As the Lake Hopatcong Commission figures out the logistics of its new relationship with the state regarding funding arrangements for the annual weed harvest, one thing is for sure: the harvesters are pulling up a lot of weeds—402 tons, to be exact.
With three harvesters going for more than a month now, it was reported at Monday's Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting that the machines had made their way to all parts of the lake except the back of Halsey Island. (Though Hopatcong resident Fred Steinbaum said he didn't see coverage on the west shore of the main lake, which commission chairman Russ Felter said he would look into.)
At last month's meeting, Felter announced an agreement with the state that would allow the weed harvest to continue this year and possibly into future years; in it, the state would pay the salaries of the harvest employees through the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection. As a result, the commission didn't have to halt the harvest early this year, nor do they have to cover the salaries of the harvest foreman and seasonal employees with its limited resources.
Felter said on Monday that the plan was for the harvest to continue through mid-September before the machines are taken out and moved to the Franklin facility, where they will remain outdoors through the winter.
Better protecting them by finding indoor arrangements has been a top point of discussion, and on Monday commission administrator Donna Macalle-Holly said that a potential lead was shut down because a public building in Roxbury has doors that aren't big enough to house the machines. For now, Felter said, the machines will stay at the Franklin facility, and he added that there are discussions in the works to renovate the building on site to accommodate the harvesters. Alternate commissioner Mike Brunson suggested that the commission look to use whatever indoor space they have. "We should fit as much as we can [inside," he said. Felter agreed, and said a status report on the harvesters and their long-term plans will come at next month's meeting. Lake Hopatcong resident John Kurzman suggested that the commission look into setting up a quick-erect structure—such as the ones that are set up at Mountain Creek Ski Resort in Vernon—to safely protect the harvesters from the elements in the winter. "It's solid, it's quick, and it's inexpensive," he said.
Several aspects of the harvest program are still in limbo as the cost of the effort shifts from commission control to state control. "We're in the unknown zone right now," said commissioner Kerry Kirk Pflugh of the DEP.
That became an issue during the meeting when the commission was deciding whether or not to renew its pollution insurance for the year. Brunson pointed out that the insurance quote might be based on using the commission's own employees, but would not apply for state employees, which the commission workers are set to become. The commission ultimately gave a tentative vote in favor of purchasing the insurance, with the contingency that there is an "insurable interest" at stake. The vote was 6-0 in favor, with Morris County commissioner David Jarvis recusing himself from the vote.
Hopatcong commissioner Dan McCarthy said he was concerned that the issue doesn't just pertain to pollution insurance. "I wonder if this question would not apply across all insurance lines," he said. "God forbid something happens... and we're not covered."
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Kurzman said he had been thinking over the new state arrangement, and that although there are good parts of it, he had concern about the long-term ramifications of the switch. "The DEP does not believe in weed harvesting," he said. "What concerns me is that the DEP is in charge of the very program they don't believe in."
Felter said that there was nothing to worry about. "The commissioner of the DEP has committed to us to keep the harvest going beyond this year," he said. "Where still ironing the details out... [but] that is currently where it stands."
In other news:
- Cliff Beebe once again implored the commission to look into the history of the lake and acknowledge that the state doesn't own it, but rather the residents do. "There are a lot of things to be challenged," he said. Felter said the commission's position was in line with the state's. "Mr. Beebe, you certainly have the legal right to challenge [the law]," he said. But as far as this commission goes, that is the law."
- Macalle-Holly said that Fred Lubnow of Princeton Hydro will be presenting the mid-year water quality report at the September meeting.
- Macalle-Holly also said that the commission will now be able to move forward with a rain garden project at Hopatcong State Park.
- Steinbaum requested the commissioners to look into providing Dumpsters around the lake in the spring season to allow residents who take in washed-up trash from the lake to dispose of the items they recover. Felter said the commission was still in flux with its budget, but would keep Steinbaum's suggestion under advisement.
- Kurzman said the commissioners should not let the recent record heavy rainfall, which almost had the lake at the high-water mark on Monday, should not deter the commission from looking for a better water-level management approach. "I think concerns about a dry season still pertain," he said. He added that his suggestion, which is in the plan, to close the dam when the water height is between 9 and 9.25 feet seemed to work well. "We did see the lake stay higher for longer," he said.