Uncertain Future for Lake Hopatcong Commission

Ice Eaters, water-level management, and a Lake Hopatcong festival were part of Monday night’s discussion at the Lake Hopatcong Commission, but the overall uncertainty about the commission’s future seemed to be a central theme of the meeting, as commissioners lamented a lack of permanent funding and a depleting bank account.

lhc_-_dec_2010_-_main“It’s always interesting [to plan a budget] because we have no money and no idea where we’re going,” commission chairman and Jefferson township mayor Russ Felter said as he shared with the commission a budget draft that calls for two full-time employees (an administrator and weed-harvest foreman) and seasonal fill-in employees.

Commissioner Daniel McCarthy of Hopatcong was disappointed with the caliber of the request. “There are two ways to look at this,” McCarthy said. “There’s what should be… and there’s reality. The budget I’d like to look at personally would be a budget within reason, but what realistically and objectively accomplishes our statutory objectives…. Now I know in this climate, that’s a pipe dream, but it’s our statutory interest to do what’s in the best interest of this lake and to put it out there saying this is what should be done.”

But Felter said a request for more would just “irritate a lot of people” in Trenton, considering the cutbacks that are permeating every part of government.  “We need to show that we’re trying to cut back … [and still] doing as much as we can.”

Felter and administrator Donna Macalle-Holly predicted that the commission would “be out of businesses” by the late spring if some type of funding did not materialize. Felter added that he would make sure the funding issue was an agenda item at the January meeting.

He did, however, indicate that he saw a promising sign for the commission: the fact that the state is providing funds to build a structure to house the weed-harvesting equipment. “My feeling is that they’re not going to spend money on a building if there’s no commission to use it,” he said.

Still, the strain of working without any sure sign of funding was clear, and Lake Hopatcong Marine owner Ron Sorensen wondered if the commission had any fallback plan. “We need to take control locally here,” he said, suggesting that the towns and local businesses step of efforts to raise funds for weed harvesting and other activities.  He suggested that if marinas could “sponsor” a weed harvester, he would be happy to do it. “And I’m sure other businesses around the lake…would also kick in,” he said.

Kerry Kirk Pflugh, the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection representative on the commission, told Sorensen that a group such as the Lake Hopatcong Alliance has the ability to fundraise and lobby, which the commission can’t do. “So if you have an idea, that’s great, you should run with it,” she said.

The Lake Hopatcong Alliance showed some of the success of its fundraising efforts in its report to the commission: the completion of its first weed-mapping survey.  The effort, conducted by Princeton Hydro, found 21 plant species in its 101 transects and more than 500 observations.  The invasive species Eurasian Milfoil, was found at 70 percent of the observation spots, and the native tapegrass was found at nearly half them.  Steve Gebeloff, speaking on behalf of the alliance, said the group was looking into experimenting with the use if weevils to control the milfoil.  He said the group was planning to meet with the commission, Princeton Hydro, and other entities and organizations to finalize a weed-management technique.

In his own presentation, Fred Lubnow of Princeton Hydro presented the annual water quality report, which found that the phosphorus concentration on the lake has continued to decline.  Chlorophyll A also declined on the lake, and water clarity increased, all of which he said reflected a successful effort by the commission.  The only area where phosphorus levels are still elevated is in the Crescent Cove/River Styx section of the lake, and Lubnow added that he was “keeping an eye out on the northern end of the lake,” too.

In addition, there was an increase in the number of weeds removed from the lake, totaling 1200 tons of aquatic plants.  “Overall, conditions were good in 2010,” he said.   The full report will be posted on the Lake Hopatcong Commission website in the near future.

The water-level management plan, a draft of which was released by the D.E.P. on Monday, was part of the discussion at the meeting, but Felter said he planned to schedule a special meeting to discuss the plan at length and allow for extensive public comment.  John Kurzman, who reviewed the draft ahead of Monday’s meeting, said he was concerned about the repeated mention of 12 cubic feet per second as the minimum amount to be released from the Lake Hopatcong dam, pointing out that historically that number was a median, not a minimum. “The dam was releasing less than 12 cfs,” he said. “That was the median, and it’s a key point to recognize.  That’s just a fact.”

Felter is working with the D.E.P. to schedule the public meeting that will focus on the water-level management plan for sometime in January.

In other news:
•    The Lake Hopatcong Commission is making a concerted effort to publicize ordinances related to the use of Ice Eaters on the lake in the winter.  The devices are only supposed to open up a maximum of 25 feet of water around docks, boat houses, and other structures.  Their overuse could open huge areas on the lake, making it dangerous for those who are using the ice for fishing, skating, snowmobiling, and other recreational purposes.
•    The Lake Hopatcong Alliance has received a go-ahead from the Morris County Parks Commission to host a summer boating festival at Lee’s Park, which Gebeloff said the group hopes will become an annual event that partners with the commission and raises money on behalf of the lake.

The next meeting of the Lake Hopatcong Commission is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, January 18, at the Hopatcong Civic Center.

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