For John Kurzman, the Lake Hopatcong Alliance is not just about the lake water-level issue. "It’s about a lot more than that."
Kurzman is one of a group of nine lake residents and business owners who have come together as board members for the Lake Hopatcong Alliance, a nonprofit organization that is still in its early stages, but aims to be a united voice for the lake. He believes the Lake Hopatcong Commission, a board of local and state officials and representatives that works in conjunction with the Department of Environmental Protection and currently manages lake operations and maintenance, has become too tied to the needs of the state. He cited ways the alliance could take a different course: "We can raise money as a nonprofit and do things for the lake, and we can lobby as an independent group," Kurzman said. "We can be a voice in Trenton, rather than a voice of Trenton."
To gauge interest in the group and to inform the lake community about issues of concern, the Lake Hopatcong Alliance is hosting a rally at 10 a.m. on Sunday at Kabob’s in Glasser. "The primary reason is to bring people together," said Becca Fernandez of Lake Hopatcong. "It’s about water level, yes, but it’s also about water quality, lake management, weeds, and the future of this lake. We want to educate people about what’s going on in the here and now, and where we could be in terms of getting people together and really uniting as one common voice about this lake."
That voice, Fernandez said, will speak to Trenton, to the Lake Hopatcong Commission, and to other governing bodies on behalf of lake residents.
Membership in the alliance is free, and residents can get more information through the Save Lake Hopatcong website, savelakehopatcong.com.
Although Kurzman is concerned about the direction of the Lake Hopatcong Commission, he said his aim is not to replace the commission. "I don’t think it’s either us or them," he said. "I think we can work together. There’s a need for both organizations."
Mt. Arlington Mayor Arthur Ondish, who is the chairman of the commission, agrees. "I’m in support of anybody who’s interested in helping Lake Hopatcong," he said. "I would hope they would include the commission in some way, if for nothing else than we could let them know about the experiences we’ve had. We’d like to work hand in hand."
Ondish said there is a difference between what he and other commissioners can do and what the residents can do. "We have taken an oath to follow certain laws, and we don’t always have the ability to say whatever we’d like to say," he said. "Maybe it’s a good thing to have an organized group of people who are in a position to say whatever they want. We all have the same goal, which is to help the lake."
As for the criticism about the commission’s ties to Trenton, Ondish pointed out that the commission is funded through the DEP, and has seen that budget cut in the last year. "Do you bite the hand that feeds you? We’re not lying down, and we’re certainly not letting the state do whatever they want. But you have to be careful, and we’ve had to be patient."
The alliance is coming together during a season that has seen particular frustration for many lake residents and business owners. Because of a combination of factors, including the DEP letting too much water out of the dam in December, a drier-than-normal winter, and the fact that it was a significant drawdown year (when extra water is let out of the basin during the winter for dock repairs), the lake level has been well below normal during the early part of the lake’s busy season. It is still more than a foot below the dam’s gauge height, which is problematic for some marinas and other lake businesses. The host of Sunday’s rally, Kabob’s, is one of 12 businesses that together have filed a lawsuit against the DEP, alleging mismanagement.
The recent rainfall has helped, and some marinas, such as the Royal Wave, report that the slips are full. But shallower parts of the lake face tougher times. Kurzman, who lives in Woodport Bay, says slips are only gradually becoming usable in his area.
Though the water level has been a rallying cry, Kurzman and Fernandez say there are plenty of other lake issues to address, such as weed harvesting. And they hope the alliance, with representation from various lake interests, will be able to move things in the best direction for lake residents. "We have a nice mix of people who all have a vested interest in the lake," Fernandez said. "That’s of great importance to us. It will be interesting to see how the rally goes, and where we go from here."