Taking last month’s decision to jump-start the weed harvest effort a step forward, the Lake Hopatcong Commission on Monday allocated an additional $12,000 from its dwindling coffers to weed harvesting, with the hope that the state will eventually reimburse the funding down the road.
The money, which comes in addition to $20,000 allocated at the April meeting, will allow the commission to pay three full-time staffers to continue to prepare the harvesters for use, launch them, and begin the harvest effort through the end of the fiscal year on June 30. In addition, two employees will be hired for a four-week stretch starting on June 1. The commission has the money in its account at the moment, which allows the effort to take place; but the question is whether the state will reimburse it or come up with a long-term funding plan for the group. Using funding from last year's I Boat NJ grants, the commission purchased an array of parts last fall, and used a small allocation to extend the employment of staffers at the end of last season to make necessary repairs to the equipment. Those repairs have now resumed, and commissioners hope the machines will be in the water within a few weeks.
“I know we’re taking a chance here, but we’ve got to get some weed harvesting going,” said commission chairman and Jefferson Township mayor Russ Felter. “It’s time we really make some decisions about the future of this commission. I think we need to say, ‘look, we have a commitment here, it’s important…and it’s time for us to step up.’”
The eight commissioners in attendance passed the measure unanimously, expressing support for the move and uncertainty over whether it would result in some funding from Trenton.
“If this is the only lifeboat on the Titanic, we’ve got to put it in the water,” said commissioner Dan McCarthy of Hopatcong.
Felter said the talks with state legislators were “ongoing,” and that he hoped to come back to the group at next month’s meeting with more information about both the harvest effort and the long-term financial situation for the commission.
As the discussion of long-term funding returned to the table, so did the issue of implementing user fees for those who launch boats on the lake.
“We’ve come to the end of the line, basically,” said commissioner Ed McCarthy, who said that “a few bucks a year” should be a worthy investment for lake residents and business owners in order to protect the lake. He added that Gov. Chris Christie had been in office for a year and a half, but had thus far provided no money to the lake. “This issue has been skirted around.”
Hopatcong resident Barbara Loring said she has been frustrated by the lack of action with regard to the weed harvesting on the lake, and said the state shouldn’t use the lake as a resource without also providing for its protection. (A charge Felter corrected, saying that the state provided for the lake in many ways with regard to funding water-quality projects; just not consistently for weed harvesting. “To say that the state and feds aren’t putting any money into the lake is wrong,” he said.)
As a lakefront homeowner, Loring said, she pays twice as much in taxes without getting the benefit of using the lake itself.
“At some point I am going to the town to ask to have my taxes reduced, because I can’t use the lake,” she said. “I don’t mind a fee if everybody’s going to pay a fee, but I do mind paying a fee if only the lakefront property owners are paying it.”
Loring also said that the commissioners should make sure any fees collected would remain at the lake without the possibility of being raided by the state—a point that has been raised repeatedly in the user-fee discussion, and one all of the commissioners seemed to agree with on Monday.
Kerry Kirk Pflugh, the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection representative on the commission, said she thought one solution to the funding issue is already in place, in the form of a non-profit like the Lake Hopatcong Alliance to be the fundraising arm of the lake. “At least in the immediate future, to me, the Lake Hopatcong Alliance is the solution,” she said. “It makes the lake community very cohesive, and I think that energy could be enormous.”
The Lake Hopatcong Alliance on Monday shared its plans for some lake activities, including a Lake Hopatcong festival that is planned for August 18 through 21 at Lee’s Park in Mt. Arlington. Ron Sorensen, who is coordinating the event, said the alliance has hired Cliffhanger Productions to handle logistics, such as bringing in amusements and rides. In addition, local groups and businesses can host booths around the festival grounds, about 50 or 60 floating docks will be put into place to accommodate boat traffic, and each day will have some marquee event, such as a performance by the Lake Mohawk Ski Hawks. Proceeds will go to weed harvesting on the lake. “It’s going to be a pretty big undertaking,” Sorensen said. “[But] it should be a nice fundraising event.”
Sorensen asked the commissioners to go to their respective towns to see what help can be coordinated, such as traffic control, to keep the alliance’s costs low. Felter said he would gather the key players for a meeting in the coming weeks to see what can and can’t be provided by the local municipalities.
By the Fourth of July, the alliance will be distributing information booklets to all lakefront residents and to ramps around the lake through its “Lake Awareness Campaign.” The books will include maps, visitor information, and, president Ray Fernandez said, “be embedded with environmental information,” such as how to keep boats clean to avoid transplanting invasive species into the lake, and which fertilizer to use.
Fernandez also updated the commission on the group’s efforts to put together a weed map, in instruction booklet form, to distribute to lake residents, along with information about how to deal with each weed species. In that vein, the group is moving forward with some alternate weed treatment methods, via the I Boat NJ grants received last year. Fernandez said they are likely to try a hydrorake project in Bright’s Cove, and Steve Gebeloff of Hopatcong said a weevil project (using beetles that feed exclusively on the invasive Eurasian milfoil) is likely to be tried in the Lify Island area, bringing in 20,000 weevils this year and an additional 8,000 next year.
With regard to the most-feared water chestnut invasive species, Tim Clancy of the Knee Deep Club filled commissioners in on the Water Scout effort for 2011, saying that just a couple of days after restarting the group, volunteers have already committed to scouring more than half of the lake’s shoreline for the species. They are starting later in the season this year than they did last year, since the plants will be bigger and easier to spot later on. The club will have a “swat team” to regularly revisit the areas more prone to a water chestnut outbreak, such as Landing channel (where a group was spotted and removed last year), Lify Island, and the canals. “I think this one’s going to be a walk in the park,” he said, after all of the effort that went into starting up the Water Scouts last year. “The public education aspect of this is what’s going to win the day. We’ve got to continue to be vigilant.”
In other news:
• Felter and Kirk Pflugh said that the Lake Hopatcong Water-Level Management Plan had been finalized in recent weeks by the state. John Kurzman of Lake Hopatcong said the plan is based on the faulty assumption that the lake has consistently released at least 12 cubic feet per second from the dam, which he said is not the case. He also maintained that the water should be preserved in the early months of the season to better ensure the lake being full enough during the later, drier summertime. “I know it’s not in your hands anymore right now, and I don’t mean to be chicken little,” Kurzman said, “but if you look at the water budget…there are many times when we’re going to be in a worse situation than we’ve been in in the past.”
• Kirk Pflugh said the state was working hard alongside Rutgers University and fertilizer manufacturers to create the online certification process for applying fertilizer under the new law passed this year by state legislators. (The law, in part, brings the rest of the state in line with one of the lakeside municipalities’ requirement to use low-phosphorus fertilizer.) Kirk Pflugh said if anyone had any questions, they could contact her. Visit www.nj.gov/dep/healthylawnshealthywater/ for more details on the law.
• Cliff Beebe once again implored the commissioners to recognize his contention that the state does not own the lake—rather, the lakefront property owners do—and any efforts to control the water level are unconstitutional, and an infringement on property rights. He distributed a copy of a report from the Morris Canal Investigation Committee from years back that concluded the canal company, which was eventually taken over by the state, owned 19.2 percent of Lake Hopatcong’s area. “Who owns the other 80 percent?” Beebe asked. “That needs to be addressed.”
• Donna Macalle-Holly updated the commission on the grant projects that are in process. Crescent Cove beach now has a filter in the ground, she said, and she thanked the beach members for their patience as the construction finishes up through the Memorial Day holiday. Other projects in Jefferson and Landing are still under way, with some issues arising in Jefferson because of bedrock limitations. Macalle-Holly said the other component to its environmental grants, water sampling, has been hampered by all of the recent rain. The group needs three consecutive rain-free days during the middle of the week in order to take samples, which hasn’t happened amid the regular rainstorms of recent weeks.
- Donna Macalle-Holly also read an update on the River Styx Bridge construction activities. As of May 10, three of the 10 upper pilings repairs were complete. Other replacement efforts are in progress, and lower piling repair will begin on June 15.
• Felter said he wanted to thank commissioner David Jarvis, who has served on the commission for 10 years and is stepping down.
• Felter also congratulated Bridge Marina for being named 2010 Marina of the Year by Marina Dock Age magazine. (To read the article about this award, click here.)
• Dan McCarthy pointed out that next month will be the five-year anniversary of the vacancy of a public seat, appointed by the state, on the commission. Felter said he hoped to have an announcement of an appointment by the next meeting.