Commission Wants More Input into Lake Conditions

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is determined to go forward with the scheduled five-foot drawdown of Lake Hopatcong this fall, unless there is a severe drought.

Joshua Osowski, the DEP’s representative to the Lake Hopatcong Commission, did not attend its April 9 meeting, but his letter to the commission was read. He reiterated the DEP’s intention to draw the lake down; an accelerated drawdown is not part of the state’s plan because of a fear of downstream flooding in the case of heavy rainfall. Commissioners and citizens had advocated an accelerated drawdown and refill to make sure the lake is up to the proper level by next season.

Besides rejecting the suggestion about the accelerated drawdown, Osowski’s letter said that five proposals from longtime lake resident and activist Clifford Lundin will not be considered without a formal public comment period.

Commissioner Anne Pravs pointed out that at the last symposium on lake issues, every attendee had asked for more local control, “and this is dismissing.” She added, “They dismiss all the work we’ve done.”

The 10-year lake management plan is up for renewal in 2021, and the formal public process to update will begin in the fall of 2019, according to Hopatcong State Park superintendent Melissa Castellon. Commission members are concerned that even minor suggestions will not be considered until then.

Commission chair Ron Smith pointed out that the Community Advisory Council (CAC) was created to make recommendations within the 10year period between revisions to the plan. Vice chair Dan McCarthy noted that when the last plan was drawn up, the CAC had a lot of input through “drafts and redrafts,” so it was decided to keep the group together and require a CAC meeting once a year.

Castellon said the DEP has to be able to document the entire process of citizen involvement. She said every lakefront property owner has to be notified, a comment period opened, and a public hearing scheduled. Commissioner Robert Tessier, the representative of the state Department of Community Affairs, said the commission should be able to fund the notifications and get input from the public for any kind of interim amendment to the plan.

Pravs noted that the commission takes input not only from lakefront owners, but also from the entire lake community. Castellon said the state does try to get input from non-lakefront property owners.

The commission voted to send a letter reminding the DEP that the purpose of the commission is to provide input into interim changes and that the commission can fund a public hearing if necessary.

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