True Lake Hopatcong denizens cherish the lake year-round. They relish the nip in the November air as much as they love the first fresh smell of April. They aren’t happy.
“People who use the ice have given up,” Commissioner Fred Steinbaum told the Lake Hopatcong Commission on Tuesday, Oct. 13.
Steinbaum was referring to the dangers posed to skaters, boaters, ice fishermen, and hockey players by modern “ice eaters,” the propeller-driven systems that keep dangerous ice away from docks and other structures within the lake.
For years lakefront property owners used bubblers, which Steinbaum said were hard to install and remove and were very loud. They also required a lot of maintenance, he added.
Like a lot of people, Steinbaum switched to a propeller system because it was easy to install and had a timer and thermostat.
“I’m retired,” the former doctor said. “I’m here every day to watch. Most people aren’t.”
He said many people who live off the lake for the winter just start the propeller before they leave and aren’t around to supervise how it works. He also said newer bubblers are not as loud or difficult.
Ice eaters result in large swaths of open water, especially in areas where adjacent properties have propeller-driven ice eaters.
“They link together,” Commission Vice President Dan McCarthy said of ice eaters positioned on adjoining properties. “Structures do need to be protected and the last thing I want to do is regulate people to death.” However, he said ice eaters are “like geysers” and leave too much water open.
The most dangerous situation is a thaw and flash freeze, McCarthy explained. That creates a situation where it is difficult to judge the thickness of the ice. This is exacerbated by snow pack.
Both McCarthy and Steinbaum lament the mild winters we have been having and urge preparation for a “normal” Lake Hopatcong winter.
“A lot of winter users are unhappy,” Steinbaum said. “Winters were colder in years past. We had cars on the lake.”
The commission’s subcommittee, led by McCarthy, embarked on some public education for lakefront residents.
“Public education doesn’t seem to work,” McCarthy lamented.
His subcommittee is going to bring Hopatcong’s ordinance on ice retardant systems to the other three municipalities and urge them to adopt a similar ordinance.
Chairman Ron Smith said he would take the ordinance to the next meeting of the lake area mayors.
From the audience, Donna Macalle-Holly, former commission administrator, reminded the commission former member the late Art Clark sent members photos of excessive use of ice eaters several years ago.
“It’s not only a recreation issue,” Macalle-Holly reminded the commission. When large swaths of ice are removed, more sunlight can penetrate the water which results in more severe weeds during the next season, she pointed out.
Another subcommittee of the commission reviews land use applications in the watershed.
Subcommittee chair Robert Tessier, the commission’s representative from the state Department of Community Affairs, said they are creating a matrix of all regulations of each municipality and the state that affect the lake.
Commissioner Neil Senatore explained the subcommittee needs to get all four land use boards on the same wavelength.
“We can’t demand it,” he noted. “We need to have them agree on it.”
Tessier said the subcommittee is attempting to get notice of each application at the same time the staff of each board gets it to give them the same amount of time to review the application.
In other business, Smith said he and McCarthy toured the facility in Franklin where the weed harvesters are kept in the off-season.
He said the priority must be to bring the damaged harvester into the heated garage before cold weather sets in. The staff would like to power wash the harvester and move it, but the state Department of Environmental Protection is still investigating July’s fatal accident and will not allow it to be touched.
McCarthy said there are still fluids in the engine that will freeze and ruin it if the harvester is left outside.
State Park Superintendent Melissa Castellon said the draining, storing, and cleaning of the harvester is still in a holding pattern, but she is hoping it will happen soon.
Castellon is leaving the park for a temporary assignment, she told the commission.