In an effort to bring some relief to the aggressive weed growth in Lake Hopatcong, the Lake Hopatcong Commission has put together a plan for a scaled-back weed harvesting program this summer. At last month's meeting, the commissioners emphasized the need to provide weed harvesting this year, despite the state's budget cuts that eliminated funding for the operation. The low water level makes the issue even more pressing, the commissioners said, because shallow coves are likely to be more choked by weeds when there is not as much water height. "We've had enough bad publicity with the lack of water," said commissioner and Jefferson Mayor Russell Felter. "Now we don't want a weed problem." Weeds can choke shallower coves on the lake. A broad coordination effort from lakeside towns, counties, and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has resulted in a tentative plan that will allow four of the commission's harvesters to be relocated to one site and prepared for work this month, and for one to three harvesters to be running on the lake this summer. It's a scaled-back effort: for the last seven years, the commision operated six harvesters and two weed transfer barges from two different locations on the lake. According to a Wednesday press release, the commission expects harvesting to begin around the Fourth of July holiday. Every effort will be made for the fourth harvester to begin operating, but additional funding and/or assistance would be required. The DEP has agreed to provide $68,000 to cover the cost to rehire the harvester foreman and the cost of parts, maintenance, and insurance. Labor costs and other incidentals will be divided in this way: Morris County will provide a mechanic to prepare the equipment, a part-time employee to operate a harvester, and a temporary deferral on the weed disposal costs; Sussex County will make a contribution (yet to be determined); Hopatcong Borough will provide their Department of Public Works facility to maintain and service the harvesters and will provide some mechanical assistance; Jefferson Township will provide two employees to operate the harvesters and staff to relocate and prepare the equipment; Mt. Arlington Borough will provide a borough employee to operate a harvester and assist in other functions; and Roxbury Township will provide staff to relocate and maintain the equipment.  Despite this broad collaboration, the commission said that this is not a long-term solution, nor will it necessarily have ideal results. "The Commission cannot stress enough how this year’s harvesting operation will be a band-aid approach at best," the Wednesday press release said. "This is a frantic attempt to offer some relief for those who enjoy the lake from the aggressive weed growth. ... Normally, the year following a five-foot drawdown, there is significantly less weed growth.  This year, however, due to the lower-than-normal water level [which is still about a foot below normal], the sunlight has been able to penetrate deeper into lake water and caused much faster weed growth." The commission offers its thanks to those who have come together to provide some level of weed harvesting, and will continue to seek funding solutions for the weeds and other water management projects. "Harvesters may seem like a waste to some people," commission chairman and Mt. Arlington Mayor Arthur Ondish said this week. "But they make the lake usable. It's not the case everywhere, but harvesting is necessary in some of the shallower coves. We've been fortunate in the past, and you don't appreciate what you have until it's gone." Municipal or county agencies interested in providing staffing assistance or donations to support the harvesting program can contact the Commission office at 973-601-1070.  Businesses and individuals are encouraged to send a monetary donation to the LHC, P.O. Box 8515, Landing, NJ   07850.  If enough donations are received, it may be possible to operate another harvester on the lake. 

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