The Hudson River-Black River Regulating District board on Monday will discuss, and possibly adopt, a controversial set of revised rules that govern access permits along state-owned land surrounding the Great Sacandaga Lake.
If approved, the 57-page document would be sent to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for approval before it could come back to the board for final consideration.
According to Hudson River-Black River Regulating District Executive Director Glenn LaFave, the current rules, which have not been updated since at least 1993, are missing some important guidelines, such as who is eligible to apply for a lake access permit.
LaFave said that current procedure permits anyone who lives within a mile by road of a lake access point to apply for a permit there. However, there is nothing written in the rules that outlines the procedure.
Such permit holders are called “back lotters,” and there is a waiting list for back-lot permits.
The proposed new rules would establish an eligibility of one mile “as the crow flies,” which LaFave said is a more precise and fair measurement than a car’s odometer.
“The rules were silent on the whole back-lot permit issue, including eligibility,” he said. “Especially when one of these access permit areas became open — who was entitled to it?”
Members of the public sent in more than 100 comments on the proposed rules. Some were critical of the new 1-mile rule, claiming that it would encourage sprawling development because a larger geographic area would be eligible for permits.
“The rule would open up massive amounts of [new or different] lands to the prospect of development,” wrote Albany resident Eileen Gallagher. “This would have an adverse environmental impact on the region around the Great Sacandaga Lake.”
But LaFave said that officials have yet to see added development of areas currently within 1 mile of the lake by road and cited the lengthy waiting list that already exists.
He also said that he anticipates that the board will add a measure to the rules pledging not to increase the number of back-lot permits available.
Currently, 1,900 of the 4,700 access permits at the lake are owned by back-lotters. The rest are owned by people with property bordering the state land around the lake, known as “front-lotters,” or commercial boating companies.
Another controversial proposed rule would allow front-lotters to forfeit all but 10 feet of their access permit. Permit fees are based partly on how many feet of frontage is requested.
“It’s not mandatory. It’s an option. It could be that someone doesn’t want to maintain the area; it could be that they only use 100 feet and pay for 200,” LaFave said. “We have had people voluntarily reduce their access permits in the past.”
Front-lot owners have been critical of the plan because they say that since it would make it possible for a neighbor to forfeit some of their access permit area, it could lead to multiple back-lotters coming in and crowding the area.
“Properties adjacent to the reclassified permit area will experience a decline in the value of their property as a result of the presence of the back-lot permit areas,” wrote Mayfield resident Barbara Henry. “A state agency should not be recommending rules that will cause a reduction in anyone’s property value.”
LaFave repeated that the number of permits issued is not expected to increase as part of these rules and said the only back-lotters who could move onto the forfeited area would be those who already have permits but have difficult access to the lake.
“The whole purpose is to give the permit holder the option, and this will only be done if initiated by the permit holder,” he said. “The important thing is it’s voluntary. We’re not just going to come in and take it away.”
Another issue raised by Henry in her public comment was the proposal to make the executive director the appeals officer if a permit-holder disagrees with a decision made by the board.
“My opinion would be that it is whatever the board wants and what they feel is how the board will work at it,” LaFave said of the appeals process. “I certainly will accept it either way.”
He said that the board is expected to discuss a number of these issues at Monday’s meeting and could make changes to the proposed rules.
Cleaning up the details
If those changes are considered substantial, the board would have to table voting on the rules and allow for another public comment period.
There were about 30 total changes that have been proposed to the revised rules as a result of continued review and public comment. Many of the changes are grammatical or clear up some contradictions, LaFave said.
Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, wrote a letter July 28 as part of the public comment period critical of the proposed rules. Sayward said she has been concerned about the rule changes for some time.
“Any rules imposed by the government upon the people of New York state should, at the very least, be brief and understandable,” she wrote in the letter. “The new rules proposed by the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District are neither.”
Sayward said last week that the people impacted by the proposed rules need to be heard by the board.
“When I looked at the rules and [regulations], it seemed to me that a lot of these things could simply be suggested regulations and they wouldn’t have to be hard-fast rules,” she said. “It’s so much easier, I think, to enforce a document that has fewer rules than regulations.”
LaFave said that the document is lengthy because the board wanted to outline to permit holders exactly what was allowed along the lake.
“There were a lot of procedures and processes that were never codified, and now we have moved those into the rules so that they’re public and so that they go through this public process,” he said.
Sayward added that she will urge the DEC not to allow the proposed rules if the district board votes Monday to approve the rules.
“As it has been over 40 years since the regulating district last updated its regulations, DEC is currently researching the criteria that will be used to evaluate the draft regulations and the process the regulations will go through to be approved,” DEC spokesman David Winchell said Thursday in a statement.
Monday’s meeting is at 10 a.m. at the Saratoga Springs Courtyard by Marriott at 11 Excelsior Ave.
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