Paterson seeks to sever DEC oversight of regulating district

Gov. David Paterson introduced legislation this week that would eliminate the state Department of En

Gov. David Paterson introduced legislation this week that would eliminate the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s role in approving new regulations and apportionments from the Hudson River Black River Regulating District.

The oversight change is part of a bill HRBRRD has been requesting for several months that would enable the regulating district to use its Black River-area reserve funds to pay for its Hudson River-area operating costs and property taxes. The elimination of DEC’s control of the regulating district has been attached to the funding issue by Paterson.

DEC officials referred questions about the potential change to Paterson’s office. Press officials for Paterson did not return phone calls seeking comment Friday. The administration provided reasons for the proposed change in a legislative memo accompanying the bill.

“DEC’s responsibility to approve the district’s regulations should be eliminated because it predates modern rulemaking procedures, including those provided for under the [NY State Administrative Procedures Act], that require both the Governor’s Office of Regulatory Reform and Executive Chamber approval of regulations,” wrote administration officials. “Similarly, DEC’s approval of the district’s apportionment of costs among beneficiaries should also be deleted because DEC has no prior experience or expertise in this area. Indeed, records indicate that an apportionment was last undertaken in 1925.”

Paterson’s bill comes on the heels of DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis’s recent approval of a new formula for the apportionment of the flood control benefits the regulating district provides through the operation of the Conklingville Dam.

Traditionally, the regulating district charged a small flood control fee to several municipalities along the Hudson River, including the cities of Albany, Troy and Rensselaer. The regulating district dramatically increased the charge this year to make up for about $4 million of revenues it lost when a federal court ruled it could no longer bill hydroelectric plants for its operating costs and property taxes.

The reapportionment Grannis approved Feb. 3 allows the regulating district to charge Albany County $1.7 million for flood control benefits, Saratoga County $1.5 million, Rensselaer County $781,400, Warren County $290,616 and Washington County $171,357.

The five counties have vowed to fight the unexpected flood control bills.

Paterson’s support for removing DEC’s role in approving new regulating district regulations also represents a major policy shift from last year when DEC officials used their authority over the regulating district to insert many controversial changes to the district’s request to reform the Great Sacandaga Lake’s decades-old access permit system.

Regulating district officials had worked on proposals to change the system for years before submitting them to DEC, only to have most of their proposals rejected and replaced by new rules that would have granted public access to the entire shoreline of the Great Sacandaga Lake and would have outlawed landscaping of the state land, reflecting a DEC-push to return the lands to a “natural state.”

After considerable public outcry Paterson threw out the proposed rules changes in June.

State Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, said he’s been working on a similar bill to Paterson’s that would allow the regulating district to use its Black River-area reserves to pay about $1.5 million in school taxes it owes in Fulton and Saratoga counties for the 2009-10 school year. Farley said he supports Paterson’s bill. He said he wasn’t surprised Paterson’s administration decided to use the legislation to change DEC’s oversight of the regulating district.

“I support it. It could be a mixed blessing, but by and large it gives a little bit more autonomy for HRBRRD and allows them to act because generally when you have another agency that has to approve everything they do it could slow up anything they’re trying to do,” Farley said.

John Sheehan, director of communications for the Adirondack Council, said his organization is disappointed by Paterson’s choice to limit DEC oversight.

“We don’t think it’s a good idea. Frankly, some of the worst suggestions that came out of the last round of regulation changes that were proposed came from the regulating district,” Sheehan said. “We’re concerned because the regulating district doesn’t have a very good reputation for public input and it has proposed things that made it clear that it requires some level of oversight. It’s also an agency that is prone to political patronage and does not always act in the best interests of the public.”

Peter VanAvery, leader of the Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee and vocal critic of the regulating district and DEC’s role in last year’s proposed lake access permit rules changes, said at first blush the idea of removing DEC from the process sounds good to him.

“If that means that DEC’s plan to convert the access permit zone to a public park open 24/7 is dead, that in my opinion is a tremendously positive development,” he said. “It also may make it possible to get rid of some of the other DEC initiatives that access permit holders really found oppressive. For example that you can’t put a flagpole or a picnic table on the access permit zone. You can’t even cut the grass. If this means the end for those things that would be outstanding.”

Regulating district officials did not return phone calls seeking comment Friday.

Categories: Schenectady County

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