On Monday, the Lake Hopatcong Foundation hosted Gov. Phil Murphy as well as U.S. Representatives Josh Gottheimer (5th District), Tom Malinowski (7th District), and Mikie Sherrill (11th District), state senators and assembly members, Morris and Sussex freeholders, and the mayors of the four lake municipalities in what was a promising first step toward helping to prevent the lakes of New Jersey from facing another summer with crippling algae blooms.
“Let the record show this is hyperbipartisan,” Murphy said after acknowledging the large range of elected officials and groups in the room, adding that politically, he was playing “an away game” in this part of New Jersey.
Murphy, alongside representatives from the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection, shared a three-pronged approach that the state will be taking into 2020 to try to get ahead of the Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) risk in the new year and beyond. Specifically, the state is proposing to:
- Spend $13.5 million in new investment to prevent and mitigate HABs; which includes $2.5 million in HAB/Lakes Management Grants, $1 million in Watershed Planning Grants, and $10 million in Principal Forgiveness Grants for major infrastructure projects. (Murphy specifically cited the need to convert septic to sewer, which is a particular need for the northern end of Lake Hopatcong. State officials also renewed a commitment to sewer Hopatcong State Park.)
- “Double down” on the science and evaluation side of the issue, with the possibility of adjusting the HAB warning system to be more incremental (it was compared to a hurricane scale), so users can have a more specific sense for the level of risk associated with different levels of algae. The state will reconsider the events of 2019 and re-evaluate the entire HAB response plan in a way that reflects the science while also taking into account the real-world implications of the state advisories.
- Improve communication by hosting multiple Regional HAB Summits in early 2020, enhancing the web tools (including and updated website and a new interactive HAB mapping app), and closer coordination and communication with local governments.
All three of those proposals include state funding as well as federal dollars that have been secured by the U.S. Congressional representatives who joined the meeting on Monday, and all three said they would continue to try to fight for more money to come back to New Jersey. Rep. Sherrill said, “We have to move forward with a sense of urgency,” and said she was appreciative of the fact that this meeting was taking place in November to be proactive going into the new year. Rep. Gottheimer said he was working to make sure that New Jersey receives its fair share of resources from the federal government (“I’m tired of the moocher states grabbing our money,” he said), and added that although Lake Hopatcong doesn’t fall in his district, the events of 2019 have affected the entire region. “We can’t afford to ignore this problem any longer,” he said. And Rep. Malinowski cited the “impact on not just the economy but the way of life for these communities,” emphasizing that “this cannot happen again,” and saying the state congressional delegation will fight to make sure proposed cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which funnels money to states for projects like those outlined, do not come to pass.
In addition, local legislators—State Senators Tony Bucco, Steve Oroho, and Joe Pennacchio and Assembly members Betty Lou De Croce, Parker Space, and Hal Wirths—all shared their frustrations with what took place over the summer and thanked the governor and everyone in attendance for their efforts to get ahead of the HAB problem in 2020. Sussex and Morris Freeholders and the mayors also shared their thoughts, though not all had the opportunity to speak before the meeting and discussion came to a close and opened up to a press conference for a range of local and regional reporters.
The proposals would be available to lakes throughout the state of New Jersey, though Sen. Bucco pushed for the governor and DEP to provide concrete numbers for Lake Hopatcong specifically.
Murphy also said he would “promise and commit… that I will use my bullhorn to sing the praises of our lakes and lake communities,” including a commitment to visit the lake on or around Memorial Day Weekend in the new year.
As for the Lake Hopatcong Foundation, although we took a back seat to the governor’s office in the planning and execution of this event, we were honored to host so many elected officials in what was a constructive first step in responding to the HAB crisis faced by local businesses and residents this year. We were encouraged that Gov. Murphy responded to Monday’s feedback by suggesting monthly working meetings for the principal players in the room to check in on the progress of these initiatives and keep them moving quickly. We are hopeful that with the beginning of some new state and federal investment, along with close reflection on the state’s response to the algae bloom last summer, that we won’t have to face a similar crisis in our community again. It’s an uphill climb, and will require diligence from everyone who was seated around the table, but we are confident that things are moving in the right direction. We are particularly heartened by the commitment of our legislative delegation to pursue meaningful funding for the Lake Hopatcong Commission so that it can fulfill its intended mission in the management of our lake. We hope there will be more positive updates to come in the weeks and months ahead.
For more coverage of the event, check local news articles and videos on NJTV, NBC4, ABC7, TAPinto Roxbury, and the Daily Record. The Governor’s office also posted a livestream of the press conference.