ROXBURY – The Lake Hopatcong weed harvesting program will be funded to June 30 of this year and there is a line item in the new budget that, if passed, will keep the program alive for another fiscal year, reported commissioner Kerry Kirk Pflugh, representing the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, at Monday’s monthly Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting.
This week’s meeting was the first meeting held in 2015, with the first two meetings canceled due to wintery weather.
According to Pflugh there was “a lot of concern” after ballot question No. 2 was passed in November, effectively shutting off funding for a variety of state funded programs, including the weed harvesting program at Lake Hopatcong. At the time, said PFlugh, no one knew what impact the referendum would have on programs at state parks. After the vote all money allocated for all the programs was frozen, she said. Over the past three months, she said, she and her colleagues at the DEP worked tirelessly to find funding.
“I’m hopeful in telling you that we’ll have a weed harvest program this year—through the fiscal year of June 30,” said Pflugh.
Pflugh also announced that the line item added in the 2016 fiscal year budget is for $155,000, reporting that the DEP is hopeful the budget will be passed. There is “no reason it should be denied,” said Pflugh. “Our commissioner (NJ DEP Commissioner Bob Martin) is confident the money will be there after June 30.”
Pflugh also reported that Martin “very strongly advocated to get the money for this season” by securing resources from the general fund, but, said Pflugh, “we should really start thinking long term—what is our way of sustaining the program.” Pflugh also asked the four municipalities to pitch in, to which Chairman Russ Felter, speaking as Jefferson mayor, mentioned Jefferson Township would be able to have one worker a week help transport the biomass from the lake to the Morris County MUA in Mount Olive. Felter also said he would call the other mayors to coordinate the effort.
Dan Bello, DEP environmental specialist in charge of the weed harvest program, reported that the weed harvesting program this year “got a late start on
ordering parts” for all the equipment and that “it’s up in the air” as to when the harvesters will get in the water.
Commissioner Fred Steinbaum, a gubernatorial appointee, asked Bello why there was a delay in ordering parts.
“Question No. 2,” said Bello’s boss, Steve Ellis, DEP north region superintendent, who fielded the question from Steinbaum. “Once the referendum passed all the money was frozen,” he answered.
Pflugh concurred. “Once No. 2 was passed, all bets were off—money disappeared.” But, said Pflugh, since the program in now being funded, “nothing was lost.” To which Steinbaum responded, “except time.”
The commission voted on and passed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Lake Musconetcong Regional Planning Board to again lend the neighboring lake community a small harvester to help control its weed problem. Commissioners Anne Pravs, representing Mount Arlington and Dan McCarthy, representing Hopatcong, voiced strong concerns about extending the MOU with Lake Musconetcong. Both Pravs and McCarthy were concerned about the condition of the harvester when it was returned and the lack of communication between the LHC and the LMRPB.
“That machine was pretty beat up,” said McCarthy.
The small harvester was operational on Lake Musconetcong for only two weeks late last summer before breaking down. The cost to fix it totaled $1,300 and was covered by the LMRPB.
Both Felter and Pflugh urged the board to vote in favor of the MOU because of the agreement with the state that sharing the harvester with Lake Musconetcong would be in the best interest of Lake Hopatcong.
“I wouldn’t let us sign anything that is going to hurt us,” said Felter.
Of the seven commissioners present at the meeting only McCarthy voted against extending the MOU. Pravs half-heartedly voted “yes” to extend the MOU, making clear her concerns that the LMRPB did not comply fully with the 2014 MOU. The vote passed 6-1.
IN OTHER NEWS
Fred Lubnow of Princeton Hydro gave a report on the current 319(h) grant, which has been extended to September and is currently being managed by the Lake Hopatcong Foundation.
According to Lubnow the remaining money will be used to spruce up the goose netting on the floating wetlands in Ashley Cove, install four more storm water catch basins, extend the water quality monitoring program to include algae monitoring and conduct a bathymetric assessment in coves and near storm water pipes. The commission voted 7-0 to go forward with these projects.
Lubnow also reported that a new 319(h) grant was recently made available but that timing for the application was tight.
“Basically I have about 80 hours between now and Friday to get the grant application completed,” said Lubnow.
The new grant would include funding for a bio filtration system on a property owned by the Foundation, continued water quality monitoring, development of a stream monitoring program and plantings along shorelines. The commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with the grant application.
Pravs reported that she and other members of the board made a January visit to the winter storage facility for the weed harvesters and found it like “a brand new show room, well maintained, meticulous.” Pravs praised the two full time staff members, Mike Calderio and Curt Mulch, for saving the commission money with their innovative mechanical skills and how well they maintained the equipment and the facility.
“Kudos to Mike and Curt for their ability and hard work,” she said.
In the public portion of the meeting, Lake Hopatcong Foundation president Jessica Murphy urged the board members to vote for Lake Hopatcong for a BoatUS Foundation Grassroots Grant every day through March 24. Murphy also updated the commission regarding the Foundation’s May 9 Block Party at Hopatcong State Park.
The next Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 20 at the Roxbury municipal building. The meeting begins at 7 pm.
COMMISSIONERS ATTENDING THE MARCH MEETING
Chairman Russ Felter
Fred Steinbaum, gubernatorial appointee
Kerry Kirk Pflugh, DEP
Mark Crowley, Roxbury alternate
Dan McCarthy, Hopatcong
Mark Fisch, Jefferson
Anne Pravs, Mount Arlington