Water Level Plan Unlikely to Change

With just five commissioners in attendance on Tuesday night, the Lake Hopatcong Commission couldn’t establish a quorum to start a meeting, so there were no votes and no lengthy discussions.  There was, however, a short preview of what to expect at the January 31 meeting that will cover the water-level management draft plan, presented last month by the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection.

lhc_-_january_2011In short: don’t expect it to change.

The meeting, commissioner Kerry Kirk Pflugh said, is mostly to provide answers to any questions the public may have, and to be sure there weren’t any glaring omissions or mistakes in the plan, which establishes a 12 cubic-foot-per-second baseline for release at the dam and moves back the drawdown dates to Nov. 19 for the annual 26-inch drawdown and Sept. 22 for the five-year 60-inch drawdown. “Unless there’s something that didn’t occur to us, or some fatal flaw, I don’t see [the plan] changing,” Kirk Pflugh said.

Those in attendance for the special meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. on January 31 at the Roxbury Municipal Building, will include Jeff Hoffman, who conducted hydraulic analysis for the plan, as well as representatives from the state departments of Fish and Wildlife, Water Quality, Geological Service, and Parks and Recreation, as well as the Lake Hopatcong commissioners. Heading up the meeting will be Larry Baier of the D.E.P., who preceded Kirk Pflugh as the department’s representative on the Lake Hopatcong Commission, and was in charge of the water-level management committee that drafted the newest version of the plan.  Kirk Pflugh said Baier would likely show a PowerPoint presentation that summarizes the draft plan and focus on the changes from the previous system in place.

After the presentation, residents will have the opportunity to ask questions or make a statement.  Commission chairman and Jefferson Township mayor Russ Felter said he will give residents a few minutes to speak, and will advise those who agree with previous speakers to quickly share their approval of a previous comment, rather than repeating the same sentiment at length.  “We’ll make sure everybody’s heard, for sure,” he said.

But barring a discovery of an error or omission, Felter and Kirk Pflugh said the current draft is likely to be the final version that is put in place.  (To view the draft, click here.)

Downstream stakeholders have expressed a concern over the fact that the plan calls for a review of the minimum release when the lake level is below 8 feet at the dam. At the October Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting, Beth Styler Barry, executive director of the Lake Musconetcong Watershed Association, said altering the 12 cfs minimum would be “extraordinarily critical and controversial,” adding that the group “absolutely do not accept that version of the plan.  She has worked to get resolutions from downstream municipalities, counties, and organizations to oppose the plan because it uses that language. “We understand that one of the goals of the water-level management plan is to support recreation, but that’s lake and downstream recreation,” she said.

Meanwhile, Hopatcong residents have expressed concern that the 12 cfs minimum is too much water constantly let out, because it could result in a net loss of water by the end of every boating season.  And Cliff Beebe of Lake Hopatcong has repeatedly spoken out against the winter drawdown, saying it infringes on the property rights of the lakefront owners.

All of these positions are likely to get some attention in the form of public comment on January 31.  But because the draft plan has been crafted over the course of the last year, with a variety of stakeholders and experts around the table, state representatives seem confident that it strikes a balance, and on Tuesday night, those commissioners who were at the Hopatcong Civic Center indicated that it will likely remain as is.

The next regular Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 22, at the Mt. Arlington Borough Hall on Howard Boulevard.

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