The five-year dispute between the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District and five counties downstream of Great Sacandaga Lake that were benefiting from the district’s flood-control efforts drew a giant step closer to resolution this week with the approval of payment plans by the Albany and Rensselaer county legislatures.
The plans represent a reasonable compromise between the counties’ and regulating district’s interests that should help end a logjam that has deprived Fulton County towns and school districts of millions of dollars’ worth of entitled revenue. Presumably, Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties will follow suit with the settlement, then it will be up to the state to do its part.
The mess all began in 2008, when downstate hydroelectric utilities won a suit in federal court over fees HRBRRD had assessed them for its flood-control work. So HRBRRD turned to the counties along the Hudson and Black rivers that benefited from the flood control, and they sued. It took a couple of rounds in state court, the most recent of which was last May, for HRBRRD to prevail.
But while the five counties have agreed to pay a total of $3.5 million for 2010 and 2011, plus $3 million a year going forward, the Appellate Division also ruled that the state should foot some part of the bill. That’s only fair, as the state also benefits from the flood control efforts; but the ruling was problematic insofar as it didn’t clarify what the state should pay.
As part of recent negotiations, that apparently has been settled at 22 percent of the total, which is good, but not great. (Why shouldn’t the state, which imposed the flood control mandate in the first place, pay for it?)
On the other hand, the settlement will at least allow HRBRRD to go about its business, which is an important one, and resume making tax payments to Fulton County’s cash-strapped municipalities and school districts without further ado.