ROXBURY, NJ – Gov. Phil Murphy came to Roxbury today to announce a 3-pronged plan to address harmful algal blooms (HABs) like the one that crippled Lake Hopatcong this summer.

Murphy chose the headquarters of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation – the refurbished former Lake Hopatcong train station- to join a phalanx of 21 federal, state, county and local officials for the meeting. At the session, initially closed to the press but opened later for several minutes, the governor announced the state’s willingness to allocate about $13.5 million to fight HABs thoughout the state.

The money would come in the form of:

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  • $2.5 million as matching funds “for lakes and harmful algal bloom management grants including treatment and prevention demonstration projects”
  • $1 million in grants for planning and projects that reduce pollutants getting into lakes, including nutrients thought to cause HABs
  • $10 million in “principal forgiveness grants” for half the cost (capped at $2 million) for sewer and stormwater upgrades in municipalities surrounding lakes vulnerable to HABs

Murphy also said the state will create a team of experts that will evaluate New Jersey’s strategies relating to HAB prevention. And he said the state will be to improve the way the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) communicates with communities affected by HAB outbreaks.

Murphy said the state will conduct two HAB “summits” early next year and will improve the way it uses the Internet to report HAB outbreaks. He said the DEP might adopt a warning system for HAB outbreaks, similar to those used for hurricanes, that operates on a gradient scale instead of just calling for public beach closure when bacteria counts reach certain levels.

But How Much for Here?

"We cannot allow the summer we've just experienced to repeat itself," Murphy said. "If we do nothing ... we're going to have another challenging summer and none of us want that."

Officials estimate that the HAB on Lake Hopatcong, which prompted the state to direct the closure of public beaches and to warn people to avoid contact with lake water for much of the summer, cost local businesses at least $2.5 million in revenue.

Local officials said they appreciated the governor’s appearance and his expression of willingness to tackle the HAB issue. However, some – including state Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-25) – pointed out Murphy did not stipulate that the $13.5 million be focused on helping Lake Hopatcong, the state’s largest lake.

“How much is coming back to this region?” asked Bucco, in an interview. “We’ve been down this before. The state appropriates money and we get a small, little share of it. We need to make sure that this region gets its fair share of that appropriation.”

Although officials from Roxbury, Mount Arlington, Jefferson and Hopatcong attended the closed-door session with Murphy they didn’t get to say much, due to time constraints. Addressing the media, the governor promised that local officials and organizations will be a part of all HAB-fighting efforts.

“We need to make sure that the local stakeholders here are involved in developing those programs,” Bucco said afterward. “Nobody knows these lakes better than the folks that have been maintaining them for years: Princeton Hydro, the Lake Hopatcong Commission and the Lake Hopatcong Foundation. All those organizations need to be involved as these programs are developed. If they’re not, there’s going to be all kinds of unintended consequences.”

Despite those concerns, Bucco said Murphy’s announcements were “a good thing” an opinion generally shared by local mayors including Roxbury Mayor Bob DeFillippo, Mount Arlington Mayor Michael Stanzilis, Hopatcong Mayor Michael Francis and Jefferson Mayor Eric Wilsusen.

“I think it’s a start,” said Lake Hopatcong Foundation Chairman Marty Kane. “I think a lot more has to be done. The Lake Hopatcong Commission has to be funded on a yearly basis. That’s critical to the management of this lake.“

 

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