Jefferson Municipal Building, Lake Hopatcong
A summary of key items discussed by the Lake Hopatcong Commission at its monthly meeting:
- The commissioners thanked volunteer Colleen Conover for taking the time to write up minutes for their July meeting, which have been the first transcribed minutes in nearly four years for the commission.
- Chairman Dan McCarthy introduced the newest commissioner, Robert Tessier, who represents the Department of Community Affairs on the commission, filling a vacant seat that had been empty since 2012. Tessier’s background is community planning, and he lived and worked in Sussex County for 30 years. The DCA role involves local government services such as budget reviews, and he said he would try to bring his expertise as the commission balanced the interests and input of the four towns, two counties, and state. “I’m in the student phase,” he said. “I certainly take this seriously and hope we can provide some technical expertise to assist with [the shared goal of helping Lake Hopatcong.]… You have a good mission and some clout, but finance seems to be the issue.”
- Among its correspondence, the LHC received a letter about providing an audit to the state, though it was unclear whether the audit involved their operating account of roughly $400 or with the grant money account. Kerry Kirk Pflugh of the DEP said she would take the audit letter as a good sign. “I think that is good news, that they recognize that the commission exists and expect a budget [from it],” she said.
- Superintendent Melissa Castellon of Hopatcong State Park gave an update on the weed harvest, which she said was suffering because of personnel issues. She reported that as of that day, 2, 204 cubic yards of weeds had been removed, but that they were down to 3 seasonal employees on staff and are in need of a truck driver and another harvest operator (anyone who is interested in the position should contact the state park). “I apologize for the lack of production,” Castellon said. “At this moment we are just trying to keep things open.” She said that they are currently by Halsey and Raccoon Island and in Woodport, and that on Fridays she sends the crew out to do cleanup around the lake, picking up floating mats. “We’re trying our best,” she said. “It’s truly been a juggling act.” She said that she expects the harvest to go into the autumn because of the fact that she’s paying fewer personnel. Earlier, commissioner Eric Wilsusen had commented on the weeds being particularly bad, which was echoed by other commissioners. Commissioner Ronald Morris asked what people should do if they want to report an area that needs harvesting, and Castellon said to call the park office at 973-398-7010. In related business, the commission approved the month-to-month MOU that lends the harvest equipment to the state and one small harvester to Lake Musconetcong.
- The commission discussed submitting a basic budget by November that covers the cost of day-to-day operations of the LHC, such as maintaining a phone line and email and putting together documents for the monthly meetings. Commissioner Fred Steinbaum is leading the committee to create the budget, and Tessier said he would join it.
- Pflugh reviewed the planned changes to the water level management plan for the 2016-17 drawdown (which includes only dropping the lake 22 inches instead of 26 inches and having the dam release 8 cubic feet per second instead of 12 cubic feet per second during the start of the spring refill). “We feel that these adjustments hopefully will help us fill up the lake,” she said. Pflugh said the DEP has mostly received a positive response thus far, and that the Citizens Advisory Committee meeting two weeks ago went very well. “It was one of the more positive meetings I’ve been involved in,” she said. “I think we’re in a really good place.” Letters to 1,800 lakefront property owners are going out this week, soliciting public comment either at a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Monday, September 19 at Jefferson Township High School, by email, or in writing to her office at the DEP. “We are interested in hearing your testimony,” she said. “This is your opportunity… if you have ideas, submit them now and we will take them under advisement. The door has been opened; there are multiple audiences… and decisions have to be made for the whole watershed. So please come to the hearing.” Steinbaum said he had ideas for other changes, but that this was a great first step. “I support these changes and applaud the DEP for [suggesting them],” he said.
- During public comment, Ray Fernandez of Bridge Marina said he “wanted to express my agreement with the DEP [change]. This is pretty remarkable.” He also said he was happy to hear that the DEP was also considering changes to the five-year 60-inch drawdown. “I greatly appreciate that,” he said.
- Also during public comment, Diana Chaffee of Lake Hopatcong expressed her frustration, and said she thought the water level plan wasn’t based on sound science. “As a young person, I’m incredibly baffled about the amount of information out there,” she said. “We can’t sit here with wool over our eyes with this chatter. It has to be based on a cost-benefit analysis, and I don’t believe that it is. It’s not right, and I really encourage you to be more flexible.”