The Lake Hopatcong Commission on Wednesday learned that it will receive enough state funds to run a weed-harvesting operation for at least some of the summer season, the result of some behind-the-scenes efforts by local legislators.
Initially, Wednesday’s special meeting of the Lake Hopatcong Commission was intended to discuss a $114,965 grant from the state to be directed toward weed-harvesting operations. But instead of spending time figuring out whether the commission could accept the grant—since personnel costs, the main expense in the effort, could not be paid by the grant—the commissioners received some promising news from state senators Anthony R. Bucco and Steven V. Oroho.
“We spoke to the commissioner of the D.E.P. [Department of Environmental Protection], and he found $140,000 for personnel, to cover temporary summer [weed-harvesting positions],” Bucco told the commission. “With the combination of the $114,000 and the $140,000, you should be able to start weed harvesting.”
Bucco said he and Oroho had been working behind the scenes to secure funding for the lake, and that the deal finally came together late on Wednesday afternoon, a few hours before the meeting began. “It literally happened this afternoon,” Oroho said. “Everybody knows the budget system here in New Jersey, and we need to thank the commissioner [Bob Martin]. A number of phone calls and diligence went into trying to piece the puzzle together… [they] know the asset we have here at Lake Hopatcong.”
The senators’ announcement was met with applause by commissioners and a dozen or so residents in attendance.
Bucco also said he was continuing to work with legislators and state officials to secure a stable source of funding for the commission, “so we don’t have to go back with our hat in our hands every year.”
“This is fantastic,” commission chairman and Mt. Arlington mayor Arthur Ondish said. “It’s a very good thing, and a shame it’s a little late in the season, but the good part is that next season we can really get out there and kill it… hopefully with a stable source of funding.”
Michael Calderio, seasonal foreman of the weed-harvesting effort in the past, was in the audience and he said if efforts began immediately to move the harvesters and get them ready to go, harvesting would probably begin in mid-July. The commissioners said it wasn’t clear how many harvesters would run, in part because the status of the machines is unknown and in part because the commission had just learned about the new source of funding, but Ondish said he expected at least four to be in operation, though they would aim to use all six. “Things are broken, but we’re going to do the best we can.”
The initial focus of the meeting—the I BOAT NJ grant that was approved by the N.J. Department of Transportation—was also discussed, but the commissioners had far fewer questions in light of the DEP funding. A hard match that was supposed to be provided by the commission was no longer necessary, and the commission no longer had to figure out whether it could accept the money—which was split into three categories: materials and supplies ($6,422), non-personnel expenditures ($77,370), and maintenance of equipment ($31,173)—when personnel wasn’t covered. “We want to work with you, and we can be flexible,” said Talvin Davis of NJDOT. “We wanted to provide some money to this area.”
“This is very, very good stuff,” said Ondish. “Thank you very, very much.”
This is the second grant the I BOAT NJ fund has provided to the area this season; the other is a $120,807 grant the Lake Hopatcong Alliance is receiving for a variety of lake projects. Prior to this year, the lake had not received any money from the grant program, which was initiated in 2003 alongside increased boat registration fees.
In addition to unfreezing the money for the lake, and eliminating the hard match required in order to accept it, Davis said NJDOT would allow the commission to carry funds over to the following year if they weren’t all used this season. He also said that as soon as the commission put a specific plan and budget in place, the department would expedite an approval so the efforts could be under way. “We’re always looking for a win-win situation, and this is one of them, I believe,” Davis said.
Commissioner and Jefferson mayor Russell Felter said he hoped the commission could find a way to start moving forward on transporting the harvesters from Franklin toward the lake to get them ready to go, even before getting the official OK from the state. Commissioner Daniel McCarthy of Hopatcong said the group should expect additional special meetings to do whatever possible to move the effort along quickly. “I think we’re all going to have to be prepared to meet at any time on short notice,” McCarthy said.
Overall, the mood was significantly more promising on Wednesday than it has been at most recent Lake Hopatcong Commission meetings. “I want to credit the commission for working so hard and diligently for the last 10 years,” Ondish said to his fellow commissioners and those from Trenton in attendance. “It’s a challenge, and this will really help to continue on our track of continual improvement. We’ll use your money well.”
Barry Marke, a long-time seasonal employee who will presumably be running a weed harvester this summer, said he had no idea about the funding when he arrived at Wednesday’s meeting. “I was shocked,” he said afterward. “That was great news. The weeds are out, and we’re going to get out there to deal with them.”