Ossipee — November 22, 2005 — The latest botanical study of Ossipee Lake Natural Area shows that the proposed location of a town beach contains five natural communities, four of which are rare in New Hampshire and one of which is the only known example of its type in the state.
The site also contains an endangered individual plant species. The results of the study, funded by the Town of Ossipee and completed by the N.H. Natural Heritage Bureau, are similar to previous academic and state-funded research conducted over a 34-year period at the Natural Area, also known as Long Sands.
The report was released at the Ossipee Selectmen’s meeting on Monday night two weeks after being received by the town and almost a month after it was completed by a Nature Conservancy ecologist under the supervision of the state agency DRED.
The selectmen agreed to pay for the study as part of the town’s application to construct a beach on the state-owned site. Town officials have been openly skeptical that the site contains anything of value, while state officials and environmentalists have pointed to previous studies showing rare plant species and the remains of ancient settlements on the property.
A previous beach application by the town was rejected by the state in 1999 after DRED’s then-commissioner George Bald called the Natural Area “one of New Hampshire’s most significant sandy pondshore ecosystems.”
The area of the proposed beach is described in the report as a “regionally rare sandy pondshore natural community system” in which five distinct natural communities were documented. Natural communities are recurring groupings of plants and animals found in specific physical environments.
The study states that four of the five communities are rare in New Hampshire and one of them, a Hudsonia inland beach strand community, is the only known example in the state. The other rare communities are a twig-rush sandy turf pondshore community, which is one of only two known to exist in the state; a bulblet umbrella-sedge open sandy pondshore community; and a water lobelia aquatic sandy pondshore community.
The study also documented the presence of a state endangered plant, Euthamia caroliniana (or grassleaf goldenrod), in the proposed beach area.
Environmental and Financial Concerns
The selectmen’s beach plan was announced a year ago and gained the support of Ossipee voters who agreed to provide seed money for the project. Since then the plan has steadily garnered opponents, including elected officials and conservation groups from surrounding towns and property owners concerned about environmental and financial issues.
Although DRED official Allison McLean has said that the state expects the town to jointly manage the entire Natural Area property if a town beach is approved, Ossipee officials have declined to spell out the likely costs to the town.
In addition to funding the botanical study, the town must also arrange and pay for wildlife and archeological studies. Specialists say the archeological study is likely to be especially expensive as the state says the Natural Area contains the remains of some of the area’s earliest settlements. Ongoing management and maintenance of the area will also be the town’s financial responsibility if the project is approved.
On Monday night the only discussion of expenses for the project came in response to a question from a member of the audience who asked Selectman Harry Merrow if he had determined a total cost for the project. Merrow said he thought the cost of the boardwalk might be covered by a grant but offered no specific details, adding that a discussion of how much the project will cost the town is premature.
Second Part of Study
Left open on Monday was whether the second part of the plant study will move forward in July, 2006 as planned. Town officials have previously said they would withdraw the beach proposal if any of the studies confirmed rare plants and artifacts.