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Ice Eaters and Water Level Dominate Commission Meeting

The waters of Lake Hopatcong—whether liquid or frozen—were at the center of discussion on Tuesday night as the Lake Hopatcong Commission discussed the newly formed water-level advisory committee and concerns over the use of Ice Eaters on the lake.

The water-level advisory committee, which held its first meeting with state officials in Trenton in January, is made up of a collection of commissioners and local representatives, and its goal is to establish a detailed plan for how much water to allow to run through the dam, particularly during the drawdown period of the year.

Public comment on Tuesday skewed in favor of not lowering the water level at all, as Cliff Beebe and John Kurzman, both of Lake Hopatcong, shared their views.

Beebe argued that the state was tampering with lakefront homeowner’s rights by changing the water level at all. “I think you people have had enough information provided to you,” he said. “The lake is in private ownership, and the law says you must maintain a constant level.”

Kurzman wasn’t specifically in favor of keeping the lake full at all times, but he did suggest the committee allow for some flexibility in the amount of water let through the dam. “I’m hoping there’s two things that come of this [committee],” Kurzman said. “One is doing anything we can do to reduce the outflow during the summer months… and the second is being given the liberty to the Lake Hopatcong Commission to make recommendations to [the state] on an annual basis [as to how much of a drawdown we have]. Have a plan, but have the ability to change what the drawdown schedule is.”

In reporting how the January meeting went in Trenton, chairman Arthur Ondish and commissioner Daniel McCarthy said state officials made it clear that the annual water drawdown was not essential to any of their interests, such as the health of the lake environment or the safety of the dam.  The local representatives were then asked to solicit input from residents to determine its value in the community.

McCarthy said the overwhelming majority of those he’s surveyed from different parts of the lake are in favor of keeping the drawdown. “My take is that just about everyone thinks drawdowns are necessary for dock repair and maintenance,” McCarthy said. “I’d like to see [the annual 26-inch drawdown] go to 30 inches, because if we get a dump of rain and it refreezes, we have to allow room for ice expansion.”

Ondish agreed. “One hundred percent of the lakefront owners I’ve spoken to have said the drawdown is needed, both the annual [26-inch] and the larger five-year one,” he said, adding that data shows fewer weeds in the lake after the five-year drawdowns.

McCarthy and Ondish will join other area representatives—including Ray Fernandez of Bridge Marina and Ron Sorensen of Lake Hopatcong Marine, who have expressed a preference to eliminate the drawdowns completely—in future meetings as the group crafts a new policy and attempts to ensure that it is properly followed. “My concern is mostly with the following of the plan,” McCarthy said. “[The state] needs to pay closer attention, and the knowledge base has to transition from one to the next… or there could be a learning curve that we’re the victim of. 

“Last year, Larry Baier [of the Department of Environmental Protection] took this issue and moved mountains… things were done.  But one day he might not be there.”

Ondish said that was one of the reasons the committee wants the plan to be very specific.  He also confirmed to Kurzman that there was also discussion about holding as much water in Lake Hopatcong during the summer months as possible.

Later in the meeting Beebe expressed his frustration at the talk of continuing the drawdowns. “Every one of you people is trampling on the rights of private citizens,” he said. “Every one on this board is personally liable…and you should know this because you might be named in a lawsuit.”

The other subject that led to plenty of discussion was a concern raised by Andover resident Arthur Clark over the use of Ice Eaters around people’s docks and boat houses, and how they’ve opened up huge segments of the ice cover. “In all of these areas there’s these Ice Eaters, which sort of propel things out… There’s 11 inches of ice in front of my house and to have areas open like this, you know, I can’t believe it.  I’ve been here my whole life and never seen it like this.”

He specifically cited three key areas that have large openings: Woodport, Prospect Point, and Byram Bay, from Wildwood Shores to Raccoon Island.  “It’s affecting recreation, and safety is important to me,” Clark said.

The commissioners agreed with Clark, and mentioned that Dock Bubblers do not cause the same large openings that Ice Eaters create.  Ondish also pointed out that people could use the Ice Eater equipment to more effectively keep a smaller area open around their property, by keeping it on a thermostat, setting a timer, and directing the bubbles toward shore, rather than out toward the rest of the lake.  He said the huge opening in front of the Lake Hopatcong Yacht Club—which has resulted in complaints from neighbors who can’t get on the lake—has resulted in his working to create a strict ordinance in Mt. Arlington about the use of such equipment.  Hopatcong and Jefferson both have ordinances in place; Roxbury does not.

With regard to the ordinances in place, action can be taken if residents report a problem at a specific residence.  There was some discussion, however, about the role that wind has played in the problem.  Commissioner Joel Servoss said he’s never seen it this bad, but that the heavy winds this season can quickly extend what had been a small opening.

“The wind is different this year,”  commissioner Tom Foley said. “I had to tone my Ice Eater down [from the level of past years].”

Regardless of the cause, Clark and the commissioners agreed that the issue needed to be addressed for the safety of residents.

Kurzman pointed out that in Woodport, the opening could be attributed to springs in the area. “My concern is when that opening gets an ice layer that’s a half-inch thick, so people won’t know how thin it is,” he said. “I hope there’s some way to get warnings out there.”

In other business:

•    Two commissioners listened to the tape of the October work session on weed removal, despite not being in attendance at the meeting, so there was a majority of commissioners on hand to pass the minutes.  As a result, they should be available on the Lake Hopatcong Commission website shortly.
•    The business plan is now in final draft, and the commissioners will vote on it at the next meeting.  The plan details how many employees the commission would ideally have on staff, and provides a guideline in funding requests to the state.
•    It was determined that pay increases for commission employees—specifically, the administrator—would not be addressed until the July meeting because the commission currently has no steady source of funding.

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