MOUNT ARLINGTON – An open-space referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot dominated the discussion at the monthly Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting Monday. The ballot question, if passed, will have a direct negative impact on the weed harvesting program at Lake Hopatcong.
According to Commissioner Kerry Kirk Pflugh, representing the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, the referendum is a constitutional amendment to dedicate six percent of corporate business tax revenues to open space. But, she said, the current dedication of four percent of corporate business tax revenues used to fund environmental programs would be reallocated, essentially cutting funds to many programs throughout the state.
“It will impact specific programs,” she said.
Kirk Pflugh read from a prepared statement outlining some of the programs to be cut, including Lake Hopatcong’s weed harvesting program, water quality monitoring programs throughout the state and future projects at Fenimore Landfill in Roxbury. The passage of the referendum would not impact the current capping project at the site.
“If this referendum is passed, as of July 1, 2015, there will be no funding available to support the weed harvesting program in Lake Hopatcong,” she said.
The six other commissioners present at Monday’s meeting tried to make sense of the ballot question. Rich Zoschak, commissioner from Roxbury, noting that in New Jersey, voters always vote yes on open space questions.
“So this (ballot) question is misleading?” said Anne Seibert-Pravs, commissioner from Mount Arlington, further wondering how to educate the public about the discrepancy.
“I buy open space and I’m upset about this,” said Commissioner Russ Felter who, in his professional life, is manager of park projects for the
Morris County Parks Commission.
Kirk Pflugh further explained the DEP’s position.
“The reason I bring this up—we felt it appropriate to have a discussion with all of you. We are funded through July 1. If we can parlay any money to make it to the end—to Labor Day—I can not make any promises.”
“This is horrific. This referendum is scary,” said Steve Ellis, DEP regional superintendent North Region.
Hopatcong Councilman Mike Francis addressed the commission in the public comment portion of the meeting: “It’s the responsibility of the local towns to stand together on this. When people figure out they don’t want to come here because of the weeds, they won’t come. We should become a strong lobby for our lake. I will be part of it,” he said emphatically.
Felter, speaking as mayor of Jefferson Township, mentioned that each of his counterparts in the four towns around the lake, Hopatcong, Mount Arlington and Roxbury respectfully, have been in contact and are arranging a meeting with local and state legislators to discuss future funding for weed harvesting and other programs at Lake Hopatcong.
“Only in New Jersey can something that is good for the environment screw the environment,” said Felter.
IN OTHER NEWS
Steve Ellis explained the “abrupt ending to the (weed harvest) season,” blaming it on a miss communication between the budget and accounting department in Trenton, who thought the program was running out of money, and his management team at Lake Hopatcong. (In late September, seasonal employees were terminated without warning, and without properly securing any of the weed harvesting equipment, which was left at various locations around Lake Hopatcong. A small harvester, loaned to Lake Musconetcong, was also not properly moved to storage.)
Once reconciled, said Ellis, workers were put back on the payroll and all the machines in the weed harvesting fleet were cleaned and moved to the Franklin Twp. garage, including the small harvester from Lake Musconetcong.
Dan Bello, DEP environmental specialist North Region, reported the final numbers for the 2014 harvesting season.
According to Bello, 2,644 cubic yards of vegetation were removed from the lake in 2014. The season lasted from June 6 until Sept. 26, approximately two week longer than last year, he said.
“Overall we’re happy with the way things ran,” said Bello.
Bello also reported the office building at Hopatcong State Park has been cleared of all antiquated electronic equipment, “minus a few cell phones and a computer or two.” He did request volunteers from the commissioners to help sort through the volumes of old files. Rich Zoschak did offer to help.
The next Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting will be held Monday, November 17 at the Mount Arlington Municipal Building, 419 Howard Boulevard. The meeting begins at 7pm.