Roxbury - A representative of the Department of Environmental Protection presented the data collected from the Lakefront Property Owner Survey, sent out to 1,800 lakefront property owners, to the Lake Hopatcong Commission at Monday’s Commission meeting.
Prior to the presentation by Lisa Barno, Chief of Fresh Water Fisheries with the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, Commission Chairman Russ Felter made it clear that the presentation was about the property owner survey and not the impending 60-inch drawdown.
“Let’s be clear. This is not about the drawdown. Let’s draw that line right now,” he said. “This is not a discussion about the drawdown. The drawdown is still on. It’s part of the plan.” The 60-inch drawdown is scheduled to begin in late September.
With that statement, Felter turned the meeting over to Commissioner Kerry Kirk Pflugh, representing the DEP, who gave background on the survey and introduced Barno.
“We’ve never had anything like this before,” said Pflugh of the survey. “This gives voices to the residents who we don’t usually hear at this meeting.” The survey was reviewed by the Citizens Advisory Committee and pre-tested by 20 lakefront property owners before being released to the public, said Pflugh.
The 39-question survey asked property owners a variety of questions specific to repair and maintenance of their bulkheads and docks, and included questions related to the 26-inch drawdown and the five-year 60-inch drawdown. The survey also inquired about ice and high water level damage, and water levels in general.
Barno reported that 447 property owners responded to the survey. Of that, 400 completed all questions on the survey. That’s a 25 percent completion rate, which according to Pflugh is typical of a survey of this type.
Asked on the survey what poses the greatest concern as a property owner, 41.3 percent of the respondents said it’s the lake not refilling in the spring. 32.9 percent said ice damage.
Asked if they ever had property damage due to high water levels, just more than half of the respondents said yes, and all were related to Hurricanes Sandy, Irene, Floyd, Lee or the storm of 2000.
One of the survey questions asked specifically if property owners believe the 60-inch drawdown is needed. 75.9 percent responded yes, relating that most significant repairs to docks and bulkheads is needed to be completed when lake is at its lowest level.
The survey also asked about the yearly 26-inch drawdown. 67.9 percent of the respondents said they need that drawdown for general dock repairs, which according to the survey, is done by the homeowner.
The entire survey report will be posted on the Lake Hopatcong Commission website.
After Barno finished her report, Pflugh made clear again the DEP position on the impending drawdown.
“The state has no plans to cancel the drawdown,” said Pflugh who reiterated that the decision is “not based on the survey” but is based on staying within the current Water Level Management Plan. The survey, she said, will be used for any future changes to the management plan.
Pflugh also reported that since 1970, there has only been one instance when the lake did not recover from a 60-inch drawdown. Twice in that same time period the lake recovered slowly. The slow recoveries occurred in 1975 and 2008. The drought of 1987 prevented full recovery partly because water from Lake Hopatcong was being pumped into the Boonton Reservoir to help keep drinking water available.
The meeting was then opened to public comment. Ray Fernandez, owner of Bridge Marina and a member of the Citizen Advisory Committee, was first to address the commission. He felt the survey was flawed in that it “did not provide citizens with a full understanding of the risk they were considering.” Fernandez was referring to the change in the Lake Outflow management and weather patterns that have changed dramatically in the past few years.
“I remind you again,” said Fernandez, “that in the past two years we could barely recover from a 26-inch drawdown, had a 60-inch drawdown been conducted this last year or the one prior, the lake would have be unusable for an entire summer. We must consider that the minor rewards gained by lakefront property owner, of which I am one, to maintain their property, is not worth the loss for the entire community and state if the lake is not here the following summer.”
“This is not science of the lake water,” responded Commissioner Rich Zoschak from Roxbury. “The data is about what homeowners do to their property on the lake.”
John Kurzman, a Lake Hopatcong resident, commented on Pflugh’s recovery findings.
“Since 1970 there have only been eight 60-inch five-year drawdowns in that timeframe, and so two to three out of eight unusable years is unacceptable, and similar to the failure rate I have been providing from my level models. Those older years didn’t release 7.5 million gallons per day after 5-foot drawdowns so that the lake is now seven to eight inches further behind than even the older two to three out of eight failure rate suggests.”
Kurzman recommends the commission reduce the outflow during the wettest times of spring, start the refill on December 1 instead of December 15, let the lake rise even if ice has formed, and provide financial assistance to projects to insure their completion by December 1.
In other news:
Fred Steinbaum from Hopatcong was welcomed as the newest commissioner, appointed by the governor. He fills a seat that has been vacant since 2006. There are 17 seats on the commission, two representatives from each of the four towns, two from each county, one from the Department of Environmental Protection, one from the N.J. Department Community Affairs, two gubernatorial appointees, and the chairman. Commissioner Betty Gantert, from Mount Arlington, is also a gubernatorial appointee. Steinbaum is an active member of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation where he is chairman of the Water Quality Committee and said he is very excited to be a member of the commission.
Steve Ellis, acting Regional Superintendent of the DEP, reported that two weed harvesters will be in the water beginning July 3, a third harvester will be in the water in the second week of July and the fourth harvester will be in the water before the end of July.
Ellis also announced the hiring of a fulltime employee and asked the commission to help find two seasonal employees who have CDL certifications.
Dr. Fred Lubnow, Director of Aquatic Programs at Princeton Hydro, gave an update on the 319 Grant, which is closing at the end of June.
Lisa Barno presents the findings from the Lakefront Property Owners Survey at the May, 20 LHC meeting.
Ron Sorensen, owner of Lake Hopatcong Marine, addresses the commission.