FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Freedom — September 16, 2005 — Ossipee Lake Alliance has called on the state agency DRED to suspend its negotiations to subdivide Ossipee Lake Natural Area for a beach, calling the plan “not in the best interest of the lake or the people of the state.”
In a letter to DRED Commissioner Sean O’Kane, Alliance Executive Director David Smith said the agency has failed to establish a need for a beach and is ignoring its own 1999 ruling that the property’s environment is unsuitable for recreation.
“Ossipee’s selectmen want to move their town beach from one location to another,” Smith says. “Turing a state-owned natural area into a town-managed public beach must be held to a higher needs standard than that.”
DRED has been negotiating with Harry Merrow, who is a selectman and state representative, for more than a year on the plan which would create a recreation zone in the Natural Area that Ossipee would lease for $100 annually. Town officials have said they will pay the cost of building and managing the beach but have not put forward a budget or operating plan for the project. DRED previously rejected a similar plan by Ossipee in 1999.
In its letter to the state, the Alliance says there already is abundant public recreation in the area including White Lake State Park, a 140-acre property that DRED manages on the Ossipee-Tamworth town line. In addition, Ossipee has four town-designated swimming areas, including a town beach on Duncan Lake that has bathrooms and a lifeguard. The selectmen have conceded that the town beach is not fully utilized by residents.
The Alliance has also asked DRED to explain why it has not acted on its own studies recommending that a restoration and protection plan be created for the property, which is being damaged by hundreds of boaters who recreate there.
“DRED studies in 1994 and 2003 documented the problems,” Smith says, “but the agency has never acted on its staff’s recommendations. Instead, DRED officials have spent the better part of a year working with Mr. Merrow to bring more people to the site.”
“Statements that creating land access to the water from Route 25 will reduce the number of boaters at the Natural Area are illogical and unsubstantiated,” Smith added.
In making its announcement today the Alliance joins a growing number of groups questioning the state about the beach plan. In March the Town of Freedom’s Board of Selectmen and the Town of Effingham’s Conservation Commission sent letters on the issue to the governor. Green Mountain Conservation Group has also been vocal on the issue.
At the recommendation of the selectmen, Ossipee voters in March allocated $20,000 toward the project. Last month town officials dedicated up to $8,000 of that amount to study plants, one of a series of studies that DRED says the town must pay for before the agency can rule on the proposal. At the end of the studies the state says it may or may not approve the beach.
In the Alliance’s letter to O’Kane, Smith points to the historic and environmental role that the state-owned property plays on the lake.
“The Natural Area functions as a wetland buffer to the lake’s rapid development and is a haven for native wildlife and unique plant communities. It is an essential part of the character and ecology of the lake. There is no need to develop it, and there is every reason not to,” the letter concludes.
Ossipee Lake Alliance maintains an online profile of the Natural Area in the Special Places of Ossipee Lake section of its website at www.ossipeelake.org.