Ossipee — November 3, 2005 — What is required for Ossipee to obtain state approval to construct a beach in Ossipee Lake Natural Area? What will the town’s responsibilities be? Why did DRED re-open the beach issue after rejecting it in 1999?
Those were among the questions Ossipee Lake Alliance recently posed to Allison McLean, DRED’s Director of Parks and Recreation, in a wide-ranging discussion about the town of Ossipee’s controversial proposal to build a town beach on state land.
McLean says the two main requirements of any agreement are patience, as the process is likely to take some time, and a willingness on the part of the town to help the state oversee the entire 400-acre wetland preserve, not just the 600 feet of beach it wants to lease.
“All of the issues on the property must be jointly addressed in any plan that permits the development of a town swimming beach,” McLean says. Among those issues is what to do about the damage that is being caused by people using the 3,600 foot shoreline.
State Lacks Funding
McLean says that DRED Commissioner Sean O’Kane was new to his position and unaware that the agency had rejected a previous Ossipee proposal for a beach when he began meeting with Selectman Harry Merrow in the spring of 2004.
She says she and O’Kane were aware of the problems at the Natural Area, however. In 1994 and 2003 DRED staff researchers urged the agency to create a restoration and protection plan to prevent further damage to the property, but the state has not had money in its budget to take corrective action.
“We are strapped,” McLean says. “We thought if Ossipee officials were willing to help address the problems at the site, we should re-open discussions on the town’s beach proposal. It’s in the best interest of the public and the natural resources at the site to look at the property as a whole, however.”
McLean says that the specifics of the town’s responsibilities in working with the state to ensure the protection of the Natural Area property and shoreline have not yet been worked out. While she suggested in April that the selectmen consider adding the Pine River public boat ramp to the lake shoreline as part of a “single operational unit” for the town to oversee as part of managing public access, she says the boat ramp is not part of current discussions.
Required Town Studies
The potential development of the Natural Area for recreation presents a wide range of challenges for the town. In addition to being the largest wetland buffer on the lake, the property contains an array of unique features that caused DRED to reject the town’s previous beach proposal in 1999, ruling that the property was inappropriate for recreation.
DRED researchers have documented rare plants and unique plant communities on the site, and the state’s Division of Historical Resources has identified the area as likely to contain the remains of ancient settlements.
In April McLean sent Ossipee officials a two-page letter detailing the plans the town needs to write and the studies it needs to fund before the state can determine whether the challenges presented by the property can be overcome to permit recreation.
She says it is up to Ossipee’s selectmen to determine the timeline and the order in which the state’s requirements are completed. Once the plans and studies and finished, the state will conduct public hearings to allow all interested parties to comment, including abutting property owners and environmental, legal, and conservation groups. At the end of the process DRED will rule on whether the previous rejection of recreation at the site should stand or be overturned.
Monitoring and Enforcement
One of the state’s requirements is for the town to develop a plan “for the protection of the rare sandy pondshore natural communities and rare plant species located on the property, including monitoring and enforcement strategies.” In August, the town began by hiring The Nature Conservancy to inventory plants in the area where it proposes to build a boardwalk to the water. The report on that inventory is due to be released this month.
The town must also arrange for a professional archeological dig, and McLean says the first phase of that study could start as early as next spring after the town negotiates a price with one of the organizations that performs such services. The New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources will have to review the town’s final proposal under the Council of Resources and Development (CORD) or Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Ossipee must also determine if there are rare and endangered wildlife concerns on the property.
Controlling the Public
In one of the most difficult challenges of the project, the town must work with the Department of Safety Services to create a plan to control boats at the Natural Area, including creating and enforcing a “no rafting” zone. Hundreds of boaters congregate in the water and occupy the shoreline during the summer.
The town’s operating plan must specify how it will manage the public, including establishing and enforcing permitted and prohibited uses, controlling land and water access, and ensuring adequate staffing, monitoring, and security on the property. While Ossipee would pay for and manage the beach, it will have to be open to the general public since it will remain state property.
Town’s Track Record
Asked whether the town had provided any examples of its ability to manage such a large undertaking, McLean said that Merrow and other officials arranged for her to tour Constitution Park Beach to see the town’s boardwalk to the lake.
She said she is aware that the town has had vandalism problems at Constitution Park Beach, but she feels that vandalism is an unfortunate fact of life for many remote recreation locations. She said the town’s police chief has assured her that he can monitor the Natural Area, although a formal security plan remains to be developed for state review.
In March, Ossipee voters approved a selectmen’s recommendation that authorizes them to lease a portion of the Natural Area property for “no more than $100 annually.” Asked if that was a negotiated price, McLean said it was not but that “any negotiated lease price is not likely to be a significant amount of money.”
“This will be less of a ‘straight up’ lease agreement and more of a collaborative effort with the town to protect the property,” she says.
Ossipee Lake Alliance maintains a web page on the history of the Natural Area property at www.ossipeelake.org/longsands.