Ossipee — November 17, 2005 — Opponents of a plan to create a public beach on Ossipee Lake won a small victory at town hall Monday, when selectmen agreed to let them post photographs on a bulletin board.
Bob McDonald sent a letter to the board and the Conway Daily Sun demanding that either selectmen take down “editorial comment” at town hall, referring to a photograph and caption which he said favored the beach project, or let him post his own photographs. These images, he said, could include pictures of “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.”
McDonald, a resident of Long Sands Road, is among a group in town bitterly opposed to the town’s quest to build a beach nearby. He said the town does a lousy job taking care of its existing parks.
McDonald charged selectman had leveraged their authority at town hall to foist one-sided commentary on taxpayers over the divisive political issue.
The beach’s main proponent, selectman Harry Merrow, last week said he put up the photograph, taken around Labor Day, of what could be the future beach, showing waves of boats docking on and off shore. A caption below the photo reads: “This is the beach that some do not want the townspeople to use for fear they will damage the plants.” He refused to take the posting down last week, and the only comment he issued dealt with the tenor of debate. He said arguments about the beach are being fueled by emotion rather than fact.
“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.”
But after a second letter from McDonald this week, Merrow on Monday said he would pull down his photo, likely next week. Merrow said it was not in reaction to McDonald’s letters, and that he had already planned to take it down.
The board will also carve out about two feet worth of a town hall cork board for all taxpayers to post “recent” and “tasteful” photos of anything, including what McDonald called “deplorable conditions.”
“I don’t have any problem with what he wants to do,” Merrow said. “Maybe they can show us something we missed.”
He added that the state in a recent parks inspection “thought they looked just fine.” The photos, signed and dated, must be submitted to the town administrator.
“The reason we put that poster up, is there were a lot of people who had no idea what we were talking about,” Merrow explained of his photo and caption Monday. “They didn’t know where the property was.”
It 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 in on boats.
Selectmen, backed by a town meeting vote pledging $20,000 in financial support, are working on a plan to lease the lot that is owned by the state.
Both Merrow and opponents agree the state has failed to enforce offshore docking restrictions. Residents swimming there have linked unusual sicknesses to what they fear may be a concentration of people using the water as a bathroom.
“Regardless of whether there’s a beach there or not, what’s happening there is not right,” Merrow said. He said a Freedom resident reported getting sick. Merrow said he will press state officials for a solution.
He said the state’s deed to the lot, providing for “recreation and research,” doesn’t let state patrols keep people off the beach.
“They can’t control rafting,” he said. “It’s just not enforceable.”
Merrow said if the town plan succeeds, including a lease of the the land and construction of bathrooms and a walkway over possibly protected plants and relics, solutions may be easier to come by.
“Our beach will be better,” he said. “There needs to be monitoring.”
Selectman Joe Skehan called the beach location “the nicest spot on lake, where you can walk out 40 to 50 feet and only be up to here,” he said, motioning to his waist.
Next Monday night, Merrow said he will announce long-awaited results of a Nature Conservancy report on the wetland’s plants and flowers.
“We have received what I like to call the flower report. Next Monday we will be releasing it,” he said.
Merrow has said if the study reveals the beach will do significant and unavoidable damage to fragile plant systems, the project will be abandoned. He said he will meet with state officials this week about the results before releasing them, because the report did not address all of his questions.
The report that Merrow said was released to the state by the Nature Conservancy several weeks ago was first delayed in coming to Ossipee when deadly rains struck the state in October. The release was put off as officials struggled to keep pace with mounting reports of storm damage, he said.