After a snowstorm initially delayed voting in the state Senate, a bill providing permanent funding for weed control in Lake Hopatcong passed unanimously this week, with a vote of 68-0.
The annual appropriation of $500,000 will come from boat licensing fees, which will be placed in a newly established Lake Hopatcong Fund for maintenance, management, and enhancement of the lake. Current power vessel operating fees are $18 for a 48-month license.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Anthony Bucco, a long-time supporter of the lake, along with Sens. Steven Oroho and Joseph Pennacchio, and Assembly members Parker Space, Jay Webber, BettyLou DeCroce, and Gail Phoebus.
Previously, Bucco, Oroho and Pennacchio had secured funding for fiscal year 2018, but believed the sum was insufficient and that a permanent measure was necessary. In a press release issued by the senate offices, Oroho said, “The lake has become overrun with invasive weeds and the problem seems to get worse every year. Setting up a permanent, dedicated funding source for preservation and maintenance is the best way to ensure future generations can enjoy this treasured natural resource.”
Until Now, a History of Unsuccessful Solutions
In 2000, the state purchased four large and two small harvesters to control weeds. Additionally, two barges were acquired so the harvesters could be offloaded in the middle of the lake. Without the barges, the harvesters would have to travel to the three offloading locations: the State Park, Lee’s County Park and New Hampshire Avenue. Eight employees drove the harvesters and barges and performed maintenance and repairs.
In 2002 with a full complement of employees and equipment, 5,200 cubic yards of weeds were removed from the lake.
Soon, the funding slipped. The final straw was a 2014 referendum that preserved land, but cut funding maintenance programs sponsored by the Department of Environmental Protection. The Lake Hopatcong Commission and the four lake communities, Roxbury and Jefferson townships and Mount Arlington and Hopatcong boroughs, have been locked in combat against the state to get renewed state funding to enable continuation of weed harvesting.
Jefferson Township appropriated $10,000 and the Lake Hopatcong Foundation $15,000 to help. When he was commission chair, Jefferson Mayor Russell Felter asked for in-kind donations from the other three municipalities.
A state grant for 2014 included $40,000 in exchange for the loan of one small harvester to the Lake Musconetcong Foundation.
Each harvester cost the state $180,000. Maintenance is also expensive. Some replacement parts must be fabricated, according to Curtis Mulch, one of the full-time employees. He told The Jefferson Chronicle a replacement 90-foot conveyor costs $5,220. Each harvester has 80 hydraulic lines, 11 hydraulic motors and three harvester belts. The equipment is stored in Franklin.
A State Treasure
Lake Hopatcong is the state’s largest lake, at 2,658 acres. Even with all the harvesters functioning, the process is slow since they travel at about 4 miles per hour. With a full conveyor, they go even slower.
Many solutions have been tried for weed control. Chemical control can be dangerous, and kills the weeds that drop to the lake floor where they become fertilizer for next weed crop.
Residents used to spray with a chemical having “a fancy scientific name,” Mulch said, adding the chemical turned out to be Agent Orange, which Dow Chemical was attempting to discard. By contrast, harvesting pulls the weeds out of the lake for disposal.
Weed growth threatens boating and fishing on the lake. Bucco has long touted the lake as an economic engine because of the amount of revenue visitors to the lake generates year long. “The crucial funding provided by this bill ensures people will be able to enjoy Lake Hopatcong for many years to come,” Bucco stated in an earlier press release about the bill.