The Lake Hopatcong Commission on Monday discussed its tenuous future, expressing concerns over how long the group could continue to operate when the funding stream runs dry, presumably in the next few months.
"We're getting down to seriously low numbers here," commission chairman Russ Felter said. "We're probably at less than $60,000 left to get us through."
Felter said all of the commissioners needed to reach out to their local governing bodies to get enough funding to continue operations, and suggested residents write letters to their state representatives and the governor in Trenton.
Tim Clancy of Lake Hopatcong told the commission he worried about the potential loss of knowledge and lake funding that would come if the commission had to shut down. "I really want you to consider every other option ... without losing [administrator Donna Macalle-Holly]," he said, suggesting that the towns and counties look into how they could contribute, as they did to the Lake Hopatcong Regional Planning Board in the past, and could even demand reimbursement from the state later on. He pointed out that Macalle-Holly secures so much funding for the lake in grant money that "you'll get ten to one on her cost. If you lose that skill set in that person, I don't know what else you're going to do here."
Felter said that even though the weed harvest is now run by the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection through Hopatcong State Park, there is still plenty the commission is charged with doing on behalf of the lake. "We do have important work to do," he said, such as implementing grant money to put stormwater filtration systems in place. "It's important that we stay in business."
Although the commission is no longer managing the weed harvest, an update from Steve Ellis, regional superintendent of the state parks, provided some insight into how the effort has gone so far. In the time from July 9 to 16, the harvesters had pulled 191 cubic yards of weeds from the water—up from the 156 cubic yards pulled during the same period last year—and has three operating harvesters in the lake at the moment, with a fourth ready to go shortly. The harvesters had already finished River Styx and Crescent Cove and now would head north.
One snag the operation is facing is the fact that the Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority would soon stop accepting the pulled weeds, citing a need for a ratio between aquatic weeds and grass clippings. With the lack of rain, fewer grass clippings are coming into the mix. So the state is looking into working with Nature's Choice, a business based on Route 46 in Ledgewood. The costs would go up, both on a per-cubic-yard basis and in the sense that the staff would have to spend more time transporting the weeds and less time on the water. But the important thing, Ellis said, would be to not have to stop the harvest in an effort to figure out the disposal plan, so they're trying to stay ahead of it.
Ellis emphasized the "outstanding job" the staff was doing to get operations moving quickly and efficiently, especially in light of the severe heat in recent weeks.
"I'm happy to see the weed [harvesters] out there," commissioner Joel Servoss said. "Full days, too."
Servoss said a paddle through Woodport was actually not as bad as he was expecting, from a weed perspective, but that the canals were definitely tied up with aquatic growth. "You almost have to walk on the weeds, they're so solid," he said.
Dan McCarthy of Hopatcong wondered whether, if the smaller harvester could be deployed in the future, it would be able to get into the canals, something the commissioners seemed to think was feasible. "You could just do navigational channels," McCarthy said.
In other news:
• Clancy provided an update to the commission about the status of the Water Scout effort, which seeks to find and remove any water chestnut plants that might appear on the lake. He said he was somewhat disappointed with the number of stragglers in the group, but that 80 percent of the lake was complete and has an "all clear," and that the rest should be accounted for by Sunday. "Thank you for your efforts there," Felter told Clancy. "You've done a great job."
• John Rogalo, vice chairman of the Lake Musconetcong Regional Planning Board, shed some light on the water chestnut situation downstream at Lake Musconetcong, saying the situation had improved from two years ago, when more than 100 acres were covered with the plant, and is down to about 30 or so acres. "What we have now [still] is a major infestation, which started with a very small pocket," he said. "By all means, if you see it, rip it out." Pat Rector of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension said her group could provide information to anyone who might need it regarding the water chestnut. The Lake Hopatcong Knee Deep Club also has a number of resources on what to look for and what to do if you see the plant. "If you catch it early, you can get rid of it," Rector said, adding that "what the Water Scouts are doing is just absolutely phenomenal."
• Felter suggested the commissioners begin talking at the next meeting about what needs to get done during the 2013 five-foot drawdown, including arranging for dumpsters to be available to dispose of tires, pilings, and other items that inevitably appear when the water drops, or planning any sediment dredging. "We need to get that all laid out ahead of time," he said. "It does come back to us and we should put that on the table now.... It sounds like it's a long way away, but before we know it, the lake will be going down." He also suggested residents begin their own planning for any work to be done while the lake is drawn down in the fall of 2013. McCarthy asked Ellis to be on the lookout for any spare hours the weed-harvest workers might have to help with the cleanup around the lake—a charge that used to be part of the Lake Hopatcong Commission staff's job descriptions.
• Kerry Kirk Pflugh, the N.J.D.E.P. representative on the commission, said the water-level citizens advisory committee would meet in September to review the water-level management plan, and would examine the question of whether lake residents want an annual drawdown. "It's a valid question," she said, adding that when it comes to next year's five-foot drawdown, "there has to be some discussion about expectations and the weather" regarding recovery, though she said she was not advocating one plan or another. "This year was a serious problem, and we need to reflect long and hard about that."
• McCarthy pointed out that there are vacancies on the commission that need to be filled, including the gubernatorial post and one from the N.J. Department of Community Affairs. "It's not just about money, it's about people, too," he said.
• In an effort to keep the water-quality monitoring going without any gaps in data, the commission voted unanimously to reach out to the Lake Hopatcong Foundation with regard to providing funding for the effort. [FULL DISCLOSURE: This writer is president of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation.] Kirk Pflugh pointed out that the commission would have to make sure all of the requirements of the Clean Water Act be followed, and that the commission would need to get its scope of work approved by the N.J.D.E.P. before any efforts are put into place.
• Lake Hopatcong resident Brenda Fisch said she for the first time had seen a large mass of bryozoa—which looks like a floating brain or a jellyfish—at her dock, and learned that they are actually good water filters, though they can clog pipes and be a potential problem that way. Servoss, who has seen them in canals, said they "certainly are an aesthetic problem," if nothing else.
• Commissioner Ed McCarthy asked commissioners if they had seen the man using a jet-pack to buzz around the lake, and asked if it was legal, since the force can keep him 30 feet off the ground. The commissioners were unsure of the legality of the activity, or if any permits were required. (See the LHNR story about it here.)
The next meeting of the Lake Hopatcong Commission will take place at 7 p.m. on Monday, August 20 at the Jefferson Municipal Building on Weldon Road in Lake Hopatcong.