The state DEP lifted an advisory against swimming in a section of Lake Hopatcong. The state's largest lake has been declared off limits to most recreational activity for five weeks as a result of high levels of harmful algae blooms, which can make people sick.

The part of the lake that got the green light on Friday is only accessible by boat. Local officials have complained that the state Department of Environmental Protection's advisories are hurting the regional economy. One state lawmaker has floated the idea that the advisory could be the state's way of trying to push a special tax to fund a water runoff management system.

"We rely on science to tell the public when it is safe to swim in Lake Hopatcong,” DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe in a statement Friday. “We are pleased to lift the advisory in Indian Harbor, but urge caution to anyone planning to enjoy the lake this weekend because bacteria levels remain high in the majority of the lake. The advisory applies only to bodily contact with the water. Boating and other non-contact recreation are not considered dangerous.”

The advisory, which had been in place for the entire lake since June 17 after high levels of HAB were reported, was lifted in the Indian Harbor area of the lake after measurements indicated that cyanobacteria levels are below the State’s 20,000 cells per milliliter advisory threshold.

Bacteria levels at Indian Harbor in the lake's northwest corner were 19,000 on July 23, and 18,500 on July 25, according to the DEP.

Hopatcong Mayor Michael Francis is pleased with the decision but is looking for more solutions to the HAB problem. The Republican said he asked the DEP for their long-term plan for the lake, "and my answer is pretty much silence."

Francis said lifting the advisory in the Indian Harbor section is "too little too late" and he isn't optimistic that contact with the water will be allowed for long.

"I appreciate the fact they're trying this and it's good press for them to do this," he said, adding that this location of the lake is so obscure that "I had to look it up and I've lived here for 47 years."

"But the real nitty gritty to this is let's make a plan. What the hell are we doing, folks, other than saying we're very good at testing but you can't go in the water?"

Francis said he is meeting with the DEP to present a proposal from a company called Everblue for the 90-acre Crescent Cove area, which he said is the most affected by the HAB.

Everblue would treat the cove with what Francis called "good bacteria." The company has treated similar problems in lakes in Pennsylvania.

"This is an exercise in biology. The people that do this are experts," Francis said.

Francis also backs sate Sen. Joe Pennacchio's allegation that the advisories might be linked to supporting the need for a local implementation of what critics termed a "rain tax." The new state law gives local governments permission to establish stormwater utilities starting in September.

"We have a run off problem. I don't need to tax you to fix it. That's crazy," Francis said.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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