Ossipee — February 17, 2006 — Selectman and state Rep. Harry Merrow is backing away from his plan to create a new town beach at Long Sands on Ossipee Lake — at least for the present. At the same time, he said, he has not given up a long-term goal of a public town beach on the town’s largest lake.
Merrow read a statement at the selectmen’s meeting Monday night explaining why he was choosing not to pursue the project at this time, and asking selectmen to cancel the second half of a study of rare plants there.
The town has spent $1,000 on the first half of a natural resources inventory, and Merrow said, since the town will not be pursuing the project, continuing with the study at this time could be a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Selectmen agreed to cancel the contract. At last year’s town meeting, voters appropriated $20,000 for the beach project. Merrow said as he understands it, the remaining $19,000 will remain in the account until needed sometime in the future.
David Smith, president of Ossipee Lake Alliance, a group of people who use the lake and have come out in opposition to the project, had little to comment on Merrow’s announcement. He noted, however, that Merrow did not say he would not pursue a beach at Long Sands in the future.
Although he understood the financial reasons for canceling the natural resources study, Smith said he was disappointed, because it would be good to know what is there.
“The more the area is studied, the more we find and the more unique we find it is,” he said.
Changes at the State Level
Saying that a good poker player “knows when to hold ’em and knows when to fold ’em,” and now is the time to fold ’em, Merrow said, the change in N.H. Department of Resources and Economic Development [DRED] commissioners prompted his decision.
The Governor’s office issued a statement at the end of January that DRED Commissioner Sean O’Kane would be leaving when his term ends in March. Governor John Lynch has asked the previous commissioner, George Bald, to resume that role. Bald opposed putting a beach on Ossipee Lake in 1999.
“In the late 90s when I first proposed this, the then commissioner of DRED was solidly opposed to a beach. The beach is managed by DRED,” Merrow said.
“The current commissioner of DRED, who is not opposed to the beach has indicated that he will be leaving for work in the private sector when his term is up in the spring. The previous commissioner will be returning at that time. I have great respect for the previous commissioner and believe his is the correct person for the job. However, we don’t see eye to eye on the beach issue and I believe not much will be accomplished in pushing this in the immediate future.”
Smith too noted that state opinion on the viability of a beach at Long Sands changes as DRED commissioners come and go. He said a similar change could be seen in the 1990s, before Bald took over as commissioner.
“I think what that highlights is our state natural areas don’t have the protection they deserve,” Smith said. The state doesn’t have a policy on those natural areas,” Smith said. The state needs to develop such a consistent policy, he said.
The alliance intends to continue pursuing permanent protection of the area, along with its development for education and research, Smith said.
“Harry was right when he said that area’s already being destroyed by boaters,” he said, adding, “We want to stop the destruction that’s already taking place.”
In addition to protection, Smith said, “We want to get people excited about what it is. It is a natural area. And we would love to see the Ossipee selectmen be a part of that.”
Still Looking for a Site
Merrow said he still believes a beach could have been built at the site to the benefit of the town without harming natural resources there.
“For several years I have been working on getting a beach for the town at Long Sands. Despite incorrect statements from a few who oppose it, things have been progressing favorably. I believe sensitive areas pointed out in the first portion of the rare plant study could have been adequately protected.”
He also said he has not stopped looking for a town beach on Ossipee Lake, nor does he believe the issues at Long Sands have been resolved.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I do know I’m going to have the water tested this summer. Something is going to have to be done down there,” he said.
As far as a town beach, he said simply, “I am going to pursue one.” Where? “Anywhere on the lake I can find it.”