Ossipee — July 26, 2005 — Ossipee’s next steps in its plan to build a town beach in state-owned Ossipee Lake Natural Area remain unclear after the selectmen met yesterday at their regularly scheduled board meeting.
Last week officials from DRED and the N.H. Division of Historic Resources appeared before the board to detail what the town must do to have its beach proposal considered by the state. Chief among the requirements is for the town to fund a series of professional studies to determine whether a beach can be built on the site without destroying its rare plants and prehistoric archeological treasures.
At yesterday’s meeting the selectmen simply commented that the board intends to continue pursuing its plan with the state. No vote was taken.
While the cost of the studies is unknown, specialists estimate that the archeological studies alone could cost Ossipee taxpayers as much as $200,000. In addition, state officials said that paying for the studies will not ensure that a beach can be built. The plan might still be turned down if the studies show that a beach is incompatible with the environment.
Critics of the plan argue that further studies are unnecessary and the proposal should be turned down now because the state has already ruled that the site is unsuitable for recreation. In 1999, DRED studied and denied the town’s previous request for a beach, saying that it would threaten the Natural Area’s unique assets and fragile environment.
If the town proceeds with the required studies it will need to allocate more money to the project. In March, town voters approved the selectmen’s recommendation to set aside $20,000 from the reserve to build a parking lot and walkway at the site if the town successfully negotiates a long-term property lease for “no more than $100” annually.
Money has not yet been earmarked for the studies and no detailed estimate has been publicly put forward detailing the annual operating costs for the beach, which will have to be open to the general public as well as Ossipee residents. Last week the state said that if the plan goes forward it expects the town to ensure the security and protection of the entire 400-acre preserve, not just the beach.
While the unknown cost of such a venture would be daunting for most towns, it could be particularly difficult for Ossipee. This spring the town learned that it may have to pay as much as $250,000 per year to meet new state environmental regulations to cut back on the metals, acid gases, and organic compounds that are generated by the town’s incinerator. In addition, Ossipee residents are still adjusting to sizeable tax increases that resulted from the town’s last property revaluation.
Ossipee has previously assessed other sites for a beach on Ossipee Lake. In the 1980s it leased state property east of Pine River but abandoned its plans due to wetlands issues.
Given the state’s requirements at the Natural Area, some observers wonder why the town isn’t looking for an alternative site if it is serious about spending a large sum of money for a new beach. While lake property is at a premium, observers note that an alternative site would be owned outright by the town and would likely entail far fewer environmental challenges. Freedom has owned and maintained a small waterfront parcel on the big lake for many years.
Still others wonder why swimming continues to be officially prohibited at town-owned Constitution Park Beach despite the fact that residents frequently swim there. They note that there is a greater distance between the swimming area and the boat navigation channel at Constitution Park Beach than at many residential properties along the channel, including the Cassie Cove sandbar where crowds of swimmers congregate daily during the summer.