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Nesting eagles halt construction in Hopatcong

Updated: Mar 28, 2019

By David Danzis New Jersey Herald

HOPATCONG — A pair of nesting bald eagles and their two eaglets temporarily have halted construction at the Mariner’s Pointe project.

The developer of the project — Atkins Companies of West Orange — voluntarily put a stop to construction once the presence of the nest was discovered, said Larry Hajna, a state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman.

Hajna said Atkins Companies, the federal government and the DEP came to an understanding earlier this year to ensure the eagles would be allowed to nest and care for their young without being disturbed.

“Everybody was able to come to an agreement that the birds would not be disturbed during this critical time,” Hajna said. “(Atkins) voluntarily decided to stop construction during the nesting and fledging period, which roughly runs from February/March until the chicks fledge by late-July/early-August.”

Atkins Companies was issued a “disturbance permit” from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which will allow the developer to continue progress once the eaglets leave the nest.

“When we were informed that there were chicks that had been hatched in the nest, we determined to not continue construction,” said Michael Gross, a representative from Atkins Companies. “After they fledge, we hope to start up again.”

The project — which includes several residential stuctures, a park and boat docks — has been in various stages of development since 2007, Gross said. Currently, there is no scheduled date to resume the project, he said. There is no timetable for Mariner’s Pointe to be completed either, according to Gross.

Bald eagles are no longer listed as an endangered or threatened species by the federal government, but they are still afforded broad protections under the Golden and Bald Eagle Protection Act, Hajna said.

According to the 2015 Bald Eagle Project — a program under the supervision of Endangered and Nongame Species Program, which is a part of the state Division of Fish and Wildlife — there are 150 nesting pairs of bald eagles in New Jersey. Hajna said those pairs gave birth to about 200 chicks last year.

The re-emergence of bald eagles in this area is largely attributed to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ban on DDT nearly two decades ago, Hajna said. New Jersey was down to a single pair of bald eagles in the late ’80s — the eagles resided in Cumberland County at that time — before the DDT ban.

“The population has really been improving in New Jersey,” Hajna said. “But, it’s a double-edge sword because as the population is increasing they’re moving into habitats that they (normally would avoid). They are resilient birds. But if the eagles are in nesting mode and not used to people they will avoid human contact.”

Residents in the area say the eagles have been coming to the same spot for the last two years.

Kevin Crane, who lives across the street from the construction project, said he’s been watching the birds since they first arrived.

“It’s really cool because when I grew up here, there were no eagles in the area,” Crane said. “I think it’s really great that they’re reestablishing themselves here.”

Mayor Sylvia Petillo said she loves having the eagles in Hopatcong.

“They’re majestic birds; they’re absolutely beautiful creatures,” she said. “As you watch them, you’re just in awe at their beauty and grace. They are very comfortable by the lake. They’ve become our new residents.”

Petillo even joked that the eagles need names because they’ve become such a staple in the community.

Marty Kane, president of the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum and chairman of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation, said tours of the lake on the Miss Lotta made it a point to go by the nest last summer.

“The highlight of the cruise is when they go past that property,” Kane said. “People are so thrilled when they get to see the eagles. No one has ever seen something like that around Lake Hopatcong before. It’s really neat.”

The eagle family will be in the area at least through the summer, and Hajna said residents should enjoy the sight while they can.

“It’s always great to see an eagle in its environment,” he said. “They’re a great sight to see.”

David Danzis can also be contacted on Twitter: @ddanzisNJH, or by phone: 973-383-1274.

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