Lawmaker calls for end of regulating district

A state assemblyman’s proposal would disband the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District and shift its authority over the Great Sacandaga Lake to the New York Power Authority.

A bill proposed by Assemblyman John McDonald III, D-Cohoes, says the regulating district burdens taxpayers by forcing several downstream counties to contribute to the district.

The HRBRRD is a state public-benefit corporation that regulates the flow of waters in two neighboring watersheds in the Adirondack Region: the Upper Hudson River and the Black River. It also controls the water level of the Great Sacandaga Lake.

In order to close a budget gap in 2010, the regulating district began to assess downstream communities more than $4.45 million for a flood control benefit.

McDonald, who represents District 108, including portions of Albany, Cohoes, Waterford and Wynantskill, said, “The counties will have to pass along the remaining burden of this settlement to their county property taxpayers by raising their taxes in order to generate the necessary revenue. This bill is a step toward saving local taxpayers millions of dollars by eliminating the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District and, consequently, their onerous fees and yet another unfunded mandate on county government.”

According to the memo, NYPA manages several dams and reservoirs and is qualified and equipped to perform the functions of the district.

“Transferring the duties of the [district] to NYPA would be a logical and prudent transition,” McDonald’s memo said.

McDonald said the costs of operating the Great Sacandaga Lake, a reservoir regulating the Hudson River, would be absorbed by the authority.

McDonald said the regulating district has done a good job, but taxpayers are getting hurt. The staff at the district could be brought into NYPA if the bill passed, he said.

Michael Clark, director of the district, said the organization provides a huge public benefit. Even if the district were dissolved, the task would still be carried out, he said.

“We are just here to perform a mission,” Clark said. “… Regardless of who has responsibility, the mission has to go on.”

Clark said since district property is owned by the state, if the bill passes, the state would still hold the property.

NYPA Media Relations Specialist Paul DeMichele said the authority could not comment on pending legislation.

However, DeMichele said in an email that flood control was not the designated task of the authority.

“NYPA has no flood control capability. The Power Authority is a public power entity that operates hydroelectric facilities, which utilize river flow and reservoir volume for power generation purposes,” DeMichele said.

State Sen. Hugh T. Farley, R-Niskayuna, was skeptical of the bill, saying this wasn’t the first time it had been brought forward. The bill has been brought up several times since 2010.

“Its chances are slim,” Farley said.

Farley was concerned with elements of the bill, stating the cost of the district was significant.

“Who is going to pay the millions of dollars? I don’t think the power authority wants to,” Farley said.

Farley said there were many variables with the bill he would want answered before it went forward.

Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, who represents Fulton County, said he has concerns about the proposal.

“I can certainly understand where the sponsor of this bill is coming from,” Butler said. “Several questions come to mind. I want to make sure we aren’t just trading one bureaucracy for another.”

If the downstream counties are relieved of those payments, Butler said he wants to make sure those who live around the waterways are protected so they wouldn’t be hit with a fee.

“I would think we would need to look for some kind of response from [NYPA] and see their thoughts on this,” Butler said.

The bill is in the Environmental Conservation Committee in the Assembly. McDonald said he did not know how long it would take to reach the floor of the Assembly.