Leadership Missing In Natural Area Issue

The following letter was sent to area newspapers:

To the Editor:

In your September 8th issue Harry Merrow is correct to highlight the ongoing destruction of Ossipee Lake Natural Area by boaters, but wrong to point at others for not doing something about it.

Referring to the opponents of his beach idea he asks: “How come they are so concerned about us using the beach when they don’t do anything about those people?” – “those people” being the boaters. Actually it is Mr. Merrow who has had the best opportunity to do something about the rafting issue but has failed to do so.

In September, 2003 he was advised by DRED Commissioner George Bald that the destruction of the Natural Area had reached a crisis stage. We know this because we attended the same meeting and went home with the same written report.

Unfortunately, instead of working with the lake community and environmental groups on a solution he spent much of last year in private negotiations with Bald’s successor on a plan to bring more people to the site by subdividing the property for an Ossipee recreation zone with land access from Route 25.

You quote him as saying his beach idea is a good one because it “will not make things worse and could at least protect a small portion of the beach.” It is a measure of the conflict that Mr. Merrow faces in his dual roles as Ossipee Selectman and State Representative that his solution to an important lake environmental issue encompasses just 600’ of the 3,600’ shoreline.

Things will be better in the Ossipee zone, he promises, while asking why others aren’t doing something about “those people” along the rest of the shore. Sadly, Mr. Merrow has expended significant political capital in Concord on an idea that does nothing to address the overall issue and will make the situation worse.

Individual local residents and small organizations like ours have been lobbying DRED for two years to work with us on a solution to the rafting and environmental issues at the site. But a solution will never be found if emotional arguments prevail over facts. State and local officials need to answer tough but fair questions like: Why does Ossipee need state land for a new beach when its selectmen say their current town beach is not used very much?

Also: Why should the state subsidize a beach on state property less than 10 miles from White Lake State Park? Why has DRED done nothing about its staff’s urgent recommendations for a restoration and protection plan for the Natural Area? Why did DRED cast aside its 1999 rejection of a beach at this location and enter into negotiations with Ossipee last year?

Finally: In what way is subdividing the largest wetland buffer on the state’s seventh largest lake and giving a chunk of it to Ossipee in the best interests of the surrounding towns of Freedom, Effingham, Tamworth and Madison – not to mention the rest of the state in whose trust DRED holds the deed to this property?

Officials either decline to comment or duck our phone calls when we ask these questions. Where is there someone in a position of leadership and authority who can get honest answers to these and other important questions so we can have a real debate on this issue?

David L. Smith
Ossipee Lake Alliance

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