Members of the Lake Hopatcong Commission on Monday applauded the efforts of Mike Calderio and the weed-harvesting team for getting the harvesters in working order so quickly this summer in the wake of last-minute funding by the state.
Monday’s meeting at the Roxbury Municipal Building in Ledgewood—which also featured a state resolution honoring Art Ondish, some discussion of the water-level management plan, and a recap of the water chestnut search—was the first in which Russell Felter, mayor of Jefferson Township and longtime commissioner, served as chairman of the commission.
“The staff has just done a tremendous job,” Felter said of the weed-harvest operations. “They got the harvesters in the water—two by the end of June, and two more about a week and a half ago.” Felter also thanked the surrounding towns for contributing manpower and resources. “It’s certainly a group effort,” he said.
The plan is to continue harvesting until about Labor Day, commission administrator Donna Macalle-Holly said. She reported that so far the harvesters have covered the north end of Woodport, Sherman Island, Shallow Cove, Ingram Cove, the north and south sides of Bertrand Island, King Cove, Crescent Cove, and the area along Mt. Arlington ridge, by Barnes Bros. Marina.
More than 173 tons of biomass have been extracted from the lake so far, so the effort is on track to surpass the 253 tons removed during last year’s ad hoc effort. “So we’re really getting a lot out already,” Macalle-Holly said.
At the start of the meeting, state Sen. Steven Oroho presented a resolution passed by the New Jersey State Legislature, which honored Ondish—who served as chairman for more than five years—for his contribution to the Lake Hopatcong community, saluting his “depth of knowledge and breadth of experience,” and noting that he “served to inspire the participation and commitment of others.”
“We know what public service means,” Oroho said after reading the formal resolution, commending Ondish for the many hours he volunteered on behalf of the lake community.
After acknowledging the standing ovation from those in attendance with words of appreciation, Ondish thanked the commission. “It’s been a pleasure,” he said, adding that he would always be “here to help you any way I can.”
The meeting also featured some discussion about the water-level management plan, which has been revisited in recent months after a combination of dam mismanagement and dry conditions resulted in very low water levels at the start of the 2009 season. John Kurzman of Lake Hopatcong made two suggestions to the commission, which he said he hoped would be taken into discussions with Trenton officials. Specifically, he said that every effort should be made to keep water in the lake when the water height is above the dam level, particularly early in the season. By keeping the dam closed when the water level is between the dam-height level and the high-water level (9.5 feet), he said, the lake can save about 3 inches of water each month. “My recommendation is to make sure that they write in that when the lake is above 9.05 feet, the gates are closed,” he said. “Let’s memorialize that and put it in the plan.”
Kurzman suggested the 9.05-foot figure rather than the dam-height 9 foot because it would ensure that the proper amount of water would continue to flow downstream toward Lake Musconetcong.
His other suggestion was to allow the dam to be closed when a “drought warning” is established by the Department of Environmental Protection, rather than having to wait for the governor to declare a “drought emergency.”
“We should be smart and close the dam earlier,” he said. “Then when [downstream] needs the water during a drought emergency, you can maybe let a little out.”
Both suggestions were acknowledged by Felter, commissioner Daniel McCarthy of Hopatcong, and Macalle-Holly, who serve on the Lake Hopatcong Water Level Advisory Committee. McCarthy said some residents in areas prone to flooding, such as those in the Bertrand Island condo development, are more concerned about the water level being too high, rather than too low. Kurzman suggested that perhaps no-wake status can be in place in those more sensitive areas.
The plan is expected to be drafted and distributed for public review in the coming months.
Macalle-Holly gave an update on the Water Scout efforts to search for the invasive water chestnut species. After the species had been discovered in Landing Channel, a group of Water Scout paddlers returned on Saturday for one last major search, which did not turn up any new sightings. (To read the full recap from Tim Clancy, click here.) No water chestnuts were found elsewhere in the lake.
But it will be a constant battle to ensure the species doesn’t take over parts of the lake. The most important step to take from here, Fred Lubnow of Princeton Hydro said, is public awareness. “There’s a constant need to put it out there,” he said, emphasizing that the more people recognize it and know to report it, the more likely it is that the weed will be found before it spreads significantly.
The Lake Hopatcong Alliance is preparing a brochure to mail out to all lakefront residents that educates about the water chestnut, and on Monday the commission voted unanimously to fund the $625 in postage required to mail them out. The aim is to send them before the weeds go to seed in August, so if any rosettes are discovered by homeowners, they can be removed before the barb-like seeds are dropped into the lake bed.
In response to a concern expressed by commissioner Tom Foley of Mt. Arlington that any equipment used on a lake with the water chestnut could enter Lake Hopatcong and transport the seed, commissioner Richard Zoschak suggested that information about the water chestnut also be sent out to residents along with any construction permits to do dock repair or other lakefront work.
The alliance, which now has a permanent spot on the agenda for a report to the commission, is also preparing to conduct an extensive weed-mapping survey of the lake, with the help of funds granted by the state I Boat NJ program. Steve Gebeloff, who is on the alliance board of directors, reported that weed locations and types will be established at 500 location points around the lake, providing a resource that can be used by the commission or anyone else. He also said the alliance was preparing to conduct a study of alternative weed-management strategies, including selective herbicides, hydroraking, and the introduction of weed-eating weevils.
The commissioners said they were pleased with the efforts the alliance was making so far. “My biggest concern was that their activities not replicate or duplicate ours,” McCarthy said. “That concern has been allayed,” in part because the last weed-mapping survey was conducted in the 1980s, when the lake had four established invasive species. Today, it is estimated that Hopatcong has 14 invasive species in its waters.
“I think their ideals are going to complement what we do,” commissioner David Jarvis of Morris County said. “They’re focusing on some really excellent things that will show some tangible results.”
In other business:
• John Risko, the alternate commissioner from Sussex County, has asked not to be reappointed to the commission. That leaves the number of vacancies at three: that Sussex County alternate spot, the Jefferson commissioner (which Felter said will be filled by the next meeting), and one gubernatorial appointment. McCarthy pointed out that he believed Risko was an original member of the commission, who “did an awful lot of work,” and should be commended.
• Treasurer Elizabeth Gantert asked that a formal request to the state for a Department of Environmental Protection audit be conducted, per the requirements for the commission.
• In his first chairman’s report, Felter noted how the lake was bustling with activity over the weekend. “It really shows that when the weather is good and the water level is up, what a place it can be,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important that this lake management plan is where we need it to be. It’s important we don’t have a repeat of last year.”
The next Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting is scheduled for Monday, August 16, at the Mount Arlington Municipal Building on Howard Boulevard in Mt. Arlington.