The management of Weldon Quarry took measures to ameliorate siltation in an unnamed tributary of Lake Hopatcong, but residents at the Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting on May 13 were not satisfied.
Quarry owner Bob Weldon responded to a letter from the state senators who represent the lake community: Steven Oroho (R-24), Anthony Bucco (R-25), and Joe Pennacchio (R-26). He acknowledged, as he had last month, that a siltation problem in the lake was due to a broken pipe that has since been replaced. He went into more detail than he had told The Chronicle previously, explaining that a valve had failed, likely due to freezing weather in February.
In addition, Weldon stated that the entire length of pipe carrying water from a lower to an upper retention basin was replaced with new PVC, which should be more durable. Also, the quarry had installed a turbidity barrier on the upstream side of Prospect Point Road. Resident Tim Clancy had called for a silt barrier months ago. He told the commission that the barrier did not work when it was first installed, but had been fixed earlier that day.
In his letter, Weldon reported that the quarry “developed plans to remove stone fines [very fine stone dust] in the area adjacent to the stream that accumulated from the transfer pipe.” He said that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had reviewed and approved those plans, and they are being implemented.
The quarry is also evaluating further removal work. In the letter, Weldon commented: “We appreciate you have heard from constituents who are concerned about environmental impacts in their surrounding community. It is important to note that the stone fines at issue are innocuous and do not present any health or environmental concerns. They are small particles of virgin stone and are rock products, which are used in many construction projects and applications.”
Dr. Fred Lubnow of Princeton Hydro, the commission’s consultant, said his company did a size analysis of the sediment and found it to be mostly sand. “It is unusual to have sand or silt in the streams,” he noted. In answer to a question from commissioner Anne Pravs, Lubnow replied that Weldon’s term “stone fines” refers to fine sand. He said that tests have been run on the diameter of the particles, not on the material, and added, “If you want to do an analysis, you have to know what you are looking for.”
Commissioner Fred Steinbaum reiterated his concern that granite from the quarry creates silica dust and can be dangerous. Josh Osowski, the state park’s representative to the commission, said that he had spoken to both the water and air compliance officers at the DEP as well as to municipal liaison Kerry Kirk-Pflug. Weldon had told the DEP that the quarry would work on installing booms and then on cleaning the stream.
According to Osowski, the DEP is continuing its investigation of the situation and he is “cautiously optimistic we are moving in the right direction.” He also invited the public to continue reaching out to the DEP with any problems. Although Clancy said that nothing was done until he contacted NBC-TV News in New York City, Pravs credited the commission’s contacting the three senators and other state officials with spurring the DEP to action. Robert Tessier, the state’s Department of Community Affairs representative to the commission, stated, “We sent a letter demanding action. It went up the food chain and it was five days before people showed up.”
Clancy’s opinion is that “Weldon is in a lot of trouble. It’s a really big stinkin’ mess up there.” Louis Tarascio, who lives in the area where siltation entered the lake, said he is “so disgusted” with the quarry’s response. He believes the DEP will negotiate with the quarry rather than cite the business for violations.
“I don’t get a chance to negotiate,” Hopatcong resident Barbara Loring said of her dealings with New York City, where she manages a cemetery. She complained that the quarry’s previous fines for violations in 2018 were so minor that they constitute the cost of doing business for a large corporation.
Clancy is especially concerned with a lack of response from the quarry and the DEP. “The void is being filled with misinformation,” he declared, noting that he has seen comments on social media about thousands of fish having been killed. He acknowledged that resident Margaret Myre had found a dead 25-pound, 24-inch snapping turtle on Saturday afternoon off Shore Road. She contacted the Lake Hopatcong Foundation and was told that they in turn contacted DEP biologist Pat Hamilton, who forwarded the matter to the DEP’s “turtle expert.”
Interviewed on Saturday, May 11, Mayor Michael Francis of Hopatcong said that Weldon responded to his calls, and that the state can determine what, if any, contaminants are in the silt. He added that the state should issue permits at no charge to residents impacted by the silt for dredging the lake bottom off their property.