Recap of Lake Hopatcong Commission Meeting
Monday, December 14, 2015, 7 p.m.
Mt. Arlington Civic and Senior Center, Mt. Arlington
A summary of key items discussed by the Lake Hopatcong Commission at its monthly meeting:
- The LHC meeting was relocated on Monday to the Mt. Arlington Civic Center because this meeting took place on the second Monday instead of the third Monday of the month, due to holiday schedules.
- The fact that this was the third meeting without a chairman was discussed, both in terms of who would serve as chairman (they are currently rotating, with commissioner David Jarvis served on Monday and commissioner Anne Pravs serving in January), as well as the long-term prognosis for the commission and what tasks are needed to be completed. “Everyone needs to step up to the plate,” commissioner Mark Fisch said. They decided to rotate the role of secretary as well as the role of chairman until a chairman is named by the governor. The commissioners also determined that they should send an updated version of a previously created budget to Trenton to submit for the legislative budget process. Commissioner Art Clark suggested they advertise for a volunteer to complete some of the LHC tasks, including compiling minutes and creating agendas. The commissioners discussed whether these Lake Hopatcong Foundation summaries could be used as minutes. Commissioner Dan McCarthy pointed out that there are currently three vacant seats on the commission that need to be filled by the state.
- Commissioner Kerry Kirk Pflugh of the N.J. DEP reported that State Park Regional Superintendent Steve Ellis had retired from the DEP after being elected mayor of Phillipsburg, and introduced Melissa Castellon as the new superintendent of Hopatcong State Park, who is replacing Emily Rich in that role. Castellon described the 14 years she has worked with the State Park Service and said she was happy to be working with the LHC and the lake community, asking for everyone to bear with her as she learns the ins and outs of her new job.
- Commissioner Fred Steinbaum introduced an outline of a user fee proposal that he would like the commission to consider as a way of funding the management of Lake Hopatcong. “No one, including myself, wants user fees, so why are we talking about it?” he said. “Because it’s the only way we can fund the lake.” He gave a brief history of the deterioration of state funding for the management of the lake and the efforts to explore user fees in the past. His suggestions, he said, were based on lengthy conversations with people around the lake as well as a review of user fees in other water bodies around the region. His suggested user fee amounts range from $25 to $150 for the season (or for a one-day or one-week pass) depending on the size of the vessel and whether it is motorized. In all, he said, if you estimate that there are 4500 boats on the lake, it would bring $337,00 in expected revenue to help fund a more robust weed harvest. He pointed out that the state has said it would continue to only commit $155,000 to the weed harvest, that the lake’s water quality is deteriorating, and that the weeds are as bad as ever. The way to collect the fees and the enforcement of them, he said, would have to be determined, but he thought the money could be collected locally and contributed to the protected weed harvesting account in the DEP, and that the State Police could be responsible for enforcement. “This is a starting point,” Steinbaum said.
His suggestions were met with a mixed reaction from the commission and those in attendance. “This will make people think twice before they take another [boat] into the lake,” Lake Hopatcong resident John Kurzman said. “Which could be good for [preventing] invasives.” Kurzman later said that there are many examples of the state raiding funds that have been dedicated for a purpose. “You have to keep the money safe,” he said. Commissioner Rich Zoschak was skeptical that the logistics would be simple enough to implement, saying that at least one-third of the income would be spent on the collection and enforcement. McCarthy said the issues that prevented the user fees from moving forward back in the late 2000s are still in place now. Jarvis said that he didn’t think Steinbaum considered the “human factor,” and said lakefront residents pay enough in taxes to not want to then spend $50 or $100 for a boat sticker. Pflugh said that no one wants to pay a fee, but that the alternative would be letting the lake deteriorate. “Rather than fighting, take ownership; this is your lake, this is our lake, and if we care about it we have to come up with a mechanism [to properly fund its management],” she said. “I’m a recreational user of water, and if I have to pay to play, I’ll pay.” Landing resident Dave Martorana said as a homeowner, he wouldn’t be thrilled to pay a fee, but “I would support that if that’s what needed to be done.” Jarvis suggested that perhaps a ballot initiative could be passed, like the open space initiative in 2014, that financially supported non-tidal waters in New Jersey. “Everyone loves open space, but what about our lakes?” he asked. Pflugh said that the commission would have to work toward getting support from legislators across the state to make that happen, and even then it could be a challenge. “We’ve got to do something,” Jarvis said. “We’ve been spinning our wheels for too long.” Pflugh said that it’s important that commissioners and the members of the public direct their efforts not just at the LHC, which has no power, but also to the freeholders, legislators, and municipal officials who do. “You have to go to boards where they have the authority to make decisions.”
- In a follow up to last month’s discussion of the water level, Pflugh was able to set up a DEP meeting for Jarvis and Kurzman to discuss their issues with the current water level management plan in January.
- The annual agreement between the LHC and the state regarding the harvesters is up for renewal, and McCarthy said he thought the agreement should be updated to say that before any equipment is taken off Lake Hopatcong for another purpose, the LHC should vote on it. “Let’s face it, this equipment is the only asset we have,” he said, “and it’s essential it stays here at the lake.”
- Zoschak announced that he and his alternate representative from Roxbury, commissioner Mark Crowley, would be swapping roles, with Crowley serving as the Roxbury representative and Zoschak serving as the alternate. As a result, the commission will have to go through the process of updating who the signatories can be on LHC business and checks.
The next meeting of the Lake Hopatcong Commission is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, January 11 at Hopatcong State Park.