Lake Hopatcong - Ice Safety – Important information for Homeowners - Liability Risk

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The following article from Daniel L. McCarthy III that appeared in the Lake Hopatcong Knee Deep Club Newsletter was mentioned during the Lake Hopatcong Commission Meeting on January 13, 2020, provides important information for anyone venturing onto the ice.

LHC Ice Eaters And even more important information for Homeowners, as the Lake Hopatcong Commission, is getting ready to introduce a template for all four towns to enact a tougher Ice Eater standards. You need to watch for the new standards and understand to make sure you comply.

See the following video from the Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting.

Ice Safety: from Daniel L. McCarthy III

With the arrival of winter, many anglers look forward to the start of the ice fishing season on Lake Hopatcong. Skaters, snowmobilers, ice boaters, cross country skiers and others also eagerly await as do the local merchants who depend on a healthy winter recreation scene on the Lake to get them through the slow months. Although ice conditions over the last several seasons have been disappointing, we are now at the starting line of another one and hopes are high. The enthusiasm of another season should be tempered with an awareness of the need for personal safety as we enjoy our winter pursuits on the Lake. Variables have changed over recent years. Lake Hopatcong has many structures built upon its shores. The cost to build and maintain them has skyrocketed. Owners are eager to protect them from ice damage. The proper way to “protect” while still allowing for safe winter recreation on the Lake has, unfortunately, been “hit or miss”.

For many years homeowners were technologically limited to “bubble” systems which, when installed around water-front structures, kept an adjacent small channel of water open and prevented heaving and shifting ice from causing property damage. To properly regulate these systems, they were kept on timers which controlled their use. In the author’s experience, a good rule of thumb is to have the system alternate “on” and “off” in fifteen-minute increments during the night and 15 minutes “on” and 30 “off during the day. Also, a thermostat is installed in the circuit -which is set to only permit operation at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and below. This system, when properly installed and monitored, keeps a very small area of water open and which is all that is needed to protect docks and boathouse from ice damage. A structure that is not adequately protected can suffer serious (read “expensive”) damage.

LHC Ice Eaters In1More recently, a different type of system has emerged which utilizes a propeller to draw up warm water from the bottom of the lake and create agitation. Unfortunately, these “propeller-driven devices” have grown in size and power and in most cases, their use has been indiscriminate. Many are installed without timers or thermostats; they are not monitored, and they allow large areas of the Lake to be kept open which presents an unacceptable safety risk for those who venture out on to the Lake for winter recreation and enjoyment. These systems often cause adjacent areas of the ice to be much thinner than the Lake at large which presents another risk. Add some snow cover and it is impossible to tell the difference in thickness from one area to the other. There are town ordinances throughout which regulate the use of “ice retardant systems” but monitoring and policing have practical limitations and there has been minimal enforcement. There is also a serious liability risk to a waterfront owner whose indiscriminate use of one of these systems creates a “trap” potentially causing injury or death. This should give great pause.

What is worse is when several neighbors use propeller-driven devices, the wind tends to connect the open areas so that they enlarge to many acres in size and prevent access to the Lake for winter recreation. Anglers and others using the Lake in the winter must be keenly aware of ice conditions and be safety conscious at all times. Be especially cautious when there is snow cover and be sure to check the thickness of the ice frequently with your spud bar as you go along. Bring safety gear, ice picks, your cell phone and a rope. Do not go out on the Lake alone. Likewise, homeowners must carefully balance the need to protect their property while respecting the rights of wintertime users of Lake Hopatcong. Failure to do so will most certainly expose the homeowner to huge liability risk.

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