County Legislator Ben Winstanley battles for Greenwood Lake

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:49

    GOSHEN-People living on the shores of Greenwood Lake and the towns that surround it are well aware of the deterioration of the lake through silt and weeds that are gradually turning parts of the lake into a swamp. A bi-state agency set up to try to deal with the problems is strapped for cash, Orange County Legislator Benjamin Winstanley of Greenwood Lake told the Rules Committee on Wednesday, Aug. 18. He would like the Legislature to allocate $30,000 per year toward the Greenwood Lake Commission's expenses. The money would cover a variety of needs, from administrative to equipment to special projects. State or federal grants for special projects usually require a local payment, he noted. Lakes all go through a life cycle that includes a deep, pristine stage followed by gradual silting and growth of weeds. The end of the cycle is a swamp and possibly dry land, Winstanley explained. People settling around the lake only speed up the process, known as eutrification. Human waste increases the nutrients that feed plants that choke the lake, and construction speeds up erosion of sediments into the lake, he said. Surprisingly, old and leaking septic systems contribute about 11 percent to the lake's degradation; runoff from the surrounding area accounts for nearly 70 percent. The two weed cutting machines the commission uses to keep the weeds in check are both old and worn, and one needs replacement now, Winstanley said. The traditional method of killing off weeds by dropping the lake level during the winter has not been working well in recent years because winters have been too warm to provide the 90 days of below-freezing temperatures needed to kill them. A part of the lake has been designated a wetland, and if present trends continue will become a swamp. "We are in danger of losing one arm of the lake," Winstanley said. Why should Orange County taxpayers help to maintain the lake? committee members wanted to know. Winstanley noted that Greenwood Lake is a major tourist attraction, bringing visitors and cash into the county. Marinas sell boats for prices averaging $40,000 to $60,000, with sales tax charged on each unit. Restaurants and motels cater to boaters, he said. Greenwood Lake is by far the largest lake in the county, and its history of tourism has spawned a large number of businesses based on the lake. Legislators said they were sympathetic to the idea, but they had questions. Michael Amo of Central Valley said he was concerned that county funding for the lake could set a precedent. He noted that Woodbury Common outlet stores is a major contributor to Orange County's economy and sales tax revenue. Does this mean the county should subsidize them? Or should it subsidize the cleanup and maintenance of lakes in Woodbury? Winstanley acknowledged that county funding could set a precedent, for instance with Glenmere Lake in Florida. However, he noted Greenwood Lake is the county's largest and it draws visitors from outside the county. Jeff Berkman of Middletown said he could support a shared effort to protect the lake and wanted to know what other municipal sources of funding the commission has. Berkman also suggested he would be more supportive of spending county money on specified projects rather than an open-ended annual grant. Passaic County in New Jersey has agreed to provide $30,000 to the commission if Orange County does the same, Winstanley said. The Village of Greenwood Lake provides $10,000 and the Town of Warwick another $20,000, he said, with contributions from the New Jersey municipalities as well. The states of New York and New Jersey do not contribute to the bi-state commission's work, he added. Winstanley said he would provide the county with a complete budget showing funding sources and expenditures. County Executive Edward Diana said he could not support any funding for Greenwood Lake if it does not have provisions for all the county's people to enjoy it. At present, the lake has a public beach for Town of Warwick residents. Boat launches are privately owned; there is no public launch site for nonresidents of Greenwood Lake, Winstanley said. However, such facilities would be added if the county were contributing to the lake's maintenance. The commission consists of representatives of Greenwood Lake, West Milford, Warwick, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the governors of New York and New Jersey, the Greenwood Lake Management District and Passaic County. Winstanley is the Orange County representative on the commission.