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Dam Outflow at Center of Discussions

The Lake Hopatcong Commission on Monday passed a business plan and warned about lingering debris in the lake and the danger it might pose to boaters.  But much of the discussion was related to a gathering earlier in the day that brought together the members of the Lake Hopatcong Water Level Advisory Committee with N.J. Department of Environmental Protection officials.

lhc_-_april_10.jpgSpecifically, it was reported that the committee is inclined to keep the annual 26-inch drawdown in place, as well as the 60-inch drawdown every five years, though there was some discussion about reviewing the need—via permit applications for dock work—before moving forward with the larger drawdown.  Commission administrator Donna Macalle-Holly said the panel, which met for three and a half hours earlier on Monday, ultimately agreed to keep it on schedule, though there was some dissent among those in attendance.  There was also a suggestion to move the start date of the annual drawdown from November 1 to November 15, which is yet to be determined.

The major contention point that still needs to be addressed, however, is an agreement on the minimum and maximum outflows from the lake, via the State Park dam.  “What’s disturbing to me is that most people don’t understand how the water level is handled,” said Ron Sorensen of Lake Hopatcong, who owns three lake marinas and sits on the committee.  “If…we’re down two feet [in a circumstance where the governor has not declared a drought status], we’re still letting out 7.5 million gallons of water a day.”

Sorensen said he didn’t think it was fair to “let Lake Hopatcong run dry” in order to support the 1.5-mile stretch between Lake Hopatcong and Lake Musconetcong. “The state is making a value judgment,” he said. “They’re saying the 1.5 mile swamp is more important than Lake Hopatcong.”

Chairman and Mt. Arlington mayor Art Ondish said outflow would be restricted if it was actually declared a drought in Trenton. But Sorensen argued that sometimes the water is down significantly without such a declaration, in “what I’d call a crisis situation.”

Kerry Kirk Pflugh, who represents the D.E.P. on the commission, said Sorensen’s concern is legitimate and important, but took issue with the idea that a value judgment was being made. “It may sound like more emphasis is in one place over another, but it’s really an issue of balance,” she said. “It’s a difficult thing to manage these different considerations”—such as the environmental and economic interests—“but it’s a good process and these points are all going to have the opportunity to be looked at.”

Maximum outflows are also at issue.  Despite last year’s low-water issue, William Doran of Mt. Arlington said the bigger concern was just the opposite, and pointed to how the lake rose two feet in the matter of a couple of days during a March rainstorm. “The real issue is how fast can you evacuate this lake?” he asked. “We have a serious problem keeping the lake at nine feet [at the dam height]. If we do have significant rainfall, we’re probably asking for significant flooding.”

Once the outflows are determined, the committee can, as Macalle-Holly put it, “back its way in” to figuring out when to begin the five-year drawdown. 

Commissioner and Jefferson mayor Russ Felter pointed out that the lake has changed significantly since the water-level management plan was first created, citing how the Woodport area has been silted up in areas, and how the population around the lake has increased.  “We really need to take that into account,” he said. “It’s nice to know [the status] at the dam, but really it’s a whole other world once you get to Woodport, Lify Island, River Styx… it’s so much different than it used to be.”  As such, he said, the plan should reflect those changes and be regularly reviewed to account for future changes.

Notes from the meetings—which include the outflow discussion and others—will be posted on the Lake Hopatcong Commission website (lakehopatcong.org) when they are completed by Larry Baier at the D.E.P.

During the chairman’s report, Ondish said his discussions with state leaders have indicated that getting funding for the commission will be a challenge, and expressed skepticism that there would be any weed harvesting this year.  On that subject, Felter said he had staff available to move the harvesters to the lake now—people who will probably not be free to do so during the summer months—and asked if it might make sense to at least move them into place in case an effort can move forward.  Ondish said he thought it would probably be a wasted effort, in part because of the uncertainty of funds and because the machines would be in a less secure place once moved from the current storage facility in Franklin.

Sorensen said he thought the commission should take the suggestion more seriously. “Why not at least take the first step toward weed harvesting?”

But Ondish said all steps of the plan needed to be in order, not just one piece of it.  Macalle-Holly said that even if the state granted the commission funds from the I Boat NJ program—which seems the most promising of all sources at the moment—the group would still need to provide a hard match of $88,000, which is not guaranteed in the current economic climate.

The commissioners also warned the public that the amount of the debris on the lake is high, and boaters should be cautious. “The [now dismantled] staff usually pulled stuff from the lake,” Ondish said. “They’ve done a lot of things over the years that people may not have noticed until now… they’re missed.”  Fortunately, he said, the towns and marina owners got together to allow residents to dump debris that washed up on their docks at dumpsters for free. “It’s a good example of what we can do when everybody comes together to achieve a common goal,” Ondish said.

Doran pointed out that another safety hazard has been the reckless boating by some while the lake was at the high-water mark, with a wake restriction.  “It really is amazing watching the people who don’t seem to care,” he said. “It’s the worst compliance I’ve ever seen…If we don’t have enforcement, there will be a lot more complaints, and a lot more damage.”
Justin McCarthy
In other news:
•    The commission unanimously passed a business plan, which had been in the works for several months.  The plan, which Felter called a “work in progress” and “living document,” is likely to be affected by changes in funding, but it provides a framework when it comes to budget requests.
•    Justin McCarthy presented the commission with a $45 donation, made up of contributions from his fellow students at the Durban Avenue Elementary School in Hopatcong.  He said he also encouraged his classmates to write letters to Trenton on behalf of the lake.
•    Nancy Blake of the Lake Hopatcong Alliance invited the public to attend a fundraiser on May 14 at the Jefferson House.  Money raised will go toward a lake awareness campaign, including a booklet that will be distributed at marinas and lodging locations and will include rules and regulations, a map, and information about keeping invasive species out of the lake.
•    Cliff Beebe, owner of Beebe Marina in Lake Hopatcong, showed pictures of the damage done to his docks by the ice, which he attributed to the drawdown. “This is what happens when you lower the lake,” he said. “It shouldn’t happen… it’s not in line with our property rights.”
•    A planned alternate septic system project for Jefferson Day Care has been stalled because, due to state education cutbacks, the facility is expected to take on more students.  Because the alternate septic system—which would be put in place through an environmental grant—is designed for the existing usage, the project has been put on hold.
•    A series of outreach projects are scheduled in libraries in the coming months (to read the full story, click here), and on June 12, Macalle-Holly has a rain barrel workshop scheduled at the Hopatcong Civic Center.
•    Macalle-Holly encouraged those who used shrink wrap to winterize their boats to participate in the recycling program. (To read the story and get more information, click here.)

The next meeting is scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. on May 17 at the Roxbury Municipal Building.

 

To read the Jefferson AIM story about the meeting click here.

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