Hopatcong Senior Center, Hopatcong
A summary of key items discussed by the Lake Hopatcong Commission at its monthly meeting:
- Prior to the meeting, Dr. Fred Lubnow gave an aquatic invasive species talk to more than 40 interested residents, in a presentation organized by the Lake Hopatcong Foundation with the support of the Lake Hopatcong Commission. Lubnow went into detail about the two highest-risk invasive species for Lake Hopatcong: water chestnut and hydrilla. To see the presentation slides, click here.
- The commission reported that they are trying to recover the checkbook for the LHC bank account, which has roughly $400 in it.
- Commissioner Anne Pravs reported that she had attended the dredging seminar put on by the LHF and the DEP on June 2, and that the information on the expenses made it clear to her that weed harvesting is the best solution. Commissioner Kerry Kirk Pflugh said that DEP presenter Chris Squazzo would provide an updated presentation to share with the community; Squazzo is the main contact for anyone on Lake Hopatcong who has questions about dredging.
- On the subject of weeds, Commissioner Mark Fisch reported that the weeds are “the worst I’ve seen it ever in terms of growth” in the 17 years he’s lived at the lake. He attributed it to the mild winter and limited harvesting in recent years. “It’s a bad situation and I’m sure it’s getting worse.” Commissioner Fred Steinbaum said that the weeds are having an impact on all sorts of recreational use of the lake, including swimming and boating. Commissioner Eric Wilsusen said he’s lived in Jefferson his entire life and this has been one of the worst blooms he has ever seen. Chairman Daniel McCarthy said that the frustration level in the community is palpable. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it this bad, and I try not to overstate things,” McCarthy said. “Hopefully the public will contact their legislators. This is New Jersey’s largest lake, it’s really a jewel, and unless the people who control the purse strings hear from you folks, it’s not going to change.”
- Commissioner Art Clark suggested that as state Sen. Steven Oroho of Sussex County looks to raising the gas tax in the state, the LHC should inquire about keeping the tax for gas sold on the lake at Lake Hopatcong to help support the management of the lake. Steinbaum added, “This lake is so beautiful… wouldn’t it just be wonderful if we could keep some of our own tax monies and take care of this lake the way it should be taken care of. As a member of this commission I’m completely frustrated. The only way this can be approached is by going to our politicians; it’s just a ridiculous situation.”
- Steinbaum said that the volunteers he had met with to transcribe the LHC meeting minutes told him they don’t have the time to take on the task, so the meetings will continue to be recorded but not transcribed.
- McCarthy said he is working to secure counsel through the N.J. Attorney General’s office for legal advice for the commission. “We are sitting here because of the Lake Hopatcong Protection Act, and there are 11 separately defined duties that we as a commission are supposed to tackle… are we violating our duties as commissioners by not implementing that act?” He also listed concerns about insurance, minutes, and the memoranda of understanding regarding the weed harvesters as areas where legal counsel would be helpful. “These are all things that take staff and resources,” he said. “We sit here as unpaid volunteers, we sit here because we care. We need people behind us like we used to have. We need independent legal advice looking at this from our perspective.” Pravs pointed out that it’s a two-way street: “The state is supposed to fund us to complete the mandates, and they haven’t done that,” she said. Steinbaum added, “The people of Lake Hopatcong think we’re operating officially as protecting the lake. If it’s not going to function I think we should consider it disbanding.” The commission unanimously passed a motion to draft a letter to the attorney general.
- On the subject of water level, Commissioner Joel Servoss pointed out that the lake continues to drop with no rain in the forecast. Pflugh said that the state has no plans to change the rate of flow from 12 cubic feet per second at the dam.
- On the subject of the weed harvest MOUs, the commission voted unanimously to renew them for the month of July. They will continue to be renewed monthly until the commission receives legal advice.
- Dan Bello of the State Park Service reported that the state started weed harvest operations during the week of May 23, and ramped up by the week of June 6. He said they were working furiously in Crescent Cove currently, had already completed the Landing and State Park area, and would next go to River Styx, Ingram Cove, Silver Sprint, King Cove, and Bertrand Island. In approximately two weeks, he said the harvesters would be in the areas around Halsey and Raccoon Island, the East Shore Estates, south and then north of Brady Bridge. He said they were coordinating with herbicide applicators to try to make sure, when possible, the spraying occurs after the harvesters have been through to minimize the amount of biomass that remains. He said right now the State Park has two full-time harvesters and one part-time on the water, and that a third full-time harvester would be starting soon. They also are using the transport barge to increase efficiency. As for how long the harvest would last this year, Hopatcong State Park Superintendent Melissa Castellon said that wouldn’t be clear until the state passes a budget and they know how much funding they have to work with. Bello added that they have been creative with stretching the budget the best they can. After some discussion about the shortcomings of the harvest, Wilsusen said, “I hate to see these guys get beat up because the state park is doing the best they can.” McCarthy agreed, saying he didn’t want to take any credit away from the harvesting staff.
- At Steinbaum’s request, McCarthy described in detail the state of the Lake Hopatcong Commission when it was fully funded, which included Bill Clark and the eight employees below him, six working harvesters (four large, two small), two dump trucks, 2 transport barges, and a harvest that lasted all summer (including a “north team” and a “south team” operating at once on the water), with other activities (clearing catch basins, restoring outfalls, maintaining the equipment, removing debris during the drawdown, etc.) during the off-season. “That sent until the money started to dry up,” he said. “The only complaints we got were when [the harvesters] clipped somebody’s water line. It was actually refreshing. It was nice to have that situation under control, and it was really nice to have the staff doing shared services. … We now have what you see in front of you right now.” When comparing the funding of those days to today, Pflugh said she thought the commissioners were comparing apples to oranges. “This is the new normal,” she said. “Whether or not it should or shouldn’t be, it is. Until there’s funding found in other areas, this is how it’s going to be. There was a time when there wasn’t going to be any harvesting program, and I think we’re all very thankful for the State Park for taking over the harvesting program. The towns have the options, they’ve been told that they can contribute to the fund that would go right into the harvesting of the weeds, and so far the towns have chosen not to participate, except for Jefferson and the Lake Hopatcong Foundation.” Steinbaum said he didn’t think he could tolerate this being the new normal.
- During the public comment portion of the meeting, some residents complained about the weeds and asked when the harvest would come to their area of the lake. Landing resident David Martorana asked if the DEP could provide a long-range weather forecast to help with the discussion of the water level, and Pflugh said she would have one at the next meeting. Early Riley of Lake Musconetcong asked that the commission do the MOU for the small weed harvester on loan to Lake Musconetcong on a year-to-year basis again, for the purpose of budgeting and purchasing insurance. McCarthy said they would wait until they had legal advice on the subject and would continue month-to-month in the interim. Lake Hopatcong resident John Kurzman asked that, in light of the data and the issues with the water level dropping, the DEP could review the Water Level Management Plan to better protect the lake in times of low rainfall. “We aren’t really following the spirit of the plan,” he said. “You’re draining the lake quicker… you’ve changed how you’re managing the lake.” Ray Fernandez of Bridge Marina pointed out that if it had been a five-foot drawdown year it would have been a significant issue right now. “When we start the year with a deficit, whether 26 or 60 inches, it puts us in this situation, and we can’t recover when we have an abnormally dry spring.”
The next meeting of the Lake Hopatcong Commission will take place on Monday, July 18 at 7 p.m. at the Hopatcong Senior Center, 32 Lakeside Boulevard, Hopatcong, NJ.