Those who have regularly attended Lake Hopatcong Commission meetings know that there are some conflicts that appear to be eternal, and several of them were in the spotlight during Monday night’s meeting.
Balancing the need for Lake Hopatcong to retain water and Lake Musconetcong to receive it; balancing residents’ right to protect their docks from ice damage and the safety of those who want to use the ice in the winter; and balancing the commission’s operating needs and the limited state resources to support it—those juggling acts were all on display at the Mt. Arlington Borough Hall.
“We understand that one of the goals of the water-level management plan is to support recreation, but that’s lake and downstream recreation,” said Beth Styler Barry, executive director of the Lake Musconetcong Watershed Association. Styler Barry emphasized her concern with the possibility that the Lake Hopatcong water-level management committee would alter the current plan to allow for less than 12 cubic feet of water per second to be released from the Lake Hopatcong dam. She said the change would be “extraordinarily critical and controversial, and we absolutely do not accept that version of the plan,” adding that downstream municipalities, counties, and organizations would draft resolutions challenging such a change.
Several residents and representatives from Trout Unlimited and the National Parks Service spoke in support of Styler Barry’s comments.
Ron Sorensen, a Lake Hopatcong resident and marina owner who sits on the water-level management committee, said he hoped the people downstream understood that Lake Hopatcong residents are not “trying to kill the fish” downstream. “There’s got to be some kind of happy medium,” he said.
Lake Hopatcong resident John Kurzman also said he believed “there is a common ground” on the outflow issue, but was forceful in his dispute of the Lake Musconetcong stakeholders’ assertions that 12 cfs outflow is necessary to sustain the downstream ecosystem. According to U.S. Geological Survey data, he said far less than 12 cfs had been released regularly over the decades. “I hope we can use common sense and let less out [early in the season],” he said. “Then when they do need cooler water from Lake Hopatcong, we are not under stress.”
The draft water-level management plan—which was revisited in the last year after mismanagement led to low water levels to start the 2009 season—is expected to be signed off by N.J. Department of Environmental Protection officials in the near future, after which it will be available for public comment.
Another issue to come up during Monday’s meeting was the use of Ice Eaters around residents’ docks. Art Clark of Hopatcong, who voiced his concern to the commission last winter, returned to request that the group do something about the large swaths of open water that he believes are caused by overzealous use of the ice-clearing devices. “It was the coldest winter in a decade, and we had these large open areas,” he said, emphasizing the risk to those using the ice for recreation. Jefferson Township and Hopatcong Borough have resolutions that limit use of such devices, and the commissioners agreed to ask the towns to remind residents of the proper use to just clear the areas immediately around docks and boat houses, and to encourage Mt. Arlington and Roxbury to adopt similar ordinances. (Dock Bubblers are different from Ice Eaters, and do not typically cause larger openings.)
“We have to go back to our towns, and suggest they put this on the radar screen,” said Daniel McCarthy, a commissioner and acting chairman for the evening. “We have to make this the squeaky wheel.”
Some suggested that wind patterns or the heavy rain and change in lake level might have been responsible for the larger open areas last winter. Commissioner Elizabeth Gantert said the solution might be to limit the horsepower allowed on ice-clearing devices. “I think it’s a great detriment to have increased horsepower,” she said. “If I live on the lake, I want to be able to enjoy the lake thoroughly, through the summer and through the winter.”
The commission agreed to write a letter to the towns, and revisit the issue in the future depending on how things progressed.
The need for a permanent funding source was also at issue during Monday’s meeting. McCarthy showed photos of some of the disrepair that the weed harvesters are in, and said that when the commission has regular funding, items can be fixed during the off season. The last several years, he said, last-minute funding has allowed for some weed harvesting, but the machines have been riddled with issues because they have not been properly cared for during the winter.
Kerry Kirk Pflugh, who represents the D.E.P. on the commission, said a tour of the lake with the D.E.P. officials, including the commissioner, and LHC chairman Russ Felter, led to some positive discussion about future funding. “We talked broadly about the options,” Kirk Pflugh said. “I know that the subject of user fees is something that needs to be put back on the table and discussed.”
Donna Macalle-Holly, the commission’s administrator, said it was a sad day when the commission had to again let go of its workforce, which had been rehired for the summer thanks to grants from the state. “As we approach the ten-year anniversary,” she said, “I really hope this is the year the Lake Hopatcong Commission can fund its operation.”
In other news:
• Steve Gebeloff of the Lake Hopatcong Alliance said the group’s weed survey resulted in the discovery of a new non-native plant species, the water hyacinth. It’s a fast-growing plant that can block boat traffic and choke out an ecosystem, but because it generally dies off in the winter months, it’s a significantly less of a concern than the water chestnut. Still, Gebeloff said the alliance recommends the commission encourage residents not to use the ornamental plant on their property.
• The annual 26-inch drawdown is scheduled to begin on Nov. 1.
• Although the commission usually meets on the third Monday of the month, the next two meetings will take place on the second Monday: November 8 and December 13. Both will be held at the Hopatcong Civic Center on Lakeside Boulevard in Hopatcong.