Lake Hopatcong Commissioners on Tuesday voiced their concerns over the minimum outflow requirement in the new water-level management plan, sending their comments to Trenton in hopes that the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection might take those worries into account before the state gives the plan its seal of approval. The meeting, held at the Mt. Arlington Borough Hall, also included a discussion about how to fund the commission, with the possibility of user fees returning to the conversation.
The water-level management plan, which was discussed at length in a special meeting on Jan. 31, had what is likely to be its final moment in the spotlight for now, as commissioners listened to public comment and shared their opinions on the draft plan.
“I think 12 [cubic feet per second, the minimum outflow from the Lake Hopatcong dam in the current plan] is way out of line,” said commissioner Joel Servoss. “My biggest fear is that this is a done deal.”
Servoss’s concerns were echoed by the majority of the commissioners in attendance on Tuesday.
“It seems like there’s a lot of protections for the [Musconetcong] River, and I don’t see that for the lake,” said commissioner Dave Jarvis. “With the data we have now, I just wouldn’t support it yet.”
Commissioners said they were worried about the bureaucracy that would have to be navigated before any changes to the outflow could be put into effect, even in times of low water. “There’s no quick mechanism in times of drought,” said commissioner Barbara Kinback.
Commisioner Dan McCarthy, who sat on the citizens’ advisory committee that helped craft the plan, said there are plenty of good things in it, but expressed his concerns about the 12 cfs minimum, too. He said that the 1922 court case that supposedly set an outflow of 12 cfs is nowhere to be found in state archives, and such a minimum discharge goes directly against state law, which states that the lake shall be kept full at all times. “There should be a way to fine-tune this,” he said, calling for further study to determine what, in fact, the best outflow minimum would be.
Members of the public found similar flaws with the plan as it currently stands.
Steve Gebeloff of Hopatcong read from a Star-Ledger news story in May of 2009, when Lake Hopatcong had low water levels to start the season. The story describes the areas downstream as fitting for a Field and Stream cover, with “water cascading.” “Don’t be fooled into believing 12 cfs is necessary for preserving the ecology of the river,” Gebeloff said.
John Kurzman said 12 cfs has historically been the median outflow, not the minimum. “That’s a drastic change,” he said.
Commission chairman and Jefferson mayor Russ Felter said the commissioners’ views would go to D.E.P. officials to weigh before approving or adjusting the plan, but implied that the state was prepared to approve the plan.
In a subsequent discussion about the commission’s budget, Felter said it seemed unlikely that the commission would receive any serious funding from the state in the near future, so all options needed to be back on the table. “We have to look at what’s best for Lake Hopatcong,” he said. “Money is not going to be flowing here very readily… we’ve got to revisit everything and try to be as creative as we can.”
Felter said the commission would not fail, but that it would “not be easy” to figure out how to make it work. User fees, he said, would be a possibility—assuming the commission could collect the money itself, rather than sending it to Trenton. “I’m not saying user fees [are going to happen],” he said. “We’re getting near crunch time here, and we’ve got to do something.”
Tim Clancy of Lake Hopatcong said he supported the idea of user fees, likening them to fees to use a golf course, go bowling, visit the beach, or spend a day at Great Adventure. “We all spend money on the activities we enjoy,” he said. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to pay a user fee [to get the commission] a steady stream of funding. You’re facing the reality that there is no other option.”
“We need to preserve the lake for future generations,” Clancy said. “The can keeps getting kicked down the road.”
In his presentation for the Lake Hopatcong Alliance, Gebeloff said the group has been monitoring the Greenwood Lake Commission as it moves forward with an effort to implement user fees. He said residents are “overwhelmingly against” the proposed fees, and that an annual fishing tournament was slated to be canceled if the fees were instituted. And a Lake George user fee fund, he said, has been raided regularly by Albany.
That was a concern for Kinback, who said that the New Jersey constitution requires money to go to state coffers, and pointed to a dedicated State Police fund that was raided by the legislature for other purposes.
But whether the commission will be forced to send any revenue to the state is up for question. “There are discussions happening,” said commissioner Kerry Kirk Pflugh of the D.E.P. “Let’s wait and hear results, not throw roadblocks in anticipation.”
Though any money from Trenton is unlikely to come Lake Hopatcong’s way, commissioners still unanimously (with one abstention) passed a proposed budget that calls for two full-time workers—an administrator and foreman—and seasonal workers for the weed-harvest effort. There were two caveats: Jarvis said he didn’t believe the new workers should automatically be given a state pension, and McCarthy said he wanted the cover letter to note “that this doesn’t begin to scratch the surface” of what the commission needs to fulfill its statutory obligations.
With regard to the weed-harvest effort, Ron Sorensen of Lake Hopatcong Marine said he was frustrated that his offer to repair and maintain the harvesters out of his own pocket—and to gather a group of volunteers to run them through the summer—was turned down. Felter said the issue was insurance, and that when the commission looked into having volunteers run the harvesters, it was advised by the attorney general that it would not be possible because of the liability.
Sorensen said that there must be some kind of loophole to accommodate such a volunteer effort; Felter said he was working to find any option he could, but that a loophole was unlikely. “There’s a lot of work behind the scenes here,” he said. “Sometimes this job takes a lot more time than being mayor… This isn’t made to be simple.”
In other news:
- The commissioners praised the success of the Ice Eaters information campaign this year. "If you go around the lake, we have a lot more solid ice this year than we had last year," administrator Donna Macalle-Holly said. McCarthy, who was a strong advocate for public information on this issue, said "last year was a disaster... I think people for the most part are starting to get it."
- The Lake Hopatcong Alliance is in contact with a company behind an aeration project in the Village of Green Lake that is being conducted in a shallow cove. The effort consists of installing a rubber pipe and diffuser heads strategically along the bottom of the cove and pumping in compressed air to circulate the water, which alongside aerobic bacteria application reduces phosporous levels and weed growth. The alliance, Gebeloff said, "is considering its suitability for a Lake Hopatcong grant project."