If they’re going down, they’re going down fighting weeds.
Those on the Lake Hopatcong Commission have spoken of its potential demise on numerous occasions in recent years, but on Monday night the group approved a move to fund weed harvesting for another month, at a cost that—if not reimbursed by the state—could mean the end of the commission itself.
“If we don’t do it, we’re going to be out of business in a couple of months anyway,” said chairman and Jefferson mayor Russ Felter, who proposed the measure. “At least this helps the lake. We’ve got to do something.”
Specifically, the motion calls for an additional $30,700 to be allocated to pay for weed harvesting for the month of July, conditional to legal counsel’s approval. Not a single commissioner on Monday voted against the measure, though two—Kerry Kirk Pflugh of the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection, and David Jarvis of Morris County—abstained. The movement of those funds, which comes on the heels of a $20,000 and a $12,000 allocation at the last two months’ commission meetings (which paid for the harvesters to be prepared for the season), would just about clear out the commission’s bank account if the state doesn’t provide funding for the group.
“If we do this and [don’t get state funding], we are pretty much shutting,” Kirk Pflugh said. “This is a really big decision to make.”
All six of the commissioners who voted in favor of the motion voiced opinions that the group might as well use what funds they have to harvest the weeds, since their time was short without funding anyway. “We’re just moving things up by a couple of months,” commissioner Joel Servoss of Sussex County said.
“It’s called rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” said commissioner Dan McCarthy of Hopatcong.
If legal counsel agrees that the commission can use that money to pay the salaries of five employees for the month of July without risking the commissioners being held personally liable for unemployment down the road, the funds will allow the weed harvesters to hit the water in the coming days and be in operation through the end of July, with an initial focus on trouble spots in Woodport and River Styx.
“The entire Woodport Cove, despite the water being high, is completely filled with weeds to the surface,” Lake Hopatcong resident Charles Morel told the commission during a public comment portion of the meeting. He added that he already spends enough on two boats that he would be willing to pay a user fee to help maintain the lake, so that he can actually use them. “I really don’t have an objection to user fees if they were dedicated in some way,” he said. “It would seem to me that if the municipalities could collect a fee, I think this would be palatable to the boaters.”
Tim Clancy of Lake Hopatcong agreed. “Nearly every single person I speak to would be agreeable to a user fee,” he said, suggesting that such a system could be worked out with marina operators. “There’s a revenue stream there. We need to get over this fear of a fee… the support is out there.”
Felter said he is still trying to work with the state to see what the commission would and wouldn’t be able to do with regard to user fees, but added that the legislators who currently represent the Lake Hopatcong area—Sen. Anthony R. Bucco, Sen. Steve Oroho, and Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco—would not support a fee on boaters. “They see that as a new tax,” Felter said.
John Kurzman of Lake Hopatcong said that the law is on the commission’s side, since it calls for funding the commission. “That’s the law,” Kurzman said. “They can’t just say they’re not going to give you money.”
The Lake Hopatcong Alliance had been planning a boating festival to help raise money for the weed harvest, but those plans were axed when the Mt. Arlington Borough Council this month in a 5-1 vote rejected the idea of holding the festival at Lee’s County Park within its town limits. (More on this in a separate story.)
Felter said the commission should know, with the end of the fiscal year, where it stands with the state financially. “We’ll have some kind of answer with regard to funding in 7 to 10 days,” he said, adding that, “we’re to the point now where the commission has to make some decisions about our future.”
In other news:
- Fred Steinbaum of Hopatcong revisited the program the municipalities put into place last year that allowed residents and boaters to dispose of wood and other items that wash ashore for free at municipal Dumpsters. The program was initially put into place because of the fast rise of water in March 2010 that resulted in many docks and other debris washing away. “It’s nothing like last year,” Steinbaum said, “but it’s still very dangerous.” Felter said he would talk to the mayors to see if they could continue such a program into 2011. “I hope it works out,” Steinbaum said after the meeting. “You should be able to dispose of the wood that washes up, and with the high water this spring, there’s plenty of debris out there.”
- Kurzman said he was concerned that after the public hearing about the new water-level management plan for Lake Hopatcong, the D.E.P. added 10 pages of changes, including monitoring downstream that he said would require such impossible conditions they would never allow less than 12 cubic feet per second to be released from Lake Hopatcong. “They might as well say if it’s sunny between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. you can do it,” he said. “How can they make major changes like that after the fact?” Kirk Pflugh said it’s common for the commission to make alterations to plans after receiving public comment. “They didn’t make any changes in regard to the objections I raised,” Kurzman said.
- Justin McCarthy (son of commissioner Dan McCarthy) returned to the commission to present another check from his “Save the Lake” campaign at Durban Avenue Elementary School in Hopatcong, where he tells his fellow students about the needs of the lake and places cans to solicit donations from classmates. Adding in the newest check of $25, McCarthy estimated that he had given $250 to $300 to the commission through the program in recent years. His announcement was met with applause from the room, and praise from Felter, who asked every commissioner to shake the young McCarthy’s hand. (Photos above.)
- Keith Kesheneff of Lake Hopatcong asked for the commission to look into signage to inform the public of the laws against waterskiing in Woodport Cove from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends, which he said has not been enforced by the Marine Police. “It’s an accident waiting to happen,” Kesheneff said. “We need to education people for their own safety.” Later, John Kurzman clarified that waterskiing is allowed in Woodport Bay during that time, just not Woodport Cove (which generally starts north of a line between what was previously Smitty’s and Mason Street Pub). When the state had previously restricted skiing on Woodport Bay, skiers would wait until 5 p.m. and come out in droves, making for a more unsafe situation, he said. Kurzman also pointed out that skier requirements, such as keeping the boat 100 feet plus the tow-line length from other boats, is still in effect in Woodport Bay.
- Dan McCarthy noted that it has officially been five years that the commission has been operating without a state-appointed member. “I don’t know about money,” McCarthy said, “but at least they can send us a warm body to stay awake and help us meet our quorum.”
The next meeting of the Lake Hopatcong Commission is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, July 18 at the Jefferson Municipal Building.