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.”
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.