Town Beach Study Due Out This Week

Ossipee — October 23, 2005 — The state has recorded the results of the first of two studies made by the Nature Conservancy of rare plants and flowers at a waterfront swamp on Ossipee Lake. The findings are considered critical to Ossipee’s quest to build its next public beach on the undeveloped lot.

A report could be released to the town as soon as this week, Selectman Harry Merrow announced on Monday, Oct. 17.

Town meeting this year raised $20,000 toward building a beach on the state-owned property at Long Sands. Funds were earmarked for a non-specific plan, spearheaded by Merrow, to lease the lot — made up of thick wetlands and a sandy beachfront — and set up parking and access as needed.

As part of the lease application, the state mandated that Ossipee take steps to preserve protected plants and Indian relics identified at the site.

The town must pay to design, and, if it’s approved, build a special walkway to carry beach-goers safely over any fragile features documented in a series of studies. Local taxpayers also will fund the studies.

The Nature Conservancy botanical inventories could help Ossipee determine where and how to lay out the walkway. But they could also reveal that plant systems would suffer too much under the project — a finding that could stop the beach in its tracks.

Merrow said he hadn’t seen the results of the fall plant study last Monday night, and so he couldn’t yet comment. But he did say if the Nature Conservancy — contracted for about $2,500 for the two-part study — finds that building a public beach at Long Sands is too destructive, the town will back off the project.

“If this one turns up bad, we’ll stop,” Merrow said.

State officials earlier this year also announced ancient stone chippings were found at Long Sands.

If Ossipee passes the two plant tests, the next one slated for spring, archaeological digs could follow. The digs will examine the extent and integrity of buried artifacts. Whatever scientists unearth will then determine whether the project can move forward.

There has been opposition to Merrow’s strong push for the beach, most notably from environmental groups and the Ossipee Lake Alliance, a group of lakeside homeowners. The group’s president, David Smith, has sent letters to high-ranking state officials, criticizing Merrow’s plan, and the state for not better protecting the property.

Local environmental groups have sent out cries to safeguard what state officials have called “globally unique” groupings of plant species.

Last week the homeowners’ association said a local biologist pointed out a more critical consideration. The association in a press release quoted a long-time resident and biologist, Barre Hellquist, as saying plants and evidence of ancient settlements at the site, while interesting, are secondary to the lot’s overall uniqueness.

“An open space wetland like this is rare to find on a well-developed lake,” Hellquist said. “It’s a buffer to development and a unique and historic part of the lake. In most states that would be enough to ensure its long-term protection and preservation. The unusual species found here are a bonus to the property’s intrinsic value.”

N.H. Department of Resources and Economic Development Commissioner Sean O’Kane will make the final decision on the lease and the beach, officials said.

Merrow said Ossipee so far has paid only $1,000 on the beach by funding phase one of the plant study.

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