Ossipee Resident Irked by Town Hall Editorial Regarding Beach Battle

Ossipee — November 10, 2005 — Selectmen offered little response Monday to a Long Sands Road resident’s complaint that the board editorialized on a divisive public beach battle when a selectman posted a one-sided commentary at town hall.

Bob McDonald, 56 Long Sands Road in Center Ossipee, in a letter to the board forwarded to the Conway Daily Sun, charged that the taxpayer-funded building is being used as an exclusive forum for selectmen’s side of the town’s hotbed political issue.

Selectmen, backed by a town meeting vote pledging $20,000 in financial support, are trying to build a beach on state-owned property at Long Sands on Ossipee Lake. But environmentalists and a lakefront homeowners association bitterly oppose the proposal, warning that the land’s unique wetlands are a last buffer protecting the lake against overwhelming development.

Tacked on the door to the town offices by the beach’s main proponent, selectman Harry Merrow, is a photo of boats clustered around the lot’s waterfront. Below the photo reads the caption: “This is the beach that some do not want the townspeople to use for fear they will damage the plants.”

The photo was posted earlier this fall after beach opponents complained that the undeveloped lot, with reportedly rare plants and ancient Native American relics, should be shielded from public use. The photo suggests the beach is already heavily used by boaters who dock off shore and recreate at the state’s empty beach-front. Supporters of the beach-building proposal ask why all Ossipee citizens should not be allowed to swim from Long Sands in the town’s largest lake, if others already flock there by boat. Both Merrow and opponents from the Ossipee Lake Alliance have said that the state has failed to enforce offshore docking restrictions.

In response to the poster, McDonald wrote to selectmen: “Shame on you. The photo attached to this letter, showing the Ossipee Lake Natural area and the accompanying editorial comment, posted on the door of your office in Town Hall is an insult to the citizens and taxpayers of Ossipee. It is not only in poor taste it assumes that 100 percent of the community agrees with you, which they do not.”

“As a taxpayer I expect materials that are posted in Town Hall, which my tax dollars help maintain, respect the diversity of community opinion and not promote the personal bias or agenda of the board or its individual members,” the letter said.

McDonald asked that the picture be taken down, or that he be allowed “to post pictures next to it depicting the deplorable conditions of other pet projects you have sponsored, such as Constitution Park Beach, to illustrate the town’s poor track record in maintaining public recreational areas.”

Merrow on Monday declined to comment on whether he would remove the poster, or if he would allow McDonald to post one of his own.

But Town Administrator Martha Eldridge said McDonald’s letter misrepresents the poster as claiming everybody in town supports the beach.

“It says some,” Eldridge said.

Merrow said he did not want to get into an emotional tug-of-war with die-hard opponents.

“I’m trying to approach this beach in a logical, intelligent and scientific manner, without any emotion,” he said. “Everything I’ve heard so far has been emotional.”

An expected report on rare plants and flowers, which could stop the project in its tracks, reportedly has been completed, but release of the report has been held up for weeks at state offices, Merrow said.

If the plant study turns up evidence that fragile habitats would be jeopardized by beach traffic, Merrow said he will stop the push for a public beach at Long Sands.

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