The three candidates for this week's election of New Jersey's governor were sent a short questionnaire in late September with questions about the Lake Hopatcong community.  Only one responded with answers. Chris Christie, who resides in Morris County, has long been championed by local officials as the best candidate to bring funds to the Lake Hopatcong Commission.  But incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine, was the only one to respond to the questionnaire with answers.  The office of Chris Daggett, the independent candidate, replied, but no answers were sent as of Sunday, November 1.  If Christie or Daggett sends answers before the Tuesday election, they will be posted here.  A search of both candidates' websites did not reveal any mention of Lake Hopatcong, otherwise that information would be presented.  For now, these are the verbatim answers provided by Corzine: Response to the 2009 Lake Hopatcong Questionnaire Governor Jon S. Corzine Q: What do you think are the biggest issues facing Lake Hopatcong and how do you plan to address them? A: Lake Hopatcong is a very significant recreational resource for the State of New Jersey and therefore a significant contributor to the local and regional economy. Any thing that threatens the recreational use of the Lake must be taken seriously, and there is no shortage of potential issues. Last spring, we had difficulty restoring the water level in the lake after the planned five year draw down due to a very dry late summer and early spring. My Administration took action to reduce the outflow from the lake, and with the help of mother nature’s rains, we were able to reach normal water surface elevation by mid-June. The single biggest threat to the Lake and the very important recreational uses it supports is water quality within the Lake, specifically the introduction of the nutrient phosphorus which causes excessive plant growth and algae within the Lake. This plant growth can make it difficult, if not impossible, to navigate or swim in the Lake. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has monitored the water quality and identified the most significant sources of phosphorus to the Lake: septic systems and stormwater runoff. My Administration has been working together with the towns surrounding the Lake and the Lake Hopatcong Commission to shut off those pollution sources in several ways. With the help of Environmental Infrastructure Trust funding supported by DEP, the Borough’s of Hopatcong and Mount Arlington eliminated septic systems replacing them with sewers. Jefferson Township, with the help of federal grant money passed through the DEP, is investigating septic management around Lake Shawnee, just upstream of Lake Hopatcong, to determine the best way to manage septic systems to reduce their contribution of phosphorus to both lakes. Between the Environmental Protection Agency and the DEP, almost $3,000,000 in grant money has been made available to the Lake Hopatcong Commission to implement stormwater management practices to reduce the runoff component of phosphorus. The Lake Hopatcong Commission has focused much of its independent budget on removing weeds from the Lake. While these weed harvesting efforts treat the symptoms, they do not represent a long-term efficient solution to the weed problem. Phosphorus must be controlled before it enters the Lake which will result in fewer weeds and less algae. My Administration has provided significant financial and technical support to the Commission to harvest weeks in the past, as we work toward more permanent, sustainable solutions. Q: What is you vision for the future of the Lake Hopatcong Commission, and how do you believe that it should be funded? Since its inception in 2001, the Lake Hopatcong Commission has fulfilled an important roll for Lake Hopatcong. First, the Commission has been extremely successful in competing for grant funding to implement phosphorus controls around the Lake. Second, the Commission has played an important role in public education to inform residents of actions they can take to address some of the pollution issues. For example, the Commission’s successful Lake Friendly Fertilizer Campaign for phosphorus free fertilizer has been presented to a national audience. Third, the Commission serves as an important link to the DEP, raising awareness of emerging local issues and ensuring that the DEP can respond with necessary assistance. Lastly, the Commission serves an important role in unifying the four towns and two counties that make up the Lake Hopatcong watershed and acts as a catalyst for local watershed protection. These efforts have turned the trend of water quality degradation into water quality restoration, as evidenced by documented water quality improvement. However, there is more work to be done, and I remain committed to the goals of a healthy Lake Hopatcong. I believe that the Commission should continue to compete for grant funding to control the inputs of phosphorus and other pollutants into the Lake, and I believe that the Commission is keenly positioned to be successful in those efforts. I am certain that the Commission will continue its leadership role in watershed management and look toward shared service agreements or stormwater utilities that will result in cost efficiencies. Historically, the Lake Hopatcong Commission has spent the overwhelming majority of its operating budget, $500,000 a year or more, on weed harvesting. As I mentioned earlier, this is not an efficient means of addressing the problem because so long as phosphorus pours into the lake, weeds will be uncontrollable. Moreover, weeds are a part of a healthy lake ecosystem. At present, the Lake Hopatcong Commission’s operating budget is funded through appropriations under the DEP’s budget. Unfortunately, we have had to make very difficult fiscal decisions in light of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. The Lake Hopatcong Commission’s appropriation has been one of those tough choices. We cobbled together an agreement in 2007 that allowed the Commission to operate under an MOA with the State until 2008. In 2009, the members of the Commission scrambled to dedicate staff to the weed harvesting effort with the hard costs for equipment repair being paid for from a State Watershed Grant. If the Commission decides that it is necessary to continue its harvesting operation, it would be better served to establish a dedicated revenue source to support those activities. I would support the Commission developing a stable revenue source to support those operations that are determined by its members to be important to the Lake and its users. The key to this idea is that revenue must be distributed fairly and that any money raised locally in support of the Commission should be dedicated directly to the Commission. Q: What role do you believe the State should play in the management of the Lake? I believe that the State should maintain its ongoing support for the Lake and the Commission. The State now provides office space for the Commission at Lake Hopatcong State Park and we will continue to do so. The State also now provides a storage and maintenance facility for the Commission’s equipment in Franklin. We are in the process of retrofitting that facility to make the space more accommodating to the needs of the Commission. The State is taking over payment of the water level gauges both in the Lake and immediately downstream. The State will continue to provide technical support to the Commission and provide responses to inquiries that it receives concerning fish and wildlife in and around the Lake, water quality, evaluation of emerging management techniques, and providing permit assistance. The State will also continue to make grant money available for the implementation of source controls for phosphorus until we have achieved the water quality objectives necessary to maintain recreational uses and fisheries resources.   To read a voter guide from The Citizen of Morris County regarding the 25th District Assembly race, click here.

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