Story by A.J. Arias
After months of debate and public hearings the Greenwood Lake Commission voted with five in favor, three against, and one abstention for writing a letter to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the other 12 stakeholders on the lake recommending that a three-to-five foot lake drawdown take place at the end of 2020 into 2021. Due to the coronavirus pandemic the vote was held on Wed., Apr. 1 during the Commission’s meeting via Zoom, a video conferencing platform.
The motion approving the drawdown recommendation comes with several conditions. The first condition grants the Commission’s Emergency Committee the power to change their recommendation at any time if the circumstances were to change. The circumstances the Commission discussed are related to economic effects of both COVID-19 and another highly likely Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB).
The second condition is that the commission’s bylaws state that eight votes are needed in order to carry a motion forward with as much significance as a lake drawdown recommendation. This will be addressed in a letter to the New Jersey DEP and the other 12 stakeholders around the lake stating the vote count showing a majority of the nine commissioners that voted on the motion were in favor of the drawdown.
COVID-19 Saves Drawdown Prospects
The lake drawdown recommendation certainly did not look likely for most of the discussions throughout the drawdown process. The three Commissioners who were not in favor of the drawdown seemed set on their views from the beginning making the necessary eight votes impossible. It was for this reason that the vote for the drawdown was delayed until the March meeting from February when the vote was originally set to take place in hopes the Commissioners would change their minds.
Earlier in the same meeting two other votes were taken regarding the drawdown. The first vote was on whether Commissioners were in favor of postponing the decision on a drawdown to a later date thus moving the drawdown forward. That initial vote failed with two in favor, six against and one abstention. After further discussion there was a second vote to agree to postpone the drawdown altogether until next year. That vote also failed with four in favor, four against, and one abstention.
Commissioner John Graham spoke up in defense of a drawdown and said that with a potential $2 trillion infrastructure bill coming out of the federal government in the near future that the Commission should keep the prospect of a drawdown, “on the table,” with the potential for creating infrastructure jobs that would be allowed on Greenwood Lake in the event of a drawdown.
Commissioner Eric Hastings agreed with Graham’s point and said that there would be a potential to cancel the drawdown, “up until the midnight hour,” with a letter to the New Jersey DEP.
After additional discussion about the original motions being confusing in their wording the third vote took place, which ended with a majority of the Commissioners in favor of a drawdown with the possibility of cancelling it later using the commission’s emergency committee.
Potential Additional Funding for Greenwood Lake Commission
With a large $10 million lake project in the works across the state in New Jersey in an effort to preventing HABs, additional funding for the Commission is likely. Jack Szczepanski, of Princeton-Hydro, gave a presentation during the Commission’s meeting about efforts he will make with the state’s new price matching program.
The Greenwood Lake Commission will be investing $26,400 into the lake, which will be matched two-to-one by the state, accounting for $79,200 total for Princeton-Hydro to use towards projects that will prevent nutrients from coming out of Belcher’s Creek and into the main body of Greenwood Lake among other things. The nutrients such as phosphorus are what help create the conditions that cause HABs.
Additionally, several Assembly members and New Jersey State Senators are crafting legislation to provide funding for lakes in New Jersey. One of the most promising pieces of legislation is sponsored by State Senator Joseph Pennacchio, who worked with Senate President Stephen Sweeney, would provide Greenwood Lake and Lake Hopatcong with $750,000 of annual funding. Time will tell how the COVID-19 pandemic impacts state funding for lakes.
The next meeting of the Greenwood Lake Commission will most likely take place on a Zoom Conference call on Wed., Apr. 22 at 7p.m. Check the Greenwood Lake Commission’s website for additional meeting details at www.GWLC.Org