Because the 2020 weed harvesting season was cut short by an accident, the Lake Hopatcong Commission was able to pass a harvesting budget $100,000 lower than normal at its Monday, November 9 meeting.
With $114,815.33 remaining in surplus from the 2020 season, the commission had to appropriate only $255,000 for the 2021 season.
Weed harvesting ended almost before it began, and the death of harvester operator Curtis Mulch left only one full-time employee of the harvesting program for the rest of the season.
State Park Superintendent Melissa Castellon presented a budget for the fiscal year 2021 that included items such as the full-time salary, $90,250.97 including benefits and some overtime worked; three part-time salaries totaling $42,867.31 and operating costs. The commission needs to set its budget before the next weed harvesting program.
The commission doesn’t pay rent on the storage facility in Franklin but is responsible for upkeep on the building which included some mold remediation and roof repairs, Chairman Ron Smith said. The building belongs to the Borough of Franklin, the commission’s Department of Environmental Protection representative Josh Osowski said.
The harvester damaged in the May accident is in the parking lot of the Franklin building. Because it was upside down in the water, the commissioners are concerned there is water in the engine block that will freeze and crack the block over the winter, which would result in costly repairs. The DEP won’t allow the commission to move the harvester because the accident is still under investigation, Smith said.
Commission Administrator Colleen Lyons said the that the widow of Curtis Mulch, the victim of the harvester accident, contacted the commission to make sure it doesn’t have any evidence. Because the commission doesn’t own any of the equipment, she said it really doesn’t have an evidence.
Commission Vice Chairman Dan McCarthy said the commission should take the matter into executive session but the other commissioners didn’t feel there was reason for that.
The commission contracted with a company called Northern Lights for a small amount of weed removal.
Lyons said the small harvester brought in between seven and 10 cubic yards of weeds. She said the weeds were transferred onto a pontoon boat that had been turned into a barge.
Commissioner Fred Steinbaum said the tiny harvesters are actually quite efficient at getting weeds out of shallow areas and near docks. Smith said the containers that hold the weeds have holes in them to drain the water away from the harvested weeds thus reducing the weight. Since landfills charge by weight, that saves disposal costs.
The cost of one day of harvesting was $1,725, Lyons said. She said the small harvesters can remove a lot of phosphorus near the shore but at a high cost.
Northern Lights was hired for a small, pilot project, not under a long-term contract. Commissioner Mark Crowley suggested the commission get information about a contract to determine if using harvesters that can operate in shallow water could be cost effective.