HOPATCONG – Once again the lead topic at the monthly Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting Monday night was about the lake’s water level. Ironically, this time it was not about low levels of water, but about too much water in the lake.
Mother Nature has produced a near record rainfall in the month of June, raising the level of the lake to a high of 9.76 feet overnight between June 14 and June 15 according to the USGS water gage located at Hopatcong State Park.
The water level in the lake has been above the high-water mark for two weeks. A no-wake order has been issued for all boaters using the lake but, according to Commissioner Dan McCarthy, representing Hopatcong, the first weekend of the no-wake order was a “disaster, it seemed everyone was ignoring it.” He did note that this past weekend was different.
“It was quiet and serene, a different world,” said McCarthy who mentioned that he saw the state police stop multiple offenders throughout the weekend.
Commissioner Fred Steinbaum, a recent Gubernatorial appointee to the commission, questioned the regions handling of no-wake notification. He suggested that an automated phone message or email blast should go out to residents in all four towns. He also suggested marinas should be required to notify boaters of the no-wake rule.
The conversation quickly turned from no-wake notification to water level management.
Steve Ellis, Acting Regional Superintendent, Division of Parks and Forestry State Park Service, addressed the commission about the present water level of the lake and whether the sluice gates should be opened to alleviate some of the high water problems in areas around the lake. The gates, he thought, were never opened, in accordance with the Lake Hopatcong Water Management Plan that is in existence now.
“These storms came upon so quickly we had no time to react,” he said about opening the gates. “And,” he added, “We can’t take the risk of flooding the river and Lake Musconetcong, which was already at flood stage.”
“It’s a risky proposition to open the gates and release water going solely on a weather forecast,” added Commission Kerry Kirk Pflugh, representing the Department of Environmental Protection. Ellis agreed and added that if they had released the water and the forecast was wrong then someone else would have complained that the water level in the lake was too low.
At last month’s LHC meeting, representative Betty Gantert voiced concern about the newly formed Lake Hopatcong Foundation and its role in the management and preservation of the lake, fearing that the Foundation was looking to take away the responsibilities of the commission. Chairman Russ Felter quickly addressed the issue by asking Jessica Murphy, president of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation, who was present at that meeting, to put together a presentation about the Foundation’s initiatives for the commission.
At Monday’s meeting, Murphy presented to the board a list of Foundation projects and initiatives, the Foundation’s 990-tax form and a press release from the Lake George (NY) Commission. Commissioner Gantert was not present at Monday’s meeting.
Topping the list from Murphy, the Foundation has already taken over (from the Knee Deep Club) the Water Scouts program, which is just one aspect of their Water Quality/Hydrology Team. The water quality team also helps with water monitoring and is planning a large cleanup effort the day after the July fireworks.
Already in place, said Murphy, is an agreement with local police for additional patrols on the lake during the busy boating season, a program put together by the Foundation’s Police and Emergency Team.
Murphy got to show off the Foundation’s most recent accomplishment, the Lake Hopatcong Guide, an app for smartphones and tablets. Using a tablet to demonstrate for the commissioners, Murphy quickly accessed the app and scrolled through the many features available. Murphy also publically thanked Foundation volunteer George Damarel, who was instrumental in the development of the app for the Foundation.
Murphy also mentioned the upcoming “Shop Local” campaign that the Foundation is promoting throughout the month of July and the recently completed Prospect Point Trail in Jefferson that the Foundation helped fund with a $15,000 grant.
According to Murphy, the Foundation is currently looking at ways to “restore and renovate the historic Lee’s Park Pavilion in Lee’s County Park, improve the aesthetics of the end of the lake in Landing and is working to restore the fountain in Hopatcong State Park.”
“I don’t think anyone knew what to expect when the Foundation was launched,” said Felter, looking over the projects and initiatives list. “You have gone above and beyond. This is great,” he said to Murphy. “We certainly are going to work to partner with you,” he added.
Commissioner Rich Zoschak concurred.
“The state should know what you’re doing,” he said. “Good job, very good job.” Others on the commission agreed by nodding their heads.
“I don’t see any conflict between the Foundation and the commission,” said Pflugh. “It’s complimentary.
The substance of the meeting then focused on the recent request from the Lake Musconetcong Regional Planning Board to borrow one of the smaller weed harvesters currently in the possession of the Lake Hopatcong Commission, and not being used in Lake Hopatcong. After a long back and forth discussion addressing concerns about liability, shared services, cost of repairs, leasing versus purchasing, and the possible transfer of vegetation, the commission still needs to see a completed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) before voting on the request. According to Commissioner Zoschak the vote should happen at the next meeting, July 15.
In other news:
Bill Stewart, a resident of Bright’s Cove, voiced concern over the high water, saying that because the water is so high, the people in Bright’s Cove can no longer access the main lake. Route 181 separates the cove from the lake and the only access is under a bridge near Prospect Point Boat Yard and Flash Marina. Stewart reported that a boat trying to access the cove got stuck under the bridge this past weekend.
Chairman Felter announced, again, that he’d like to step down from the Commission but that his request to the Governor has gone unanswered, as it did last year. Felter said he is seeking help from Senator Tony Bucco on the issue.
The next LHC meeting will be held Monday, July 15 at the Hopatcong Senior Center.