Weeds and Fees at the Center of Commission Meeting

User fees weren't on the agenda for Monday night's Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting, but they were at the center of much of the discussion between commissioners and residents as the commission seeks a long-term source of funding and outspoken residents rail against the idea of being charged to use the lake. Lake Hopatcong Commission - July meeting“I was struck by there being nothing on the agenda about funding the commission,” said John Yingling of Hopatcong. “That seems to be the most serious problem facing the commission.” Chairman Arthur Ondish said the subject will be spotlighted when a commission subcommittee completes a business plan, presumably by the September meeting. “Once the commissioners have looked at it and put together a draft, the public will be able to comment on it,” he said. Ron Sorensen, owner of Lake Hopatcong Marine and San Bar Marina, suggested a plan that could both fund the commission and help business owners deal with a long-term problem: requiring Lee’s County Park in Mt. Arlington to charge market value for their slips and launching services, and the difference in income could fund the commission. “There’s unfair competition here,” Sorensen said. “I lose business to the county, and they don’t charge market value…. This would solve the funding issue and make it fair for local businesses.” Commissioner Daniel McCarthy of Hopatcong said he thought the idea had merit to it. “But it’s going to take political pressure and citizen pressure, too,” he said, and suggested that Sorensen band together with others and approach county officials with the request. “That’s a big battle to fight,” Ondish said. “But I think you’re in a better position to fight it.” Sorensen said he thought it would be the commission’s battle to fight, too. “It’s to get your funding,” he said. “My point is if you don’t ask, you’ll never get it.” The need for funding of some sort was particularly relevant as residents vented to the commissioners about the weed situation on the lake. “River Styx Cove is a disaster area right now,” said Al Riha of Hopatcong. “The waterfront in Crescent Cove is not usable.” With a $68,000 contribution from the state and volunteered time and space from the local municipalities, the commission was able to arrange for some weed harvesting to take place this summer, but the effort is scaled back in comparison to years past. Donna Macalle-Holly, the commission’s administrator, said the harvesting effort began on Monday after a delay because of harvester maintenance issues. But those efforts were not enough for some who say they faced back-to-back problems this summer: first with low water levels to start the season, and now with high weed levels. “This is crazy,” Riha said. “And user fees is not the answer.” “What did we do in the past?” asked Toni Irwin of Lake Hopatcong. “How did this get so out of control?” Ed Maas of Landing suggested that the commission look into asking volunteers to run the weed harvesting machines all summer, in order to get more hours out of them. “Why not run it like a voluntary fire department,” Maas said. “A lot of people here seem to be concerned about the lake.” But Ondish and other commissioners pointed out that it takes training to run the machines, and Macalle-Holly said the commission’s insurance doesn’t cover volunteers. Commissioner David Jarvis of Lake Hopatcong told residents and commissioners about a system that involves removing the weeds at their roots, which both eliminates the biomass and prevents the weeds from growing back. “I hope to get a pilot program going,” Jarvis said. “It could be really effective for years.” In other business; •    The commissioners also reviewed several stormwater management projects around the lake, which will be paid for via DEP and EPA grants. “That’s the stuff that’s going to help the lake,” Ondish said. “Nobody sees it, but it’s good stuff.” •    Several residents brought up reports that 100,000 herring were taken from Lake Hopatcong and relocated to Round Valley Reservoir. Hopatcong resident John Kurzman looked into the matter and said he was assured the number of herring was just a drop in the bucket. “But maybe we should be careful about affecting the predator-prey balance,” he said. “Maybe the commission needs to get into the loop of these things.” •    Steve Gebeloff of Hopatcong said the pilings on the River Styx Bridge are rusted through, and a member of the State Police said the situation was being addressed. •    A Lake Hopatcong Water Management Committee is being assembled at the state level to address the water-level issues. Both Ondish and McCarthy will be the representatives from the Lake Hopatcong Commission.

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