Ossipee — September 4, 2005 — If selectmen can iron out a contract with The Nature Conservancy this week, the board could jump on the group’s $2,500 bid to survey rare plants at the proposed site of an Ossipee Lake public beach.
In order to stay on the project’s roughly two-year timeline, selectmen say they need to contract the job with somebody by early fall.
The town may lease and build a beach on the wild, state-owned lot at Long Sands, but only after it develops a plan to protect reportedly rare plants and flowers and ancient Native American artifacts, officials say.
The state has said Ossipee must fund a series of environmental studies and then design a special walkway to send beach-goers over or around any fragile areas that exist between the road and Ossipee Lake. Plant and archaeological surveys have been mandated to identify any areas in need of protection.
Selectman Harry Merrow said he was estimating on the high end earlier this month when he asked the board to set aside $8,000 for the plant job. Monday he announced the state had sent over the $2,500 Nature Conservancy bid, even lower than he expected, but it looked “absolute fine.”
But after his initial review, Merrow said, the conservation group apparently added an insurance-related clause that could leave the town in the lurch if a worker was hurt wandering the dank, swampy thickets of the Long Sands property.
Merrow said the revision did not require the conservancy to carry certain liability insurance for workers on the job, a make or break point for the contract from the town’s perspective, he said.
“If they get hurt out there we’re stuck, because our insurance will not cover it,” Merrow said Monday.
“If you’ve been through that swamp,” he said, “it took me two hours to go 2,000 feet…it would be easy to break a leg.”
If the insurance clause can’t be negotiated out shortly, Merrow said he will ask the state officials who sent the Nature Conservancy bid, to send another from a different company. Selectmen, who will not meet next week in observance of Labor Day, could then call a special meeting to review and, Merrow hopes, approve a contract in time to start work in September.
The botanical survey needs both a fall and spring walkthrough by plant experts. If contractors can’t get into the site during a short window this fall, the project, already estimated to take about two years, could be set back considerably.
“Hopefully we can get this thing worked out so we can do it this month,” Merrow said.
While state officials promised to help Ossipee in its quest for an Ossipee Lake beach, they offer no guarantees for success.
Local environmental groups and a lakeside homeowners association oppose the project at its proposed site, arguing taxpayers may spend thousands of dollars and find only disappointment.
Results from any of the surveys could halt the beach, officials say. New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development Director Sean O’Kane has the last say on the lease and the beach, state officials said in July.
Merrow is confident that Long Sands will pass the plant test, and he has said that he doubts rare plants and flowers even inhabit the undeveloped site. But, he added, he will abandon the project if an ensuing archaeological study turns up significant relics or evidence of an ancient settlement.
State preservation officials have written Merrow indicating that unique groupings of rare plants, as found growing together nowhere else in the world, live on the property. An archaeologist working for the state, during a public presentation in July revealed a number of chipped stones found at Long Sands dating back to 3,000 to 8,000 years. But the archaeologist said, major digs are the only way to tell the true nature of the site. The chippings alone, she said, aren’t enough to say whether the beach can go in or not.
Voters at town meeting this year approved $20,000 toward the beach. To date, nothing has been spent. Selectmen about two weeks ago authorized up to $8,000 for the two-part plant survey.