Ossipee — April 19, 2010 — The state’s claim that the average mean high water level of Ossipee Lake is 410 feet above sea level has shorefront property owners worried that they no longer own substantial parts of their property that they’ve been paying taxes on for decades.
At 410 feet, the state’s claim to shoreline property extends to almost three feet about the lake’s summer level, leaving some individuals and businesses concerned they are paying taxes on property they don’t own and may have trouble selling.
“In some cases, like that of Bob Reynolds in Ossipee, the entire property is below that level,” says Dave Smith, director of the Ossipee Lake Alliance.
He said that the issue came to the forefront last summer when state Department of Environmental Services denied applications for shoreline work sought by the Westward Shores Campground and Ossipee Bluffs Association, saying the proposed work was below the 410 foot level and on state property.
Smith says that since then, several Ossipee property owners, including Westward Shores and John Hardy, 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. We believe everyone on the lake is affected to some degree by the 410 rule,” says Smith.
He says that local officials say the impact on tax revenue could be devastating if affected property owners dispute their tax assessment or apply for abatements.
“There’s a potential for losing a lot of tax money in Ossipee, Freedom and Effingham if the ruling isn’t overturned,” said Harry Merrow, an Ossipee selectman, who, along with Rep. Mark McConkey of Freedom, has been meeting with state officials over the 410 foot rule.
Both say the benchmark should be reduced to 407 feet and in January presented information they had gathered to state officials, who told them they were not yet ready to change the benchmark.
But they did get the state to agree to adjust the reference line for permitting purposes from 410 to 407.25 feet. The reference line, also known as the high water mark, is the point from which environmental setbacks are determined in regard to subsurface and shoreland dredge and fill applications.
“In essence, the change means DES will consider authorizing work to be done on state property at the individual property owner’s expense,” says Smith.
He said that the alliance has scheduled a June meeting with state officials to discuss the 410 issue and is hoping convince them to drop the level by three feet.
Rene Pelletier of the Department of Environmental Services says that by virtue of state law the state has flowage rights to the 410 foot level but that it will consider additional historical evidence which would show that level should be lower than that.
The level of the 3,092 acre lake, the sixth largest in the state, is maintained by a dam at Effingham Falls which the DES keeps at 407.25 feet above sea level during the summer boating months.
Merrow says that he can recall times during the 1950s that the lake level was so low that “you couldn’t get a motorboat on the lake. You had to drag it out with the motor up before you reached water that was deep enough to use the boat in.”
He said that he will lead Pelletier and Jim Gallagher of the DES on a tour in June in which he will show them that the lake historically has been much lower than the 401 feet mark, including the abutments of an old Stage Road bridge, which are now below the water.
Merrow, a realtor, said that one of the other concerns he has is about property sales around the lake, which may be slowed until the 410 issue is resolved. He said that legislation may be introduced in the next session of the legislature which would establish the 407 foot mark as the boundary for state jurisdiction.
Article courtesy of unionleader.com, all rights reserved.