Commission plans its future, discusses drawdown

IMG_7268The Lake Hopatcong Commission on Monday started to shed some light on its plans for 2013, when it will essentially be out of operating money.

“The commission is still going to have to exist,” said chairman and Jefferson Township mayor Russ Felter. “We still have our mission.”

Felter met with members of the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection earlier in the day to determine the logistics of the transition into the new year, when administrator Donna Macalle-Holly will no longer be handling day-to-day operations for the group.IMG_7273

The commission is going to retain its office at Hopatcong State Park, for example, keeping records and equipment locked in the administration building, though the office will not be manned after Dec. 21, when Macalle-Holly leaves her position. The Township of Jefferson will close out a remaining grant, which will put floating wetland islands (meant to take up nutrients out of the water) in Ashley Cove. And administrative duties, such as creating agendas and securing meeting space, will be handled by Felter’s secretary in Jefferson for the time being.

Felter also squared away details such as how long the phone line will remain hooked up (a couple more months) and who will remove the Lake Hopatcong Commission signs at the State Park. “It was a very positive meeting,” Felter said. “They understand that we need to keep moving ahead.”

Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution to extend for another year an agreement that puts the N.J. DEP Division of Parks and Forestry in charge of managing the weed-harvest operation and gives the state ownership of the harvest equipment.

The commission also discussed the N.J. DEP survey going out to lakefront home owners in an effort to gauge public opinion on the annual 26-inch winter drawdown and the five-foot drawdown every five years, the next scheduled to take place in 2013.

Tim Clancy of Lake Hopatcong said he thought the effort was a waste of energy and money, especially in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which battered the region a month ago. “I was watching the images on TV and seeing the destruction,” he said, “and thinking, oh boy, we don’t want to have damage like that on Lake Hopatcong.”

Clancy and other residents in the past have argued that the drawdown is necessary, both to prevent damage to docks and foundations and to allow for repairs. The drawdown schedule is set to continue for the time being, but the Citizens’ Advisory Committee — created to adjust and review the water-level management plan — have questioned whether it should remain in light of concerns about the lake filling up in time for boating season.

Cliff Beebe of Lake Hopatcong has long been against any drawdown. “This is detrimental to a lot of the businesses,” he said. “I had a bad season this year [after a slow spring refill]… this is what happens when you play with the level of the lake.”

IMG_7290John Kurzman of Lake Hopatcong presented graphs to the commission that showed where the lake level would have been if a five-foot drawdown had been in place every year (and, conversely, if the lake had only had a 26-inch drawdown in 2009, instead of a five-foot drop). He found that in 2005, 2006, and 2012, the lake would have had low-water seasons, and in 2009, the lake would have been at the dam height by April 1 if it had been a 26-inch lowering. “I’m not drawing any conclusions here,” he said, “I’m just presenting data.”

Kurzman said he thought such data should be presented within the survey, but Felter and Kerry Kirk Pflugh, the N.J. DEP representative on the commission, said such an idea was not feasible.

“[The survey] has simple questions about maintenance, cost, ice, flooding,” Kirk Pflugh said. “I really hope that you will come to trust your neighbors around the lake.”

A postcard about the survey, which can be taken online, is scheduled to go out to all lakefront home owners — about 1,800 households in all — in the coming weeks.

The commissioners also discussed the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, including a death in Jefferson Township and widespread power outages and downed trees. “It looks like these storms are starting to be the norm rather than the occasional 100-year storm,” Felter said.

The next meeting of the Lake Hopatcong Commission is scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 17 at the Mt. Arlington Municipal Building.

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