacandaga Lake access permit system Thursday.

Judith Enck, state deputy secretary for the environment, said the opposition to the rules called for a timeout. Thursday was the deadline for Paterson to forward the regulations or stop them. She said the numerous letters she's received on the access permit issue convinced her.

"We're withdrawing the proposed regulations, for now," Enck said. "We just felt like we needed some more time to fully analyze the implications of the changes."

The permit reform process, already years in the making, will begin from scratch, she said. It started with the Hudson River- Black River Regulating District board's proposal for changes.

The DEC-backed rules would have granted public access to the entire shoreline of the Great Sacandaga Lake and would have outlawed any landscaping of the state land, reflecting a push to return the lands to a "natural state." The new regulations would have overturned the decades old lake access permit system. The existing system allows permit holders exclusive use of the state land between their property and the lake for an annual renewal fee.

The proposed rules proved highly unpopular with many of the 4,800 people who own lakeside property, the value of which is often pegged to exclusive lakeside access.

State Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, said he's received calls on the issue from all over the state. He said he and Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Herkimer, have been lobbying Paterson for weeks to call off the new regulations.

"I'm very, very pleased that he took action here," Farley said.

Great Sacandaga Lake Association President Peter Byron said he was glad Paterson and Enck responded to the pleas of opponents of the regulation change. He praised all of the local and state officials and citizens who wrote letters and placed phone calls expressing concerns about the process.

Peter VanAvery, leader of the Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee, in a news release credited citizen outrage with forcing the state to declare the time-out. But, he said, the controversy "should never have happened."

Enck said several factors played a role in the decision, including a dispute between National Grid and the district over the district's ability to assess hydropower plants to fund its operating costs.

Earlier this month National Grid dropped its lawsuit against the district, joining other federally licensed hydropower plant owners in negotiations over their shares of the agency's costs. The lawsuit was withdrawn after a federal court ruling and subsequent finding by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that the district has no authority to assess the hydro plants for operating costs.

FERC recently directed all parties to settlement negotiations designed to create a new system of assessing fees for downstream beneficiaries of flow from the lake. One session before a FERC administration law judge has been held and a second is scheduled for Wednesday.

Enck said the FERC ruling could potentially have a "very big" impact on the district's operating budget.

"We thought there were just so many moving parts going on that we thought it was responsible to just take a step back and spend more time with the proposed regulations. I want to emphasize that this does not in any way mean that there will be no regulations in the future [but] nothing is imminent," she said.

Enck said the administration still views the Sacandaga shoreline as state forest preserve land and has not given up on reforming the permit system, but she said the administration does not support returning the lands to a "natural state," a viewpoint asserted by district and DEC officials at earlier stages.

"We'll start from the beginning and the value of that is we want to encourage public input in this process," Enck said.

Association President Bryon said members of his organization look forward to participating.

"The GSLA stands ready to provide input as long as the input is accepted. We're happy to do that," he said.

LaFave did not return calls for comment Thursday.