ROXBURY, N.J. - A decision by a competitive 19th Century Lake Hopatcong entrepreneur is now a problem for local officials.
In the 1890s, the operators of the Morris Canal and the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railway had a lock on steamboat operations on the big lake, according to historians including Marty Kane and an entry on Landingnewjersey.com.
Their Lake Hopatcong Steamboat Company's "Black Line" boats gathered tourists from the train station in Landing and - using the Morris Canal to access the lake - carried them to their lakeside destinations.
The Black Line made it tough for a competing steamboat company, called the "White Line," operated by Theodore King's Hopatcong Steamboat company, said the historians. It taxed the use of its waterway, making it tough for White Line steamboats to compete for the people arriving at the train station.
King began using smaller boats that could operate in shallow water and didn't need the deep waterway. He'd use these to pick up passengers near the Landing Road bridge and take them to deeper water, where his White Line steamships were waiting, according to history buffs.
To put an end to that – and showing how much clout they had back then - the Black Line people drained some water out of Lake Hoptacong, a move that turned to mudflats the shallows being used by the White Line's shuttle boats.
Undaunted, King dredged the muck. It was a move that created the so-called Landing Channel and one that brings us to today's problem: Landing Channel wants to go back to being mud.
"This is not a natural part of Lake Hopatcong," said Kane, who is chairman of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation Board of Directors. "It was originaly wetlands. It was dredged out to create Landing Channel so they could send steamboats up to get people off the train."
You can fool Mother Nature only so long. The man-made Landing Channel, deep enough for a White Line shuttle boat, is still shallow enough to allow sunlight to reach the bottom. That means plants can thrive there and, when they die, they steadily add layers of muck to the bottom.
"Since it is not a natural part of Lake Hopatcong, it wants to go back to what it was originally," Kane said. "If you don’t stay on it, it will go back."
"Staying on it" means somehow getting rid of the plants and muck. The Lake Hopatcong Foundation has found a contractor willing to remove the weeds and muck, but getting that stuff out of the lake doesn't solve the problem; it needs to be taken somewhere.
Roxbury officials and the foundation are hoping to find an affordable solution to that problem. The least costly option would be to have the weeds and muck spread out on a part of Lake Hopatcong State Park, they said. Other options would involve trucking the stuff away, a proposal that would prove too costly.
Before a final resting place can be found, the material needs to be analyzed to ensure it doesn't contain anything toxic. These tests are underway.
"Everybody is working it hard," Kane said. "Everybody wants to have material tested just to make sure. It was sent out and we are waiting for results to come back. I don’t expect any problems because it has been tested in the past.
Roxbury Township Manager Christopher Raths said the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has agreed that the weeds and muck can be temporarily laid out at the state park to allow the material to dry out. Drying the material significantly reduces its weight and, therefore, the cost to truck it away.
But Raths said nothing will be dredged or dried until a final resting place for the stuff is found. He said the project might have to be postponed until the spring because, so far, such a place hasn't been secured.