ROXBURY, NJ – It’s not even June, but weeds are already reaching the surface in some parts of Lake Hopatcong, a situation caused by a mild winter and one that could be made worse due to a lack of money for weed “harvesting,” said officials.

In a statement addressing the weed growth, The Lake Hopatcong Commission (LHC) noted that the lake “never fully iced over” during the winter “and this allowed for an early growth spurt in the spring.”

In several ways, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis is also impacting the weed problem on the lake, the commission noted.

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The lake commission’s annual weed harvesting budget is funded by motorboat license fees collected by the state Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC). But that money has not been coming because the MVC facilities were shut down in March due to COVID-19, said the commission.

On the other hand, that hasn’t stopped motorboat owners from using the lake. In fact, the pandemic has caused an increase in boat traffic because many people are out of work, the LHC said.

“With more people home due to the COVID response, there has been an increase in boating activity on the lake,” it said. “We believe that the floating weed mats are a result of boat propellors chopping the tall weeds. Wind blows these weeds into coves or forms mats that float on the surface.”

Running Late

The commission noted that its weed harvesting machines, operated by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), usually begin working by mid-May. The lack of state funds has not allowed that to happen, it said.

“Additionally, funds that would normally be used for the Commission’s daily operations have fallen short,” the LRC said. “To complicate our funding issues, the state has also extended the 2020 fiscal year from June 30 to Sept. 30.  This has left the Commission with little funding until what is estimated to be the end of October.”

The situation was discussed this week by the Roxbury Mayor and Council. State Sen. Anthony Bucco, who also serves as Roxbury’s township counsel, said he and other officials – including those from the DEP are working on a solution.

“I had a number of talks with the DEP,” Bucco said. “We are working on a couple of different things.”

Both Bucco and the commission said the non-profit Lake Hopatcong Foundation (LHF) are hoping to find money for a “limited” weed harvesting program. “With assistance from NJDEP, Morris and Sussex Counties and the four municipalities, we are hopeful that at least two harvesters will return to the lake in mid- to late-June,” said the commission.

A Call for Patience

Places on the lake with the worst weed problems will be tackled first, but Bucco said there needs to be a plan put in place to dispose of the harvested plants.

“It’s my understanding that some municipalities are also contributing manpower to help, whether it’s on the weed harvester or driving DPW trucks to dispose of the weeds once they’re harvested,” he said.

The commission advised lake users to limit their expectations.

“Since we will likely be unable to get all the harvesters on the water this year we are asking for your patience as we do our best to address the situation,” it said. “We understand and share in your frustration and will continue to work with our partners not only on this issue but to maintain necessary funding for Lake Hopatcong so that it can be effectively managed now and in the future.”