Sitting on the Dock of the LD25 Fray

The water is a bit murky these days in Lake Hopatcong, but the politics is pretty clear.

With algae bloom closing the lake to swimmers, local office holders and candidates are trying to portray themselves as chief protectors of the state’s largest freshwater lake going forward.

Mikie Sherrill knows the value of that. The District 11 congresswoman posted a Facebook video this week urging residents to visit the lake even if swimming is out.  As she stood on a small dock, Sherrill noted that the lake is still open to boaters and that nearby restaurants are worth a visit.

To paraphrase Otis Redding, Sherrill’s “standing on the dock of the lake” moment pales in comparison to the political posturing in state District 25, which includes at least part of the lake.

Democratic Assembly challengers Lisa Bhimani and Darcy Draeger this week trumpeted their endorsement by the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.

The Democrats projected that the endorsement would carry “significant weight in the 25th legislative district where clean water has become a major issue.” They called the state’s failure to protect the lake “unconscionable.”

Bhimani and Draeger said they toured the lake with the New Jersey Highlands Coalition and attended an information session to learn more about the problem.

Big deal was the response (so to speak) from Republicans Anthony M. Bucco and Brian Bergen.

A statement from the GOP camp said Bucco long has worked to support the lake and its surroundings,  including securing funds for weed harvesting. The statement included support from two area mayors – Mike Stanzilis of Mount Arlington and Bob DeFillippo of Roxbury, where Bucco serves as town attorney.
And the statement spoke of the League of Conservation Voters as a radical group that seeks “massive new energy taxes.”

There is some history here and it’s now all that comforting – at least as far as the state is concerned. Strong oversight of the lake had been lacking until 2001 when the state created a commission to oversee and manage the lake. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but over the years, state funding for the commission has been anything but adequate.

Hoping to change that, Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce of the adjacent 26th District has introduced legislation to increase annual state aid for the lake from $500,000 to $4 million. She said in a release that a good part of that money is needed to combat stormwater run-off and failing septic systems, both of which contribute to the algae bloom. With that in mind, DeCroce also is interested in securing state money to help install sewers in places where they do not exist.

It’s an ambitious program to be sure, but not a surprising one. All the political and campaign activity surrounding the lake makes an obvious point – you don’t need a focus group to support clean water.

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