More than 688 tons of weeds have been pulled from Lake Hopatcong since the weed-harvest effort began in late June, and because the dollars have been stretched more than expected, the Lake Hopatcong Commission on Monday voted to extend the harvest for an additional week.
“We have more than enough money,” chairman and Jefferson Township mayor Russell Felter told those in attendance at the Mt. Arlington Borough Hall. “”We’d like to extend the harvesting a week [to end on September 10 instead of September 3], and we have the money to do that…. There are just a lot of weeds.”
The weed harvest was the center of discussion for a large part of the commission’s monthly meeting, which also featured certificate of recognition presentations to retiring commissioner John Risko and the Knee Deep Club’s water chestnut initiative, and an update on the activities of the Lake Hopatcong Alliance.
Staff member Barry Marke, who has been heavily involved in the harvesting operations, spoke to the group about his observations on the weed-harvest effort. Marke said that there was an abundance of tapegrass—a native weed species that can still reach nuisance levels. “It seems to have taken over,” he said. “There’s a whole lot more than I’ve ever seen before.”
Because of the nature of tapegrass, it’s particularly difficult to cut it with the harvesters, Marke said. But that isn’t the only challenge. “This has been a very frustrating year,” he said, “mainly because there are so very many weeds out there.” With the lack of rainfall and subsequent lower water levels, he said, the weeds are growing faster and it’s more challenging for the harvesters to get into certain areas. Within three weeks of covering Woodport, the weeds were already back to where they had been before, he said.
The equipment has also been a source of frustration, because without full-time staff members maintaining the harvesters during the off-season, many of the parts were in disrepair at the outset of this year’s effort. “A lot of the problems could have been prevented,” Marke said, if the same care that had been taken in the past had been taken in recent years.
In the past, the commission had also been able to respond to specific requests from residents who call about weed growth near their shoreline. Administrator Donna Macalle-Holly said such requests could not be a part of this year’s operations because only four harvesters are running, and they got a late start while waiting for state funding.
Nonetheless, this season’s removal of nearly 700 tons of weeds—with four weeks to go—has far exceeded last year’s makeshift effort, which resulted in 253 tons of weeds removed from the lake. And Marke said the four harvesters that are out there this year will be used as effectively as they can, despite the sporadic breakdowns. “We’re just trying to say in the water and cut as many weeds as we can and help as many people as we can,” he said.
The efforts of Marke and other employees were applauded by the commissioners and members of the public. Tim Clancy of Lake Hopatcong said he hoped the commission would take note of the skill set on display during Marke’s comments. “They’re not just employees, they take pride in their work,” Clancy said. “You’re very lucky to have them back… I hope the commission will seek an alternate funding revenue stream” to pay for such employees in the future.
Clancy was honored earlier in Monday’s meeting, along with the rest of the Knee Deep Club, for the group's efforts to seek out and eradicate the water chestnut invasive species from the lake bed. After receiving a certificate of recognition from Felter, Clancy said the effort by the club—and the dozens of volunteers from other organizations around the lake—was “truly profound.”
“This was a tremendous success,” he said, citing the extensive search by the Water Scouts in kayaks and canoes to cover the lake’s perimeter and shallow areas in search of the species. Only one outbreak was found, in Landing Channel, and about 50 or 60 plants were removed, which could have resulted in thousands of seeds released if they weren’t discovered. It’s not over, however. Clancy said future searches are planned, and “we don’t ever win this war; the best we can do is not lose.”
Specifically, he said, a public education campaign needs to continue to burn the image of the water chestnut in lakefront owners’ minds, and long-term search efforts must continue. “We didn’t want to find it,” he said, “but I’m sure glad we did, since it was here.”
Educating the public about the plant took a leap forward with a mailing that was sent out in recent weeks, a joint venture by the Lake Hopatcong Alliance and Lake Hopatcong Commission to reach all 1,500 lakefront homeowners.
The mailing was one of several items mentioned in an update from Steve Gebeloff, of the Lake Hopatcong Alliance board of directors. Gebeloff said the group is still waiting for its I BOAT NJ grant funding from the state, and is hoping to move forward with a weed-mapping survey of species by the end of this season, to better inform efforts to harvest and treat weeds around the lake. The alliance is also looking to extend its membership to some of the lake’s younger residents, through a young adult committee, to help ensure that future generations of lake users will be represented with today’s efforts.
Also speaking on behalf of the alliance, president Ray Fernandez said the group was looking into the amount of water that needed to reach Lake Musconetcong to properly support the downstream watershed. He said the alliance is studying whether it is possible to decrease the outflow from Lake Hopatcong earlier in the season to be better prepared for dry summers, such as this one. “We’ll continue to look at this,” he said, adding that it’s “something we’d like the Lake Hopatcong Commission to look at.”
The meeting also featured another moment of recognition; this one in honor of John Risko, who had been on the commission since its inception and is stepping down. Presented with a certificate by Felter and commissioner Dan McCarthy, Risko said he had been there through some tough roads, but that he would advise commissioners to always remember it’s about the lake. “It’s not just about us,” he said. He also emphasized the caliber of employees who have been a part of the commission and were let go because of budget cuts, returning as seasonal workers when the weed-harvest effort is funded. “You have a dedicated group of employees,” he said. “Never forget that. They’re the most valuable asset you have.”
In other news:
- Felter thanked the Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority for deferring the cost of weed disposal, an action it also took last year.
- Cliff Beebe of Beebe Marine in Lake Hopatcong emphasized his opposition to any drawdown of the lake water level, citing the condition of Lake George, which doesn’t have such a system in place. He said the drawdown is detrimental to the integrity of docks and other structures along the lake edge. “This is America,” he said, “and our civil rights are being disregarded.”
- Esther Poulsen of Bright’s Cove reminded the commissioners about the Tom Wear Memorial Swim, which is scheduled to take place on September 12. Felter said he would try to ensure that the harvesters finish up their efforts with one more run along the swim path in Woodport before they are removed from the lake on September 10.
- Macalle-Holly presented “The Traveling Tales of Water Pollution” to 180 campers at Camp Jefferson, teaching those in attendance about how to protect the Lake Hopatcong watershed. “It was a great way to reach a large number of kids,” she said.
- Felter has an appointment with state senators Anthony R. Bucco and Steven V. Oroho to continue discussions aimed to secure long-term funding for the Lake Hopatcong Commission and its weed harvest activities.
- The Lake Hopatcong Water Level Advisory Committee will have a draft plan to be presented for public review next month.