Ossipee — August 17, 2005 — Ossipee could spend as much as $4,000 as soon as September on a rare plants survey as part of development of an Ossipee Lake public beach.
Selectmen on Monday agreed to release up to $8,000 of the $20,000 that town meeting voters appropriated in March for the beach. The first $4,000 is for the first step in a study of rare plants, the second $4,000 is for a follow-up part of this plants survey.
The money will fund a critical series of environmental impact studies. Phase one, in two separate stages, will pinpoint exact locations of rare plants identified at the site by state preservation officials. The plant survey could open the way for phase two — an archaeological dig to uncover the extent of Native American relics at the undeveloped Long Sands site.
The state owns the lakefront lot near Long Sands, and in April told selectmen if Ossipee wants to lease the lot and build a beach, it must first fund and engineer a special access way that would not disturb rare plants and potentially significant archaeological relics.
The plant and flower inventory selectmen authorized Monday will take place in two parts; a fall study and a spring study. Selectman Harry Merrow said he was unsure if state officials could muster plant experts for the job by this fall. In that case, the study may not start until spring and run over into the fall of 2006, he said.
Merrow said he estimated a high cost of $4,000 for each of the two, seasonal two- or three-day surveys.
“I think we’re getting off pretty reasonably,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll even come close to that.”
According to Merrow, Ossipee won’t know for sure if the beach will become a reality for two years.
“Whether this beach comes or whether it goes, its going to take a couple of years,” he said.
Any of the studies could potentially halt the town’s plan to build a beach and walkway to Ossipee Lake over the state’s lot. While state officials promised to work with the town as it plans the beach and the walkway, they offer no guarantee that Ossipee will be granted lease rights and project approval. N.H. Department of Resources and Economic Development Commissioner Sean O’Kane has the final say, officials said.
The state has said Ossipee must design a plan to minimize impact – not avoid it altogether – and that some level of disturbance is expected.
Merrow, who has spearheaded the beach effort, remained skeptical Monday that the plant survey will even turn up protected species. He said he expects the project to move successfully past phase one. But Merrow added that he would abandon the project immediately if phase two unearthed evidence of a protected historical site.
“If anybody finds any major (archaeological) reason, like a burial ground or a campsite, that the beach should not be there,” he said. “You’re going to see me back away from there so fast it will make our head spin.”
Merrow Monday faced resistance from one selectman concerned about mounting costs and the prospect of an unknown spending limit.
“I’m going to watch over very closely how many times we come in and we have to come up with money,” Selectmen’s Chair Peter Olkkola said.
“This is $8,000,” he said. “Then the next step and the next step. … When we get through, are we talking $50,000, $75,000?”
Merrow said no one will know until after the studies. And he added, voters will need to approve any spending beyond the already earmarked $20,000.
“We can’t answer many of the questions you’re asking, Peter, until we do (the plant study),” Merrow said. “If (voters) want to go more than that, they have to decide. We can’t do it.”
Members of a group of lakeside homeowners who have opposed the beach told selectmen Monday that they support seeking an alternative location to the Long Sands proposal.
David Smith of the Ossipee Lake Alliance in a press release last week said, “The state has previously offered to work with the town to find and fund another beach location, and we believe that is a promising path to pursue.”
The group cited a prior state rejection for a similar proposal for the Long Sands beach made by the town in 1999. “The state already has rejected the plan based on wetlands and rare plants,” Smith said.
After spending thousands on feasibility studies this year and next, he said, taxpayers could find themselves still without a beach on Ossipee’s largest lake.
And, Smith said, selectmen have been off-base with some statements they made about the fragile site, and have strained relations with environmental groups.
“Statements by town officials questioning the unique attributes of the property are inaccurate, and suggestions that the selectmen may seek legislation on the issue have alienated environmental and preservation groups as well as those who know little about rare plants and artifacts but believe our unique natural resources deserve protection,” Smith wrote.
Merrow on Monday clarified that only he, as a state representative, at one time considered drafting a bill to loosen restrictions on public access to archaeological data. Selectmen did not. He said he no longer planned to propose a bill because it is not needed.
Merrow recounted an August 10th meeting with state and local officials where the group toured the site and agreed on generally how the project should proceed
. The group, including Parks and Recreation Director Allison McLean, determined the proposed beach would be at the east end of the lot, and that “the town and state would explore doing this as a joint project to protect and oversee the entire beach area,” he said in a prepared statement.
Merrow added that while the town is responsible to fund the studies, grants may become available if the project is approved.