In a unanimous decision, the Lake Hopatcong Commission voted on Tuesday night to approve a memorandum of understanding that would officially shift control of the weed harvest and ownership of related equipment from the commission to the state.
"I want to thank all the commissioners for working hard on this, and secondly I want to thank [N.J. Department of Environmental Protection representative on the commission] Kerry Kirk Pflugh," commission chairman and Jefferson mayor Russ Felter said. "Everyone involved was very reasonable about this, which is scary when talking about government.... I'm very confident that we're in good shape."
The agreement calls for the state to take ownership of the weed harvesters, conveyor belts, and vehicles—shifting them to the state's self-insured status—and hiring one full-time foreman and six seasonal full-time workers through the Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Parks and Forestry; specifically, through Hopatcong State Park.
The 8-0 vote was taken during a special meeting at the Mt. Arlington Borough Hall. A brief discussion on the agreement, which had been discussed at length in previous meetings, focused on making sure consistent records would be kept, with regard to the amount of weeds removed from the lake, and shared regularly with the commission. "We want to keep our finger on the pulse of what's going on," commissioner Dan McCarthy of Hopatcong said, "It's important to know the amount of weeds harvested... because we've been gathering this data over the years" and don't want a break in the information.
Steve Ellis, who is stationed at Hopatcong State Park through the State Park Service, said that would not be a problem. "It's part of what [the foreman] does and it would continue as if nothing ever changed," Ellis said.
Several commissioners also expressed a concern about the salary offered to the seasonal employees—a figure that had been pegged at about $12 an hour—and hope that the offer made by the state's civil service would be more commensurate with the level of experience required to operate the equipment. Kirk Pflugh, said those figures were still being determined at the state level.
Once those salaries are determined and the jobs are posted and employees hired, the harvesters can start to be prepared for the summer harvest.
Meanwhile, Felter said a bill sponsored by Sen. Anthony R. Bucco that would establish a Lake Hopatcong Fund of roughly $400,000 is moving through the legislature in Trenton, after being approved by the N.J. Senate Environmental Committee. Kirk Pflugh said no further action on it will take place until April or May, and then it wouldn't be final until the start of the fiscal year, July 1. Even then, money would likely not be distributed until August, making it essential to have another weed-harvest plan for this summer. Felter said the bill has a lot of movement behind it.
"So we're moving ahead with harvesting," Felter said. "Thank God."