Dissolving river-control district stuck in closing lesislative session

Legislation to dissolve the Hudson River Black River Regulating District and absorb it into the N


Legislation to dissolve the Hudson River Black River Regulating District and absorb it into the New York Power Authority appears to have hit a snag in the state Senate and could be delayed until next year, according to state Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Albany.

The plan to get rid of HRBRRD was announced last week by Breslin and Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari, D-Cohoes, in response to outrage by five Capital Region counties charged $4.5 million for flood control bills.

Breslin said on Wednesday “It looks like the Power Authority may not be interested in taking over the agencies. There’s not a willing vessel to receive this authority. There’s been some discussion over the years that the HRBRRD isn’t really necessary, it’s just a political fiefdom. I’ll be working on this next session.”

New York Power Authority officials could not be reached for comment.

Canestrari said he’s still hopeful the HRBRRD can be dissolved this session. He acknowledged some issues have come up with the legislation, including questions about how the Great Sacandaga Lake access permit system would be regulated, whether there would be local representation for the New York Power Authority board and the Power Authority’s reluctance to take over the HRBRRD.

“Yes, there are questions but I believe there is still time. We aren’t getting out of here next week, so I’m still hopeful that with some changes and tweaking of it a little bit we can still get it done this session,” Canestrari said.

Breslin said another bill sponsored by him, which has the support of Gov. David Paterson, 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. He said that bill should be voted on by the Senate later this week.

State Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna and Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, have pushed for similar legislation, but said their efforts have been sidetracked by the bill to dissolve HRBRRD.

Canestrari said Butler’s legislation to let HRBRRD use its Black River money is not on track for consideration in the Assembly this week, but if the Senate bill passes, he’ll move it up.

The bill to release the Black River-area funds, which amount to about $3 million, is the key step to enabling HRBRRD to pay $1.5 million in school taxes it owes in Fulton and Saratoga counties for the 2009-10 school year.

HRBRRD also owes county property taxes in Fulton County. Executive Director Glenn LaFave said he isn’t certain how much the regulating district owes, but he knows that it doesn’t have enough cash in its Hudson River area funds to pay all of its debts and will run out of money for payroll probably sometime in September. The district has already laid off employees to ensure it can remain in operation.

HRBRRD has been embroiled in a financial crisis since a federal court ruled in 2008 that it could no longer levy assessments against downstream hydroelectric plants licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The ruling eliminated about 80 percent, or $4 million, of the district’s $5.8 million Hudson River-area operating budget.

In February, HRBRRD billed Albany, Saratoga, Rensselaer, Warren and Washington counties for flood control to make up for the revenues it lost. All five counties have filed a lawsuit in Saratoga County court against HRBRRD and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which oversees it. The counties have vowed not to pay the flood control bills unless ordered to do so by a court.

Breslin said he hopes the lawsuit prevails. LaFave said HRBRRD has asked the New York state Attorney General’s office to represent the district in the lawsuit but hasn’t received an answer yet.

Categories: Schenectady County

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