Gloversville, NY
May 16, 2009

New rules could open lake access
DEC's revisions would shake up permit system on Great Sacandaga

By ZACH SUBAR, The Leader-Herald

All the land around the Great Sacandaga Lake's shoreline could become open for public use, if the state adopts revisions to proposed new rules for the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's access permit system.

The revisions were made by the state Department of Environmental Conservation after the district had submitted the rules to the agency. Before that submission, the district had received 192 pages of comments during a public comment period last summer.

DEC's proposed revisions call for the lake's entire shoreline to become open to the public. Under the rules now, only permit holders can use the land for which they have permits.

Under the DEC revisions, the shoreline would not be accessible from private land, however. People who want to get to the shore will need to arrive from the water. The rules would eliminate a provision allowing individuals to reach the shoreline via footpaths through private lakeside properties. Because of this, the shoreline could only be accessed from a public point, such as the lake itself or a public beach.

At the district's monthly board meeting Tuesday at the Holiday Inn In Johnstown, board members compared the lake's potential new status to that of national seashores across the country. Seashores are public property.

Permit holders, however, would retain some rights not afforded to public lake users. Regulating District Executive Director Glenn A. LaFave said Friday only the permit holders would be allowed to put docks and stairways on the land governed by an access permit.

"Many people have access permits, and they have docks," LaFave said. "They keep a boat on the lake, and I think that many people will want to continue that. If they didn't have a permit, then they'd have to go to a marina."

In a letter to the regulating district, DEC Deputy Commissioner Alison H. Crocker wrote the permit system had important historical value, and that the system guards against requiring everyone who wants to get to the lake do so from a public boat launch or public beach. Because of that, it minimizes traffic at the public access points.

She wrote, though, that DEC officials are worried that the system enables permit holders to treat the state land as if it is their own, and she said it is a concern that permittees now have the capability to "exclude the general public from the land."

Permit holders said the new regulations were an unfair slap in the face to access permit holders who have invested their money in order to be able to enjoy the section of the lake they alone are allowed to access.

Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee President Peter VanAvery, a lake activist who also owns an access permit, said "the lake's property owners should push back - hard."

"If the general public can go anywhere it wants on the state-owned property ringing the lake, holding picnics and all night beer parties and swimming off the shoreline, what good is an access permit? Such a permit might allow an adjacent property owner to install a dock on the shoreline, but how does she keep the public off it?" VanAvery said.

LaFave said permit holders could get rid of their permits if they wished, noting most of them are not required to have one.

He said the access-permit system is a service the district provides permit holders, and it is not a way for the district to make money. Because of that, the district will not lose money if some individuals do not renew their permits.

"The permit system is self-funded basically through the permit fees, so the intent is not to make money," LaFave said. "And if everyone gave up their access permits and said, 'we don't want an access permit system,' well, that part of the regulating district just wouldn't be here."

The district will submit the rules, with DEC's changes, to the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform. Once GORR approves them, the district will submit a notice to the Department of State allowing there to be an additional comment period of 30 days or longer.

LaFave said the regulating district's board will consider the comments, make changes to the regulations and then send them back to DEC once more. He said he anticipated the rulemaking process would be complete by the fall.