Mayor Michele Dale and the Township Council are letting state officials know that they no longer intend to close public and state licensed beaches when Harmful Algal Bloom advisories are issued if the state refuses to accept responsibility and jurisdiction over the decision.
“In the event that the State Department of Health takes the position that they do not have the right to direct the Township Health Officer to close these beaches, then the Mayor and Administration of the Township of West Milford is hereby placing you on notice that for future reference the township will consider sharing the HAB readings with its residents but will not undertake the closure of said beaches, but will advise its residents to utilize said beaches with said information at their own discretion,” Township Attorney Fred Semrau writes in a Sept. 16 letter to state Department of Health Official Samuel Stewart.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection issued an advisory in mid-July that cyanobacteria levels in Greenwood Lake reached above a 20,000 cells per milliliter of water level, triggering the agency to issue a “no contact” advisory.
Dale said at the time that she was contacted by the state Department of Health to close three beaches on the 9-mile, bi-state lake, including the Awosting Beach Association’s swimming area.
Violators were subject to fines and summonses through the town’s health department, township officials said.
While the public and licensed beaches were, and remain closed to swimming, water activities continue on private property or on the New York side of the lake, which has not placed any restrictions on water activities.
According to the DEP, levels above 20,000 cells per milliliter of water can spawn toxins that can be harmful to humans and especially pets.
Symptoms can include rashes, headaches and could also lead to liver or kidney problems, DEP officials have said.
State testing of the levels at eight different locations on the New Jersey side of the lake continue to be above that level, according to the most recent data released by the DEP this week.
According to the data from testing on Sept. 23, the levels primarily ranged between 50,000-65,000, with Lakeside Community Beach hitting 90,000.
The letter from the township came as a result of the state refusing to hear appeals from individuals cited for using the beaches, Semrau said during last week’s Township Council meeting.
Township officials advised alleged violators to take up an appeal with the state, because it was the state that directed the town to close the beaches, which the town was required to do by statute once directed.
Semrau said that the state, however, claimed it never “directed” the town to close the beaches and therefore would not hear any appeals.
During a July meeting of the Greenwood Lake Commission in West Milford, NJ DEP Deputy Commissioner Deborah Mans said she would not lift the advisory or swimming restrictions on the beaches.
“I cannot lift an advisory that is based on science and facts,” Mans said during that meeting. “It would be irresponsible for the state to move forward with messaging that says it’s safe to come in contact with the water from a public health perspective.”
During that same meeting, DEP officials said that enforcement of the swimming restrictions would fall to the state Department of Health and then down to the township for local violations.
According to Semrau, those agencies are now distancing themselves from those directives.
DEP officials did not comment on the letter by press time.
Similar to what took place at Lake Hopatcong when an advisory was issued there, businesses on Greenwood Lake say they were devastated by the advisory and lost a tremendous amount of business during the summer.
A forum on HABs is scheduled for the next meeting of the Greenwood Lake Commission at 7 p.m. on Oct. 9 at the Almond Branch Church, 184 Marshall Hill Road in West Milford.
"The Mayor and Administration of the Township of West Milford is hereby placing you on notice that for future reference the township will consider sharing the HAB readings with its residents but will not undertake the closure of said beaches," - Letter to the New Jersey Department of Health from Township Attorney Fred Semrau