In a special meeting on Monday night, the Lake Hopatcong Commission unanimously approved two motions that bring the summer weed harvest one step closer to commencing for the season.
The first motion allowed the commission to hire field staff for the weed harvesters; specifically, a foreman and three seasonal workers, most likely former full-time commission employees. Those employees could then evaluate the harvesters and prepare them for work on the lake.
The commissioners debated ways that they could get the harvesters in working shape more quickly, perhaps by hiring local mechanics or marina workers to evaluate and make any repairs to the equipment. That suggestion was met with criticism by former full-time commission employee Barry Marke, of Lake Hopatcong. “You’re talking about getting outside help, and we’ve always taken care of our own machines,” he said. “We do a good job of it, we do it right away and we do it on the water, and to go spend money to have somebody else come down and do it is ridiculous.”
Commissioner and Jefferson mayor Russell Felter said the suggestion was not meant to be insulting to the employees. “We know you do a great job,” he said. “We’re just trying to think outside the box, because we need to focus on getting these things into the water as soon as possible.”
The other motion authorized a memorandum of agreement between the Lake Hopatcong Commission and the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection for supplemental funding; a follow-up to the announcement by state senators Anthony R. Bucco and Steven V. Oroho on May 26 that the department had secured $140,000 for the weed harvesting effort, to be used concurrently with a $115,000 grant from the N.J. Department of Transportation’s I Boat NJ program. (To read the story about that announcement, click here.)
Commissioner Daniel McCarthy of Hopatcong expressed some concern about phrasing in the memorandum that required a collaborative effort toward establishing a stable source of funding for the commission, demanding reports from the commission but not from the state. “I think this is vague and open ended,” McCarthy said.
Donna Macalle-Holly, administrator for the commission, said she felt that Larry Baier at the DEP had cooperated with the commission on a number of things related to the memorandum, such as allowing an up-front payment instead of a reimbursement, and she didn’t want to jeopardize any of that by changing the wording. Felter and commissioner Richard Zoschak of Roxbury echoed that idea, and said any changing in wording might further delay action on the weed-harvesting front.
But Felter said there would be significant efforts to establish permanent funding for the commission in the coming months. “There has to be serious discussion about where this commission is going,” he said. “Somebody has got to be really honest with us, and let us know where we stand. I can tell you one thing about this governor [Chris Christie]: he tells you exactly where you stand. So we’ll know by the end of the summer.”
Betty Lou DeCroce, the long-time Roxbury municipal clerk who now represents the N.J. Department of Community Affairs on the commission, assured those in attendance that her long history at the lake will help her properly convey the area’s need to those in power in Trenton. “I can develop a dialogue and keep that dialogue going in an open way with input from all of you,” she said. “Understand that I’ve been in this area all my life. I understand the lake… and I think I can relate that.”
That dialogue will likely be helped by a meeting scheduled for July 6, when the DEP commissioner is expected to visit the area and meet with commissioners and local leaders.
Felter said that the commission’s two main areas of focus right now are getting the harvesters in operation and determining the long-term funding plan for the commission. “Permanent funding has to happen,” he said. “Right now, it’s not fair to the lake, it’s not fair to [the employees], and it’s not fair to the people who use the lake.”