Water-Level Management Continues to Dominate LHC Meeting

Water outflow from the Lake Hopatcong dam and the use of Ice Eaters continued to dominate discussion at the November meeting of the Lake Hopatcong Commission on Monday night at the Hopatcong Civic Center.

lhc_-_nov_2010The water-flow issue appeared to be less volatile than at the October meeting, when several stakeholders from downstream in the Musconetcong watershed spoke out against changing the current outflow restrictions, which call for at least 12 cubic feet per second to be released from the Lake Hopatcong dam.  But concerns remained, and at Monday’s meeting, Lake Hopatcong residents were the ones expressing frustration.

“I don’t see anything [in the plan] that looks at the water quality impact on Lake Hopatcong,” said Steve Levinson of Lake Hopatcong. “I would like to see that, and if [not], that’s a major, major problem.”

Levinson spoke of the new water-level management plan that is in the process of being crafted by state officials and local stakeholders—a revisiting of the current system that arose after very low water levels at the start of the 2009 boating season.  Kerry Kirk Pflugh, of the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection, said it was inappropriate for residents to be discussing a draft plan that hasn’t been released yet, since the committee has gone through several versions, and the D.E.P. commissioner has yet to sign off on what will be released to the public for review.

But Lake Hopatcong residents and marina owners Ray Fernandez and Ron Sorensen—both of whom sit on the committee that is drafting the plan—said they hoped when a plan is presented to the commission that its members look closely at its impacts on the lake’s environment. “There are a lot of issues I think the commission should pay attention to,” said Sorensen.

“The plan needs to have more focus on water quality in Lake Hopatcong,” said Fernandez. “That’s just something we all need to keep in mind.”

John Kurzman of Lake Hopatcong, who has regularly spoken out on the issue of water level, said he was concerned that the Lake Hopatcong residents were expected to be responsible for what took place downstream, but that those downstream weren’t expected to look out for what is happening upstream and what a constant-outflow requirement could do to the waters of Lake Hopatcong.

Steve Gebeloff of Hopatcong agreed. “You’ve got to use the water in the lake wisely,” he said. “If you save water, you’ll have it when you need it.  If you leave your car headlights on all night, you can’t expect the battery to work in the morning.  The same is true for the lake.”

Cliff Beebe of Lake Hopatcong repeated his insistance that the lake be kept full at all times, pointing out that boating season should be possible at all times of the year when there isn’t ice cover, but the drawdown prevents that. (Commission administrator Donna Macalle-Holly reminded the public that the 26-inch drawdown is slated to begin on Nov. 19.)

Commission chairman and Jefferson mayor Russ Felter said he wasn’t sure when the draft plan would be ready for public review, but indicated that he planned to have a separate meeting outside of the regular commission meeting schedule, “in a larger forum, where there’s enough time to discuss it.”

The meeting also included a follow-up discussion about Ice Eater use on Lake Hopatcong during the winter months.  After an October meeting directive, the commission sent out a letter to the four municipalities that surround the lake urging them to pass ordinances to restrict their use (Roxbury and Mt. Arlington) and to properly enforce existing ordinances (Hopatcong and Jefferson).  The issue came up after huge openings on last winter’s ice left parts of the lake unnavigable for ice fisherman, snowmobilers, and others who might want to use the ice.

Commissioner Dan McCarthy said he thought the existing ordinances, which allow for 25 feet of open water around protected structures, might be too lenient and allow for too much ice breakup—increasing the potential for large ice openings on the lake, which could put residents and visitors at risk. “I’m just going by what’s worked for my family over the years, which is just four to six feet,” he said.

Regardless, the public education campaign and enforcement, he said, were essential.

Commissioner Joel Servoss said he thought such ordinances were unenforceable, but was in favor of a strong public education campaign.  “It’s really about getting this information out to people,” he said.

In other news:

•    Gebeloff, speaking on behalf of the Lake Hopatcong Alliance, said the water hyacinth outbreak was receding; that the alliance has been working on establishing a boating festival for the lake (but was trying to find a venue); and said the group is working on its lake awareness campaign, creating brochures to be distributed around the area.
•    Gebeloff also reported on the construction at the River Styx Bridge.  Sussex County, he said, received $1 million to repair the bridge, and construction will begin when the drawdown is complete in mid-December.  The bridge will continue to be open to traffic during the work.
•    Fred Lubnow of Princeton Hydro said there is still money left in an EPA grant the commission received, and he and Macalle-Holly are working to find a project to put it toward.  He also said the group finished its water monitoring in September, and will have a year-end report at the December meeting.
•    Felter thanked the staff members for their work on the weed harvesting effort.  “The staff did an unbelievable job this year with weed harvesting and maintenance of equipment,” he said. “It’s hard to find staff like that, and that’s why it’s really important that we get funding.  They went above and beyond what we needed them to do.  They have our gratitude.”
•    Felter also said he met with D.E.P. Commissioner Bob Martin. “I found [him to be] a very impressive person to deal with,” he said. Their conversation involved finding a long-term funding source for the commission, which Felter said is of paramount importance. “If we don’t get some [funding], we’re going to have to make some difficult decisions in the coming months about the future of the commission,” he said.

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