Monday’s Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting was relatively mellow—just a few speakers, and a duration that coincided well with the kickoff of Monday Night Football. But the groundwork was laid for a very busy January. The commission plans to discuss which business plan option it will move forward with at its regular January meeting, which has been rescheduled to Monday, January 11. (It was originally scheduled for Tuesday, January 19.)  As for suggestions made by commissioners and the public, vice-chairman and Jefferson mayor Russell Felter—who led Monday’s meeting in chairman Art Ondish’s absence—said the commission plans to gather to go through those before the January 11 meeting. lhc_dec_09_-_2.jpg In addition, the first meeting of the Lake Hopatcong Water Level Management Committee, which includes two commission members and several lake-area residents and business owners, will take place on January 12 at the Department of Environmental Protection headquarters in Trenton. “The focus of the first meeting will be to go over the existing plan so we can all have the same information as a starting place,” said Kerry Kirk Pflugh, the DEP’s representative on the commission. “The committee will stay in place for up to a year if we have to work that long.” Kirk Pflugh said the meetings will take place on a regular basis, perhaps monthly. And Felter said he had a commitment from governor-elect Chris Christie to visit with commissioners and the lake community sometime in January as well. “He wants to come up and talk to everyone here,” Felter said. All of that new-year action doesn’t mean the commission did nothing on Monday night.  For one thing, the group decided to move forward with a budget request to Trenton that would support the more expensive of the two business plans on the table: a plan that would include five full-time workers and up to five more seasonal employees.  Faced with a choice between that and three full-time workers with seven seasonal employees, the commissioners decided to reach for the larger budget, knowing it would likely get cut. “We have a responsibility to put out there what we believe is right for Lake Hopatcong,” said commissioner Dan McCarthy of Hopatcong, who added that both requests—which range from about $450,000 to $550,000—are significantly less than the commission’s original budget for operations, including weed harvesting and stormwater management.  The budget also has to include funding for an audit, required because the commission would receive more than a half-million dollars in federal grant money, through the Environmental Protection Agency, this fiscal year. After it was pointed out that the choice is really between two and four additional full-time employees, because the administrator position is already in place, Mt. Arlington commissioner Tom Foley reminded the group of a meeting with the weed-harvesting foreman in October. “We have to remember that Michael Calderio made it clear that the more staff, the better,” he said. As a result, the commission voted unanimously to request a budget from Trenton that would accommodate five full-time employees, with Kirk Pflugh abstaining. The commission also voted to renew its insurance package for 2010, which will cost $20,647—a huge chunk of the $35,403.20 that was reported to be in the group’s bank account as of November 30.  “This has always been a huge source of frustration to me, that we have to spend so much money for insurance,” McCarthy said. He and other commissioners said they felt the state should somehow fund the insurance, since it is for the sake of managing a state lake. “There must be a way to get this all under one umbrella.” But Donna Macalle-Holly said that those efforts have been made, and because of the nature of the commission as a semi-independent body, it had to seek its own insurance—an effort that is made extra challenging because many insurance companies decline to insure a group like that of the commission.  Macalle-Holly urged the commission to renew the package, in part because the weed-harvesting equipment has been relocated to a place that’s less secure than Picatinny Arsenal, where it was housed during past winters. “If we have to cancel [because we run out of funds], we cancel,” she said. Next year’s meeting schedule was laid out on Monday.  Through 2010, the commission will continue to gather on the third Monday of the month, with the exception of January (it will meet the second Monday, January 11), February (it will meet the third Tuesday, February 16, because of President’s Day), and the months of November and December (it will meet the second Monday, to accommodate the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday weeks). Macalle-Holly thanked the local municipalities, local state senators Anthony Bucco and Steve Oroho, the Knee Deep Club, and others for help with submitting an application to I Boat NJ for $440,000 in funding for the commission operations.  That application is separate from an application submitted by the Lake Hopatcong Alliance, which seeks money on behalf of the lake for pilot projects regarding weed management and a Lake Hopatcong festival.  Both were submitted in time for the December 15 deadline, and both groups expect to hear a response early in 2010. Hopatcong resident Steve Gebeloff asked whether there was a subcommittee to find grants such as those provided through I Boat NJ, a state program that supports the marine industry through a boat-registration fee increase in 2003.  Felter said January would be a time when the commission would revisit its subcommittees anyway, and that the commission would look into starting one that would focus on seeking grants—yet another item for the January agenda. On the subject of the annual lake drawdown, which reached its 26-inch bottom-out mark on December 13, Lake Hopatcong resident and Beebe Marina owner Cliff Beebe argued that residents’ riparian rights had been violated. “It’s a matter of civil rights,” Beebe said. “The law says the lake will be kept full at all times.  I can’t use my point of entry… you’re supposed to be looking out for people, and dropping the lake doesn’t help people at all.” As the year comes to a close, Felter wished everyone a happy holiday and a healthy, happy, and prosperous new year. “It’s going to be an interesting year,” he said. “We look forward to working with the new governor, the alliance, and everyone else to try to move things forward for the lake.”

Leave a Reply

Please enter the word you see in the image below: