After more than five years as chairman of the Lake Hopatcong Commission, Mt. Arlington Mayor Art Ondish will leave the commission. Jefferson Mayor and commission vice chairman Russell Felter is expected to replace him as chairman of the group.
Ondish said he received official word on Friday, and that a change in leadership might be good for the organization, which formed in 2001 and is made up of local and state officials tasked with overseeing the health of Lake Hopatcong. State senators Anthony R. Bucco and Steven V. Oroho have recommended Felter as his replacement.
Ondish decided not to remain on the commission in another role. “I have plenty to do as mayor, and the appropriate people know they can call on me if I can be of service,” he said. He will continue to serve as chairman until the state senate votes to approve Felter’s appointment.
“It has been a great five-and-a-half year run, and I am very happy to have been given the honor to serve,” he said. “I will always be willing to help to continue in the care of Lake Hopatcong.”
Ondish said he hoped to have strengthened the commission during his tenure. “I only wish I could have spent more time enhancing the lake rather than seeking funding,” he said, adding that he hoped a permanent source of funding would come soon. He said he was encouraged by the recent funding that will allow the commission to bring in staff to conduct the weed harvest this summer. “I am very proud to have been able to lead the truly dedicated staff of the commission,” he said. “They are good souls who are dedicated to this lake and the care of it.”
As for his replacement, Ondish had nothing but positive things to say about Felter. “[He] will do a great job leading the group, and I will certainly be here to assist him,” he said. Ondish added that he has worked to build relationships with local and state officials, and will help Felter continue to bridge those in the “best way to continue to help our lake.”
Recent years in particular have brought some turbulence to commission meetings, as the group faced diminishing state funding and discussed the possibility of lake user fees. Last year, water-level mismanagement by the state—coupled with a dry winter—left the lake far below normal levels at the start of the summer season. These and other issues have put the commissioners in particularly polarizing situations. “Although my fellow commissioners and the public may not have always agreed with me, my motive was always for the betterment of our lake and for all those who depend on it,” he said, ending with a positive outlook: “I look forward to seeing great things happen for the Lake Hopatcong Commission and the continuation of all the good things that have been accomplished since [its] inception.”
In a town hall meeting in Roxbury on Thursday, Gov. Chris Christie praised Felter, and commissioners indicated that they felt confident that he would be appointed within the next few weeks.