Capital Region lawmakers are proposing legislation that would eliminate a state authority that regulates fresh water resources in order to save downstream counties $3 million.
A bill by Assemblyman John McDonald, a Cohoes Democrat, would eliminate the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District, the government body that oversees and manages freshwater resources including the Adirondack Park’s Great Sacandaga Lake, the largest reservoir in New York.
Under the bill, all responsibilities in the Regulating District would be transferred to the New York Power Authority.
The flood protection services the Regulating District provides are considered vital. Currently five New York counties, Saratoga, Washington, Warren, Rennselear, and Albany, are currently paying approximately $3 million annually for the district’s service.
McDonald said it’s unfair that the counties are the ones footing the bill.
'The reality is when this district was contemplated and put into the place, the last group of government - the last entity involved - was the counties picking up the tab," said McDonald. "And here we are in 2014 and they are the ones picking up the tab."
The fees assessed to the counties began in 2010, as a result of a budget gap brought on after a federal court decision determined that the district’s costs could no longer be charged to downstream power producers.
In the following years, the counties fought their own legal battle against the resulting fees, before reaching a settlement.
Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chair Paul Sausville is in support of the legislation that would spread the costs across the state if the services were to be managed by the New York Power Authority.
"All those counties are now carrying the burdens of costs associated with operating the reservoir. That's not fair," said Sausville.
McDonald said the New York Power Authority is the right organization to take over the district’s responsibilities.
"New York Power Authority knows the power industry very well, that's what they do. They're familiar with hydroelectric power," said McDonald. "This is another great opportunity to show that state government is lean and working on consolidation."
A senate version of the bill is being sponsored by Albany Democrat Neil Breslin.
Republican Senator Hugh Farley, whose district includes Sacandaga lake, thinks reducing the mandated costs on the downstream counties is a good idea in theory, but said he believes the bill has a “slim chance” of passing.
"The consequences - there's a lot of unanswered questions as a result of just turning this over," said Farley.
Michael Clark, Executive Director of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District, said the mission of the district is important, and while he understands the desire to reduce financial burdens, there will always be costs of maintaining the district, regardless of who its overseer is.
"Those costs will still be there regardless of how they're allocated or reallocated," said Clark.
NYPA spokesman Paul DiMichele declined to comment on the bill, saying the Authority does not comment on pending legislation.