The Beach Goes On?

Ossipee — July 28, 2005 — Ossipee selectmen are undeterred by warnings from state preservation officials that taxpayers could spend thousands on environmental research, and end up without a public beach.

While board members put off a formal vote to move forward on the Ossipee Lake beach project Monday, selectmen said learning that the discovery of rare plants and Indian artifacts at the site could undermine the plan hasn’t discouraged them.

“I didn’t see anything in there that presents a problem,” selectman Harry Merrow said Monday.

Selectmen are now taking state officials’ advice, and help, in preparing to pick a specific beach plot on the state-owned Long Sands property. “Let’s get the state out here so we can be sure when we pick an area,” Merrow said.

A state official last week, after warning the board that study costs will fall squarely on the shoulders of Ossipee taxpayers, said she was hopeful that Ossipee’s beach project would succeed.

Once a site is pinpointed, selectmen are expected to hire botanists and later archeologists to map out exact locations and quantities of protected plants and Native American relics. None of the $20,000 appropriated at Town Meeting for the project this year has yet been spent, Merrow said recently.

Should selectmen vote in coming weeks to continue their pursuit of the beach, the two state-mandated inventories will be used to design parking and a raised walkway to bring the public to the lake, with as little impact as possible to surrounding lands.

Eventually, Ossipee will present it’s application to lease the state’s property, with its plans to build the beach, to N.H. Department of Resources and Economic Development Commissioner, Sean O’Kane. After thousands are spent on months of research, O’Kane will have the final say on whether the town plan can go through, officials say.

Representatives from recreational and preservationist arms of DREAD told selectmen last week that while they will work to help the town to open public access to the town’s largest lake, Ossipee will foot most of the bill.

Town taxpayers must first fund a botanical study of rare plants that a state official afterwards in an e-mail to selectmen said would likely be damaged to some extent by the project.

N.H. Natural Heritage Bureau, Division of Forests and Lands Administrator, Lionel Chute, wrote that while several state studies have been conducted, few are recent and none are comprehensive.

Merrow and the board has been publicly skeptical of the existence of these so called rare plants. Merrow says the only documented evidence that could prove or disprove the existence and whereabouts of the nine species that stand to cost taxpayers thousands, is classified.

After reading the top secret report, Merrow said he found the information troubling, but said he was bound by law not to elaborate. But nothing he read, he said, makes the beach plan look impossible.

Chute wrote in the July 21 email that “globally rare” habitat systems will need to be identified, and protected, before the town begins a round of progressive archeological digs for evidence of Indian occupation.

Chute also warned that the town must pay to erect signs and barriers and provide “staff enforcement” to keep beach-goers out of an adjacent protected natural area.

“Because a public beach will attract hundreds, if not thousands, of people to the site, the town must develop a comprehensive strategy for keeping people out of the adjacent natural area,” Chute wrote.

“Incursions… by boats should also be anticipated and meaningfully addressed in the plan.”

“I take serious issue with some of the things he said in the letter,” Merrow said Monday, but issued no further comment on Chute’s writing.

After the botanical study, the site would be plumbed for further evidence of prehistoric humans. DRED officials last week presented a small bag of stone chips, evidence of wanderers dating back 3,000 to 8,000 years, they said.

A series of digs will determine just how substantial the find is – just a few broken chips or an ancient living room where families may have gathered over a cooking hearth. In the meantime, selectmen, undaunted, say they will begin work on a plan.

“I think we need to come up with a plan, and that’s what they told us,” selectman Joe Skehan said.

“I’ll get working on it,” Merrow replied

Ossipee Lake Alliance, a group that has argued against the beach project, announced a new section of its website last week highlighting the lake’s unique features at www.ossipeelake.org/specialplaces.

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