Ossipee — June 30, 2007 — An attorney for Ossipee Bluffs Association has petitioned State Superior Court asking that environmental violator Donald Lee be held in contempt for failing to remove thousands of pounds of sand and debris from Ossipee Lake and restore the natural flow of the Lovell River.
Concord attorney Jed Callen, representing the 117 families of the big lake property owners association, said that instead of complying with last year’s court order Lee last month filed a document with DES that “completely rejects and contradicts” the court’s findings of fact and proposes a different remedy and an open-ended timetable for completion.
In September, Superior Court Judge James J. O’Neill ruled in favor of the Bluffs Association in its lawsuit against Lee for creating an environmental nuisance by altering the flow of the river to create a sandbar in the lake. Court testimony showed that Lee began building breakwaters for that purpose in 1988 and that numerous attempts by DES and the Bluffs Association had failed to stop him.
The resulting sandbar, extending deep into the lake and hooking north, replaced the river’s natural fan-shaped delta and caused debris to fill the Bluffs Association’s swimming area and boat basin. O’Neill ordered the Massachusetts resident to “forthwith” provide DES with a plan and timetable to remediate the damage. Lee did not appeal.
Bluffs attorney Callan said that in Lee’s DES filing in May, his environmental consulting firm asserted that Lee had constructed a 25 ft. breakwater “to prevent seasonal erosion of the shoreline immediately adjacent to his property.” In fact, Callan said, the court found that Lee had constructed multiple breakwaters, one extending 70 feet into the lake, for the specific purpose of creating a sandbar.
As a remedy, the environmental consulting firm, Heindel & Noyes, proposed that Lee remove “all vestiges of the groin structure,” arrange for new aerial photographs and “develop an observation protocol to document the natural process at the site.”
With barely disguised anger, Callan’s written response said Lee’s proposal shows he lacks “even a rudimentary comprehension of [his] legal obligations as a result of this protracted litigation.”
“For Respondent Lee, through his agents, to assert in May 2007 that he is not bound by the outcome of the multi-year litigation, week-long trial, and un-appealed Order, and to now propose to DES that they bless his proposal to ignore the Court’s Order and findings…is nothing short of contemptible.”
During the week-long trial Lee admitted that he had repeatedly built, dismantled and re-built breakwaters along the shorefront of his lake property. He also conceded that he had failed to comply with various cease and desist orders, including a 2003 State Administrative Order to tear down the walls and hire a hydrologist to breach the sandbar.
Callan said that since remediation can only be accomplished during the winter drawdown of the lake, the 2006-2007 season has been lost and the 2007-2008 window is also in jeopardy without “prompt and forceful court action.”
Experts say the clean-up could cost the long-time lake property owner $1 million, making it the largest and most expensive environmental remediation on Ossipee Lake. Lee also faces huge fines if he is found guilty in a lawsuit against him by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office for failing to comply with the state’s 2003 Administrative Order. The trial date in that case has not yet been set.
Bluffs Association officials say they have expended countless hours and spent more than $200,000 in the 19-year effort to bring Lee to justice. They say many of their members are retired and live on fixed incomes, and the financial burden has driven some of them to sell out and leave the lake.
[Editor’s Note: A feature article on the Lee case appeared in the Winter 2007 issue of Ossipee Lake Report].