Lake Hopatcong’s algal bloom cuts into businesses’ bottom line

The operations manager at Bridge Marina on Lake Hopatcong expected to make big money on boat rentals this four-day Fourth of July weekend. Usually watercraft line up for gas, but the harmful bloom that’s turned the water green, and prompted the DEP to advise against swimming, has cut into business. He says rentals are off by half.

“There’s a lot of concern. Families are not coming out boating because they’ve been warned about the effects of the algae — don’t go in the water, no kayaking, swimming — but they’re also not boating, which is OK as long as you’re not touching the water,” said Ben Castrogiovanni, the operations manager at Bridge Marina.

The DEP retested the water Wednesday and said that while the lake looks lovely on the surface, cell counts for the cyanobacteria causing the bloom remain above the New Jersey Health Advisory Guidance levels. It advised against swimming, jet skiing, water skiing, kayaking, basically any water contact which could result in rashes, flu-like symptoms and other physical effects. It’s the bad business effects that concern guys like Johnny Salamone who just refurbished his store.

“We redid the whole store, put all these items in, tubes and this and that, and nobody’s going to buy the tubes because they’re not going to go in the water,” he said.

“I really think that the algae bloom people are making a mountain out of a molehill on this. And it’s ruining the businesses and it’s absolutely uncalled for. This lake is beautiful,” said Robert Schielke.

Schielke, a longtime summer visitor, was out on his pontoon boat. A couple jet-skiers buzzed by but nobody was swimming. At lunchtime it was crowded at one lakeside restaurant.

Meanwhile over at Hopatcong State Park people sat out on the lawn and signs at the front booth alerted motorists that the swimming area was closed. The attendant warns you before she takes your $10 that there’s no swimming and some cars just turned around and left. The lot, usually packed on a holiday, had plenty of room. But people picnicked, played volleyball, enjoyed the breeze off the lake and looking longingly at the waves.

“It’s sad because that’s what we came for. But it’s OK. Maybe we head somewhere after,” said Queens resident Karen Moncada.

“I mean, you still enjoy it. You’re out in the sun. You’re with your family. It’s a day off, so you make the best of it,” said Garfield resident Alex Quirino.

The DEP first reported isolated blooms June 17. It’s been conducting ongoing aerial surveillance and bacteria cell counts. People are worried.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen going forward. It’s worrisome that this could be every year with the change in the environment,” said summer renter Joanie Morris.

So green water means less green at cash registers and, for now, the state DEP can just keep testing the water.

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