ROXBURY, NJ – Stuck between a law that calls for its existence and a state government that refuses to fund it, the Lake Hopatcong Commission (LHC) is on the verge of member resignations and disbanding, says its acting chairman.
A state law – the Lake Hopatcong Protection Act – declares the importance of Lake Hopatcong and spells out 11 “very specific obligations and duties” that the commission is supposed to handle. But in a Feb. 22 letter to state Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-26), the panel’s acting chairman, Daniel McCarthy III, said the commission gets no money, no help and no respect from Trenton and hasn’t for many years.
“Candidly the present state of affairs represents a complete paradox and stain on the good name of the State of New Jersey,” wrote McCarthy, a lawyer who’s served as the commission’s acting chairman for 17 months. He said many of the panel’s members are ready to throw in the towel.
“Witnessing all this, several members of the LHC … have come to the conclusion that it might be best if the LHC were disbanded and the Lake Hopatcong Protection Act removed from the books as a law before this paradox completely degrades into a farce,” McCarthy wrote. A copy of his letter was sent to Gov. Chris Christie, two other state senators, six state assemblymen and eight other local and state officials.
Roxbury Mayor Mark Crowley, a member of the LHC, could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday. Roxbury is one of four municipalities on the lake border and Crowley has often criticized the state for its lack of LHC support.
Pennacchio said Tuesday he “is very sympathetic” to the plight of the LHC and has joined in supporting a bill, introduced by state Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-25) that establishes a “Lake Hopatcong Fund.” The bill, and a companion measure introduced in the state Assembly by his son, state Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-25), would dedicate $500,000 annually, from boating fees, to the lake.
“I am very, very frustrated with the state,” Pennacchio said. “That body of water belongs to the state ... We get a sympathetic ear from the Administration and even from the DEP (state Department of Environmental Protection). But what we don’t get is money.”
The commission, formed in 2001 to replace the Lake Hopatcong Regional Planning Board, has struggled to survive with little or no state funding or any other support from either the state Legislature or state Administration.
“Many are questioning the state’s commitment to Lake Hopatcong generally, whether it be related to environmental concerns that the LHC is charged with implementing and overseeing or whether it relates to adequate law enforcement on New Jersey’s largest lake,” McCarthy wrote.
He said he continually has trouble getting enough people for quorums at LHC meetings, noting the governor has not appointed a chairman or filled one of the panel seats.
McCarthy also said he cannot get legal opinions from the state Attorney General’s Office, noting the office routinely ignores LHC letters. He said the commissioners have no liability insurance, no staff or money “to even handle rudimentary things such as publishing legal notices for meetings, addressing pubic concerns or running a website.”
Despite being ignored by state officials, the LHC continues to be viewed as important by people who care about Lake Hopatcong, McCarthy asserted. “Over the years, the Lake Hopatcong Commission has become a ‘clearinghouse for all things Lake Hopatcong,’” he wrote. “This body is the place to which members of the public come to have their lake questions answered and to express their opinions and concerns.”
He noted there was a standing-room-only audience at the LHC’s January meeting, a session where proposed Boat Regulation Commission rules were discussed. “From the perspective of the public they presume, by the very nature of our existence, that Lake Hopatcong is properly being looked after and protected when, in fact, it is not,” McCarthy wrote.
He said he was aware of, and thankful for, efforts by Pennacchio and other local legislators, who have tried, unsuccessfully, to get funding and help the lake.
“While those efforts are certainly appreciated and are to be applauded, it appears that we are at the point where it is necessary for very frank discussions about the intentions of the State of New Jersey regarding the future of the LHC and Lake Hopatcong in general,” McCarthy wrote. “My assessment is that if the LHC does not receive even some basic monetary support in this year’s annual budget, then you may see multiple letters of resignation and the LHC will fail for lack of a quorum.”