'Ice-Eater' Systems a Concern on Lake Hopatcong

Warm weather and prevention of ice near docks create a potentially hazardous condition.

Lynne Scanlon always thought the “Danger” sign on Lake Hopatcong dock was enough to warn people that she was operating an “ice-eater,” a system that uses air to slow the formation of ice around docks and other structures in the water.

What Scanlon found out is that her sign, which includes the word “DANGER” in large white-on-red print, a warning “Ice not safe,” in black print and a symbol of a skater with a red slash drawn through the image, did not meet Jefferson signage code.

Scanlon owns a home on one of the lake’s islands.

"I do know that most people are completely unaware of this code requirement and the exact signage dimensions required," Scanlon wrote in an email. "If there is a sign at all on the end of a dock, it most often is a small Danger sign you can pick up at Home Depot. I've always had a large sign, but this year have ordered two more based exactly on the Jefferson code.

“I've seen very young kids running on snow-covered ice just off the end of docks on the lake. It looks like a Currier & Ives lovely winter scene, but, in reality, it is a scene fraught with danger.”

Jefferson’s ordinance for ice-deterrents systems can be found here.

The concern about thin-ice danger was raised recently with the deaths of two Mount Olive teens who fell into frigid Budd Lake.

Jefferson Township Administrator James Leach said Lake Hopatcong has had its share of winter tragedies as well, including the 2004 death of Thomas Stafford, who died when his snowmobile crashed through thin ice on the lake.

The current danger—the lack of sustained cold weather has left the 2,406-acre Lake Hopatcong with generally open water and thin ice cover in coves—was made again evident last Saturday when in Hopatcong, a police officer, tipped off by a Crescent Cove resident, warned two boys to get off the thin ice, the police department reported.

Leach said Jefferson has regulations about the use of ice retardant systems to alert lake users of the potential of thin ice near such a system.

Scanlon said her “ice eater” system uses air to create turbulence to inhibit ice formation near her dock.

Leach said that is a common system. Keeping ice away from docks and other structures that continue below the lake surface help prevent damage. Ice creates ”bulges,” like frost heaves under a road, near docks, Leach said.  The expansion of the ice against the dock can cause damage, he said.

The issue of such systems was addressed in 2010 by the Lake Hopatcong Commission following the 2009-10 winter that left much of the lake free of ice.

“Although the majority of the lake was ice-covered by mid to late December in 2009, throughout the remainder of the winter in 2010, large areas of Lake Hopatcong remained open water and did not freeze over. A possible cause for the large areas of open water was the improper use of ice retardant systems exacerbated by windy conditions,” the commission reported.

The concern is that while ice retardant system block ice formation through turbulence near docks, in the right weather conditions, the lack of ice cover can spread beyond space needed to protect individual docks, creating potentially hazardous situations as no-ice or thin-ice conditions spread.

As a result, the lake commission said, Hopatcong, Jefferson and Mount Arlington passed ordinances that govern the operation of ice-retardant systems.

The three ordinances share these common rules, the commission said:

  • The affected area of ice created by the ice-retardant system shall not extend more than 25 feet beyond the protected structure or more than 25 feet, measured along the shoreline, from the protected structure.
  • No system shall be designed or operated in such a way as to prevent ingress or egress to any portion of the water body or to foreclose the formation of ice across a channel.
  • All ice-retardant systems shall be marked with an appropriate sign placed along the shore or on the protected structure specifying "Danger, Thin Ice."

Leach said governing the big lake is a complex situation. The lake is a state park, and is operated by the state parks division of the Department of Environmental Protection and patrolled by the New Jersey State Police.

The lake is also in four municipalities and two counties, he said. Local ordinances created in once municipality do not extend to the other three towns.

A summary of the local regulations concerning ice-retardant system can be found here.

John Kurzman January 19, 2013 at 04:17 PM
Some of the blame aimed at iceeaters is misplaced. In the year where ice-eaters were being blamed for large open areas such as in Woodport Bay, I took pictures this year of the same open area. Except this year the large open area does not reach the ice-eater areas that were being blamed for opening up the lake like a zipper. In other words, the center of Woodport Bay naturally is open, and just because the opening eventually reaches people's ice-eater areas does not mean that the ice-eaters caused the problem. In that other year, by the time people looked for the source of the opening, the areas were merged, but seeing the same main area open this year, with ice between the ice-eater areas and the large opening helps show that perhaps that past openings connected to ice-eater areas was coincidental, not causal. The bigger concern should be that when ice does form on the lake, the new mandatory outflow that occurs even during the winter in this new DEP plan creates an unsafe gap between the ice and the water as the water is lowered, and that is a recipe for disaster. When the water is drained (almost 4 inches per month must enter the lake to keep the water level constant with the mandatory outflow), some sections collapse, while others stay high, which creates the dangerous ridges that people talk about. Some ridges are man-made due to the mandatory outflow once the ice is formed and then the DEP now drains the lake underneath the ice.
John Kurzman January 19, 2013 at 05:53 PM
On the other side of the coin, when there is precipitation, the lake level rises and exerts enormous force against the ice. That too forms big ridges as some sections rise and break away, lifting dock pilings (and weeds from the roots) with the ice. While other sections stay still and the water laps over the ice, gradually melting it and creating big open sections. Also, water can rise through the fishing holes, and there too, the water laps over the ice and creates large open areas unless the air is cold enough to quickly freeze that water that pours up through the holes. This is one that the DEP can't help - even one inch of rain can generate more water than the dam can safely let out downstream that day. So it is inevitable that the ice level will rise at some point, and there will be impact to docks that are not protected by ice eaters or bubblers. And some sections of ice will not rise, while others do, causing the big gaps and ridges and bulges. Both of these level-changes after the ice is formed are very dangerous. Draining the lake is avoidable though, and should be stopped once the ice is formed, since this creates a man-made hazardous condition and is unnecessary. Releasing water from under the ice creates that unsupported gap that can look like safe ice from above, while really is just a bridge, not floating supported ice as would be be expected. The DEP plan needs to be fixed to not require the lake to be drained once thick ice is formed.
jazzman January 19, 2013 at 06:54 PM
dangerous ridges as you call them,actually called breakers,caused by two areas of water freezing and expanding causing the lift or fracure in the ice always on the points,Pickerell,Elba....and a new one in the last few years off of Bertrands Island always in the same place every year,the freezing ice needing to expand getting thicker,the law of physics,so those ice breakers are sure sign of thick safe ice.nothing absolutely to do with water draw down or water levels,....people who talk about dangerous ridges have no idea why they think thats so dangerous,oh dangerous if your snowmobling at night and you drive over one that you didnt see at 100 mphs,its more about the tempertures at night not getting below freezing then anything else,and the rest of your theories more like a Steve King novel,best you stay up north and off the lake,then to try to scare people into your made up stories.up north you have 2 rivers that feeds the lake with lots and lots of springs,also when you were a kid they used bubblers,but these ice eaters cause these conditions by bringing warm water up from the bottom and creating a green house effect getting bigger everyday.these lake front owners who dont even look out window or for that matter use the ice in anyway,if they did how would they get on the ice!?,these people are usually summer and thats how they want it clean and beautiful with some ducks and a couple swans and the ice getting smaller everyday
John Kurzman January 19, 2013 at 07:21 PM
Jazzman, I am not describing every scenario of dangerous ice, just the impacts from lowering or raising the level once the ice is frozen not mentioned in the article. There are also other causes of breakers, etc, as you mention, but that adds to the list of dangerous scenarios, while I was trying to describe what wasnt mentioned in the meeting/article. Also, just go to woodport Bay today, and you will see the usual area that's open, caused by springs that feed the lake, NOT by ice eaters, as the ice eater sections are at least now still separate from the large spring-fed area. Yet in 2008-2009, the ice eaters were blamed for that opening, because nobody had photographed that the two areas are separate as I have done this year. Later, when they combine, people shouldn't just blame the opening on people who just 'want it clean and beautiful with some ducks and a couple of swans' as you put it. Just think about the impact to solid ice by raising or lowering the level, and you will see that there's many factors in play, beyond even the springs and the ice eaters. What I'd like to understand though, is that the main lake doesn't benefit alot from the drawdown at least in deep areas, which still have the docks and seawalls in the water level, not drained away as in the shallower areas. So I'm wondering if they can handle the level not being away from the docks in the deeper main lake, can't we learn from that rather than drawdown the lake so much each year?
jazzman January 19, 2013 at 10:22 PM
ice eaters over all else can disrupt the ice if weather permits,so IF we had a couple a warm days during good winter ice freeze and IF the dock owner has already intruded out into the lake more then allowed,then you MIGHT have a incident with a night time snowmobile who`s not familiar with the area,who also having limited visiblity,might go through the ice....with temps in the teens you can walk right up to ice eaters edge with the ice strong enough to hold a snowmoble..but if you have warm temps following cold temps then a ice eater can take over in a few days,ive been out there for about 30yrs before the thought of the ice eater,but i have seen bubblers and ice eaters going in temps that are warm and the ice about 3 weeks away from even getting to the dock,bubblers/ice eaters need only to be going below 25 degrees and only at night, not during the day unless theres a wind factor involved.two places of concern that need to be looked at are the Hopatcong Yacht club and Elba point dock near that boat house fire last year,both look to be causing a large break in the ice thats there every year or they might just be near a breaker


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