Alternative harvesting methods to be considered

The investigation into the June 24 weed harvester accident that killed state employee Curtis Mulch could take six months, Chairman Ron Smith told the Lake Hopatcong Commission at its Monday, July 13, virtual meeting.

Smith, Commission Administrator Colleen Lyons and Josh Osowski, regional superintendent of the Northern Region of state parks, had a conversation with state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) representatives earlier that day, he said. The investigation into why the harvester capsized in Crescent Cove on the first day of harvesting is ongoing with the state’s Public Employees Occupational Health and Safety Agency (OSHA) taking the lead. The harvester is at the Franklin storage facility, as is the barge that was being used on June 24.

Commission Vice Chair Dan McCarthy asked for an executive session to discuss the matter. He acknowledged the commission no longer owns the harvesters, nor does it pay operators’ salaries, but he said he is still concerned about liability.

Because the meeting was virtual, Lyons said she couldn’t stop and restart the meeting in a way that would exclude the public because everyone on the Zoom call had the password. She will advertise a special meeting to be held exclusively in executive session to discuss the possibility of litigation.

McCarthy said the memorandum of understanding between the DEP and the commission also needs to be revisited because harvesting has been suspended for the season.

The NJ Open Public Meetings Act, known as the Sunshine Law, gives one exception to the requirement for all meetings to be held in public: “any pending or anticipated litigation or contract negotiation where the public body is a party or may become a party.”

McCarthy said he would prefer to have the commission’s attorney at the special meeting.

McCarthy noted the commission had to transfer ownership of the harvesters to the state under the MOU. Since the machines belong to the state and the employees are paid by the state, the state can ground the harvesters until further notice, as they did.

The commission does own the Boston whaler it uses on the lake, Smith said.

Alternatives

Smith said the commission should look into other alternatives for weed control this season.

Environmental Consultant Fred Lubnow said the harvesters his company, PrincetonHydro, owns are very small and only suitable for tiny cove areas.

Commissioner Mark Crowley said the Lake Musconetcong Regional Planning Board has a large harvester and used one of the commission’s smaller ones in the past.

Greenwood Lake has a small harvester it got from the former Lake Hopatcong Regional Planning Board, McCarthy said. The planning board governed the lake before the formation of the commission.

Smith said the commission could contract for harvesting.

The planning board contracted with Larry Kovar and Smith suggested looking into using his services again. Kovar operates Aquatic Analysts in Middletown, NJ. McCarthy said Kovar used harvesters owned by the planning board.

Lyons said people have been complaining about weeds in Landing Channel, Henderson Cove, and King Cove. They are also apparent off Lake Forest and Northwood.

Commissioner Steinbaum said there were no weeds off the West Shore or near the Main Lake Market. He said the only explanation he could think of was the increased turbidity in that area. If there are only a few problem areas, Steinbaum suggested asking Camp Six to borrow its small harvester.

Meanwhile, Higlin, a research, education, and fund raising organization in Green Pond, contacted the commission.

Higlin would like to bring a team from its subsidiary, Aquatic Environmental Research and Management, to demonstrate Diver Assisted Suction Harvesting (DASH).

Lyons explained how this works. Divers go into the water and pull weeds then send them to the surface in a tube. The harvesters cut the weeds, meaning the roots are still in the muck. The Higlin website shows a former pontoon party boat rigged for DASH. The tubes go between the deck and the top of the pontoons. The website notes DASH is difficult in deep water and with very large plants and is labor intensive.

The website also explains this is not a form of dredging, because with hand pulling any sediment removal is incidental.

The dive team is led by a scientist and foreman to oversee a team of trained professional divers.

Lyons said Higlin would like to demonstrate the technique on other lakes besides Green Pond. She said it could be a good method for the canals and Bright’s Cove, where harvesters can’t get in, although it is expensive.

The commission seemed in favor of the demonstration, but it could mean the boat would have to be stored overnight at the lake. Lyons said she would have to find a place with dock slips available.

Sampling

Fred Lubnow of PrincetonHydro, the commission’s environmental consultants, said the firm did some water sampling after the June 24 accident because the five Hopatcong police officers who went in the water to try to save the operator all reported feeling ill after they were in the lake. He said he would send Lyons a memo on the findings.

A team from PrincetonHydro will green clean Ashley Cove, Lubnow said. The cove has little flushing, so tends to develop mat algae which must be removed before phosphorus mitigation can commence.

He said the rates of cyanobacteria are lower on Lake Hopatcong and most of the state’s fresh-water lakes than they were last year.

“Heavy rain helps to flush the water,” Lubnow said, keeping the bacteria low.

Lyons reported that 10 designs have been shown to the Commission for rain gardens, another phosphorus mitigation project.

Under another grant to the Lake Hopatcong Foundation, the lakefront residents will get rebates for the installation costs of the rain gardens.

Steinbaum noted the marinas are having a banner year as people emerge from coronavirus-mandated isolation. He said the boats anchored in Byram Cove were maintaining social distancing when he went by.

He said the commission may be able to collect fees from these boats as a revenue source.

McCarthy said any money collected “will just disappear,” but Steinbaum said they could try to collect boat fees.

Smith suggested the commission attempt to meet in person in August, at the Hopatcong High School cafeteria where they could maintain social distancing. Steinbaum objected so Smith dropped the subject.

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