Opponents of proposed regulatory changes on the Great Sacandaga Lake have begun organizing political and legal challenges to the reforms, which if approved would overturn the lake’s decades-old access permit system.
Protest efforts have already had some success. Gov. David Paterson’s office Wednesday announced the creation of a hot line specifically for calls pertaining to the lake access permit issue: 518-474-8390.
Renewed unrest over the lake access permit system began May 12 when the Hudson River Black River Regulating District Board (HRBRRD) voted to submit a new set of proposed lake access permit rule reforms to the Governor’s Office of Regulatory Reform, known as GORR. The regulating district had appeared to be at the end of a contentious process to reform the lake access permit system when the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which must approve new district regulations, sent the district’s board a set of comments amending the proposed changes in radical new ways.
The DEC-imposed changes would prevent lake access permit holders from excluding anyone from using the state-owned shoreline of the Great Sacandaga Lake or from doing any landscaping of the state lands. Up until now, lake access permit holders have had exclusive right to use the state-owned land within their permits and have groomed beachfronts on them.
Great Sacandaga Lake Association President Peter Byron said his organization is pleased by Paterson’s implementation of the hot line but still hasn’t received a response to its request for administration officials to explain the proposed changes to the permit system.
“We’re asking the governor, GORR and HRBRRD to suspend the current rule-making and come to the lake and talk to the people and let them know what’s going on. There’s a lot of energy being spent on the lake trying to interpret these changes,” Byron said.
State Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Herkimer, and Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, last week issued a joint news release expressing opposition to the changes. Farley said if GORR approves the changes the majority of the regulating district’s board of directors will still have to vote a final time to implement the regulations.
He said he’s asking board members, some of them appointed during the administration of Gov. George Pataki, to simply drop the regulatory reform process rather than adopt the DEC-backed changes. He said he hopes concerned citizens will do the same.
“I’ve received calls from people all over the state on this,” Farley said. “A lot of the sway on this is going to come out of the governor’s office. I’m encouraging people to drop a note to Gov. Paterson’s office. He’s the guy who can really drive the bus on this one.”
Byron’s organization hosted a packed meeting of concerned lake users last week at the Northville village hall. The gathering included myriad lake organizations including the Great Sacandaga Lake Advisory Council. A consensus of the group concluded that the best course of action would be a lobbying campaign targeting state and HRBRRD officials combined with a legal strategy to contest DEC’s authority over the state lands.
Citizens expressed outrage over lowered property values along the lake and increased liability insurance premiums, claims which may become the basis of lawsuits against the state. Some questioned whether DEC conducted an adequate economic and environmental impact study after implementing its changes and hoped the rules could be challenged on those grounds.
Northampton town Supervisor Linda Kemper said her town would likely close its public beach if the regulations go forward because the increased liability of anyone using the town’s permit area would be too great a burden for the town to justify the program.
Byron said the lake association can’t hire attorneys or lobbyists because its charter won’t allow that, but he said another umbrella group may soon be formed for that purpose.
“People around the lake are very close to determining that. It’s not going to happen in the next couple of hours but it will happen shortly,” Byron said.
Northville Councilman Guy Poulin, an ardent critic of the reforms, said he believes state law precludes DEC from classifying lands within villages as Forest Preserve, the justification for outlawing landscaping on the access permit lands.
“Now what we need is a legal interpretation of that,” Poulin said.
DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino said her agency took the position lake shore land is Forest Preserve during a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing proceeding in the 1990s. She said DEC views the land as meeting the statutory definition of Forest Preserve because it is located in one of the counties listed in the statute and is not included in any of the statutory exceptions.
She said DEC did not do an environmental impact statement before making recommendations. She said the issue of town beaches was not considered in DEC’s comments.
“This is not a regulation being proposed by the department — what we provided the district was comments on their recommendations. The regulating district’s board decided to adopt those regulations,” Severino said.
Patrick Dugan, a board member of the regulating district and a property owner on the lake, said he was absent from the May 12 meeting. He said had he been there he would have voiced opposition to sending the DEC-amended rules to GORR. He said he can’t understand why his colleagues agreed to the changes and he intends to vote against them if and when GORR approves the rules for a final vote by the regulating board.
“I’m upset. I think it’s very unfair to the land owners and the permit holders and I will voice those concerns at the [district’s June 9] meeting in Inlet,” Dugan said.
Severino said the board did not offer any feedback to DEC after receiving its comments.
HRBRRD Executive Director Glenn LaFave could not be reached for comment Thursday.
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