Amsterdam, NY
May 19, 2009

Proposed changes to permit system cause outcry

By HEATHER NELLIS, Recorder News Staff

GREAT SACANDAGA LAKE — There's going to be a war — and quite possibly a lawsuit.

That's the general consensus of area residents and local legislators in response to proposed rule amendments to the Great Sacandaga Lake Access Permit System administered by the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District, as guided by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The amendments to cause the most stir include an allowance for the general public to access lake shorefronts from the water, even if the property has an access permit paid for by the landowner. Previously, the permitted area's use was restricted to the permit holder.

The regulations would also cease any maintenance on the shoreline, including brush removal and grass cutting.

People have expressed concern about the effect the proposals will have on property taxes.

"DEC has blindsided hard working people who have invested large amounts of money — and have paid correspondingly high property taxes — to enjoy the beauties of this Adirondack lake," said lake watchdog Peter VanAvery. "DEC's action is eminently unfair, undercutting property values and destroying the quality of life of people who deserve better from their state government."

Despite removing shorefront allowances from permit holders, DEC retained the rule that states each access permit holder shall be responsible for keeping and maintaining his access permit area in a clean and sanitary condition.

"This is the ultimate insult," VanAvery said, "requiring adjacent property owners whose quality of life has been shattered to act as the state's janitor, picking up debris discarded by picnickers."

In a letter to HRBRRD Executive Director Glenn LaFave, DEC Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel Alison Crocker said that the permit system is essential to the lake administration and prevents flooding of the public boat launches, but excludes the general public to state-owned land.

"We are 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 it if were their own," the letter reads. Mayfield permit holder Glen Henry said he's attempted to contact DEC's Legal Counsel Office to voice his concerns, but they've continually hung up on him.

"But I've told them 'I'm not going anywhere,'" he said. "This issue is huge —much larger and far reaching than anything permit holders have had to deal with in the past."

Sen. Hugh T. Farley, R-Niskayuna, and Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, said they are working together to draft letters of opposition that will be sent to DEC, Gov. David Paterson, and the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform. Both have received an influx of complaints since HRBRRD posted the revisions to its Web site late last week.

"It makes it impossible for these people to enjoy their properties, which they essentially pay for through their permits," Farley said.

Butler noted that the revisions will cause a "dramatic" change in the way the lake will be administered, and he is "disgusted" and "disappointed" with DEC's actions.

"It's a great departure from what people have come to know. This is going to create a real battle that I anticipate we will have to fight for months and years to come," Butler said.

Farley said Butler's comment is a good assessment of the situation if it comes to fruition, but is hoping that it won't.

"I'm hoping they will revise the regulations. Everyone needs to take advantage of the public comment period," Farley said.

While the official public comment period hasn't officially commenced, the regulating district has agreed to consider any public comments it receives.

Those submitting public comment are asked to use the public comment form and to submit a different form for each comment. The form is available at regulating district offices and on the regulating district's Web site at

While Henry said he appreciates the legislators' efforts, he doesn't think they will have an impact on the process because of their Republican affiliation.

"They no longer have political capital in the Democratically-controlled state Assembly and Senate," he said. "The only way this will ever be rectified is through the courts. This is clearly leading toward a very large lawsuit."

Henry said it's "imperative" that current permit holders "band together."

"There needs to be a strong lead group that will undertake a large class action lawsuit against DEC, and collect money to form a legal battle that we are facing," he said.

Mayfield resident Bill Stewart said the proposals are "unbelievable" and feels he has no one to voice his concerns to.

"I have no idea who to contact," Stewart said. "I know there's going to be a public hearing, but (the regulating district) already did that. For years a committee worked with them."

Stewart thinks the problem is the officials administering the rules aren't "local enough."

"It's the downstaters," he said. "And now, it's not so much the regulating district. It's DEC."

"It's the DEC exercising their control over the regulating district, and over the permit holders," Henry said.