Freedom – March 22, 2010 — Ossipee Lake Alliance has announced it will conduct a survey of lake property owners to determine how many are affected by the state’s claim that it owns the shoreline up to 410 ft. above sea level.
The online survey will be conducted in April for property owners on the big lake, the three bays, the rivers and channels and Danforth Pond. Paper copies of the survey will be provided to property owners who do not have Internet access.
Alliance Executive Director David Smith said the survey is an important step in the process of appealing the controversial benchmark, which was little known to lake residents until last year when state officials began citing it in their denials of applications for shoreline work.
Under common law, the state owns large bodies of water and their shorelines up to the natural mean high water mark. While the state’s claim of ownership is not in question, the 410 ft. benchmark is.
After complaints about it surfaced last year, the Alliance hosted a meeting of state and local officials that was attended by Alan Brooks of the Office of the State Attorney General and Renee Pelletier of DES.
Brooks and Pelletier confirmed the state’s claim of ownership to 410 ft., but neither could say when the benchmark was set, who set it or what criteria were used to set it. All of the information is missing.
Brooks and Pelletier said the state would consider changing the benchmark to a lower number if local officials can prove it is wrong.
As a result of the publicity surrounding the meeting, a number of lake property owners and businesses realized that part of their property – and in some cases all of it, including their house and other structures – is legally owned by the state.
Since then, several Ossipee property owners have filed for tax abatements. Others around the lake have scrambled to find their title insurance documents or have contacted an attorney to seek advice, including those who are concerned that they may not be able to sell their property.
“The awareness of the impact of this issue is just starting,” Alliance director Smith said.
“We believe everyone on the lake is affected to some degree by the 410 Rule, and the survey will help us find out how many.”
Smith said the survey will be announced to property owners by letter in April and the results will be made public in May. The Alliance also plans to invite state and local officials to a second public meeting on the 410 Rule in June.