Jefferson Township High School, Lake Hopatcong
NOTE: As president of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation and, before that, as editor of Lake Hopatcong News, I have been at every LHC meeting for the last 7.5 years, covering them as stories for the News, taking notes as an observer for the LHF, and in the last two years, writing extensive recaps for the LHF website, as minutes were not being taken. As I have begun my two-year educational leave to attend graduate school at NYU, I will no longer be attending LHC meetings, so this is my last monthly report for a while! The LHF will continue to have a presence at the meetings, and important items of note will be shared with the community. And the recent addition of a volunteer to write minutes of the meetings (kudos to you, Colleen Conover!) helps ensure that these meetings are documented for the public to review. (The LHF was happy to be able to provide the microphones for the taping of the minutes and connect Colleen with the LHF as a volunteer, so we are doing what we can to make sure the LHC remains a place for the Lake Hopatcong community to come together and voice concerns.) Thank you to everyone who has kept me entertained and informed during the many, many nights I’ve spent in the LHC audience. Looking forward to being back in the scene after I graduate in 2018! – JKM
A summary of key items discussed by the Lake Hopatcong Commission at its monthly meeting, the majority of which was focused on the proposed change to the annual 26-inch drawdown. Scores of residents attended the meeting to hear the discussion and voice their opinion on the proposed changes.
- To begin the meeting, commissioner Fred Steinbaum said the budget committee was working to craft a budget to cover the commission’s basic needs, such as insurance, a phone line, meeting notices, and staff to transcribe minutes. They hope to approve the budget at the next meeting in October with the hopes of Trenton approving it within next year’s fiscal budget. “Of course, we have no assurance of this,” Steinbaum said, “but we’re hoping to move forward.”
- Melissa Castellon of Hopatcong State Park said that 3,222 cubic yards of weeds have been pulled from Lake Hopatcong, and that recent hires have allowed them to continue the harvest into the autumn after a summer with several personnel issues. They are currently harvesting near Raccoon and Halsey islands, she said.
- Fred Lubnow of Princeton Hydro reported that the 319(h) EPA targeted watershed grant will end this month, and a final report will be submitted shortly thereafter. Over the years since it was first issued in 2009, that grant supported stormwater devices in Roxbury and Jefferson, a biofiltration garden at Hopatcong State Park, two floating wetland islands, a bathymetric study of the shallow parts of the lake, and 6 years of water quality monitoring.
- Commissioner Kerry Kirk Pflugh, who has represented the NJDEP on the commission for six years, announced that she had taken a new job within the department and would no longer be on the Lake Hopatcong Commission after Monday’s meeting. “It’s been an incredible experience,” she said. “I think we’ve made great progress… while I’m stepping away from this position, I’m not stepping away from Lake Hopatcong.” Pflugh was thanked by the commissioners for her service to the commission. She said she did not know when a replacement would be named.
- Pflugh and Lisa Barno of the NJDEP made a presentation to those in attendance regarding the pilot program that would involve reducing the drawdown from a 26-inch drop in lake level to a 22-inch drop, saving 4 inches from having to be recovered next spring. In addition, the proposal would reduce the downstream outflow to 8 cubic feet per second (from 12 cubic feet per second) during the refill from ice out to April 30, as long as downstream conditions permit. The downstream conditions are connected to trout maintenance standards, but Barno emphasized that the standards are not about the fish, but are labeled that way because trout are an indicator species: “This has nothing to do with trout… it’s about surface water quality standards that have to be met.” Barno noted that the DEP works to balance two opposing issues: keeping the lake full for recreation and protecting homeowner docks during the winter. Though most people in attendance chose not to speak, more than 40 people spoke during the public comment portion to give their take on the pilot program plan. Several people from the Musconetcong Watershed Association spoke first, voicing their concerns about the change to the outflow. They asked for clearer guidelines for how they would measure the key parameters downstream during the reduced-outflow time, and spoke about their concerns with the amount of water that goes past the sewage treatment plant downstream. “As a downstream user of the river, I ask that the DEP only reduce outflow as a last resort,” said Jim Hedden of Asbury, a MWA trustee. Lake Hopatcong residents mostly spoke in favor of the pilot program, with comments such as those from Dennis Frisco of Lake Hopatcong, who said, “We’re artificially maintaining the river even when we’re in a drought.” Local resident David Ferguson said, like others, that he’d like to see the proposal go even further, but supported this first step. Bright’s Cove resident Esther Poulsen said, “I have seen both sides of what happens when the water is not managed correctly,” pointing to times of drought and flooding through her cove. She said she keeps hearing about keeping things “normal” downstream. “I don’t know where normal comes from, but we’re seeing changing weather patterns, and we’re being asked to take on a new normal to help others keep their normal… [you’re asking us] to sacrifice our way of life.” Jefferson Mayor and former LHC chairman Russ Felter, speaking as a private citizen, said he supported the proposal as well. “Lake Hopatcong is an economic engine, not only for [the four towns around it], but for all of New Jersey,” he said. “Thank you for being flexible.” Harriet Jarvis of Lake Hopatcong said she agreed with the proposal, adding “I pay extremely high taxes to have the honor of living on Lake Hopatcong, I’d love to be able to use my property.” Roxana Scanlon said there was no reason for the state to lower the lake to accommodate lakefront homeowners, and Valerie Quinn of Hopatcong said it is residents’ responsibility to protect their own docks during the winter. A couple of homeowners did speak with their concerns, though, including Robert Van Den Hende of Mt. Arlington, who said he had concerns about heaving ice at his dock. “What are the success criteria for this pilot program? It’s not clear from this proposal.” Several spoke about their appreciation that the DEP showed flexibility with the water level management plan after two years of the lake not reaching the top of the dam, and many said they wanted the DEP to also look at changing the 5-year 60-inch drawdown. Several also spoke of the need for upstream and downstream to work together. “We have too many people making too many demands on a limited resource,” said Cliff Lundin of Hopatcong. “We are part of an ecosystem… and New Jersey’s treatment of this lake borders on criminal.” Hopatcong Mayor Sylvia Petillo chimed in with a similar comment, saying, “I think it’s time that if the state is being flexible with the water level that they be flexible with funding for Lake Hopatcong.” Pflugh said a response-to-comment document would be prepared to share with the public. She said those who want to still submit comments on the proposal could do so until October 19, 2016 by submitting comments to HWLMproposalcomment@dep.nj.gov or mailing comments to 401 E State Street, Box 402, Trenton, NJ 08625 Attn: Kerry Kirk Pflugh.
The next meeting of the Lake Hopatcong Commission will be held on Monday, October 17 at the Mt. Arlington Municipal Building.