State’s Lake Level Claim Questioned by Shorefront Property Owners

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, all rights reserved.


  1. Paul W H Tung MD 14 years ago April 19, 2010

    Is there an organisation formed by property owners along the lake shorefronts whose purpose is to seek a resolution to this dilemma? It would be best if we all acted thru a consortium/organisation to pursue this instead of individuals acting alone.

  2. Lisa Louttit 14 years ago April 19, 2010

    That is a great idea, Paul. If there is one, I would like to be involved.

  3. Aaron W. 14 years ago April 19, 2010

    Gee, Charlie and John looking for a way to skate out of paying yet another (overdue) bill. Hey Charlie, if you don’t own your beach at WWS then you won’t mind me & my posse setting up camp there this Memorial Day weekend! Hope you pay the vendors so the store will be open, hopefully the milk won’t have soured yet!

  4. Tom 14 years ago April 19, 2010

    Paul, I would be interested in being involved in something like that.

    Aaron, not everything that happens on the lake relates to Charlie and John and WWS campground.. There are a lot of people affected by this situation.

  5. har de har har 14 years ago April 20, 2010

    good luck to charlie trying to sell condo land that isnt even his……..410 ft is most of the campground

  6. atony 14 years ago April 20, 2010

    it was just a matter of time before the government organizations created so many regulations that finally they now have regulations that conflict…high water mark and taxable property…that’s just great

  7. atony 14 years ago April 20, 2010

    even if the legislature establishes a 407′ mark we still have an argument about past taxes the we “over paid”…

  8. Don MacLeod 14 years ago April 20, 2010

    I’m not a lawyer but I’m pretty sure that if your property card is in error it is your obligation to fix it. Unfair as it is, if you have paid excessive taxes in the past it does not necessarily make the State liable for the fact that you didn’t correct the issue sooner.

    The best good neighbor solution might be for the state to globally grant a deeded right of way to the area between 410 and 407 feet to all lake front lots. Property values, title insurance issues and real estate complications could be better managed with such action.

    Since people control the dam we are no longer dealing with natural conditions. We need a better understanding of “Average (meaning normal?) mean high water level”.

  9. atony 14 years ago April 21, 2010

    Is the property card in error or did the state just proclaim 410 to be the high water mark and tax payers have no choice but to comply? There is a big difference between an error in the property card and the state arbitrarily legislating rules we have to live by. In this case the state established 410 to suit their needs without, obviously, considering the impact to the property owner. Keep in mind the DES uses the 410 water mark for their 250′ rule. The best solution is to not roll-over and let the state take advantage of the tax payer. The state set the water mark…live by the sword, die by the sword. There are only two fair outcomes that should result: 1, the state legislates a new water mark @ 407…in which case those of us who overpaid demand refunds or 2, the state leaves the watermark @ 410 and we all file for abatements. Good neighbor my a$$…the state has been jamming it to the taxpayer for too long. With the unfair and unrealistic property assessments to the latest and greatest doubling of boat registration fees. We should all take a stand and not just hope that the government will do the “right thing”. Don, please, don’t give the government this kind of latitude…they are a self serving institution that only serves the people when it is in their interest to do so.
    P.S. I’m not a lawyer either (thank goodness) just a hard working american trying to create a life for my family and getting really tired of the government getting in the way!!!

  10. Don MacLeod 14 years ago April 21, 2010

    Hey atony is

    My understanding is that the 410 number isn’t new but was a forgotten rule. The state has found it in historic reference but has not found the supportive calculation for it. To my mind the first thing we need is a working definition of average mean high water. We can then make the case that since dam control manipulates the level of the lake and the State can’t produce with any authority the reason behind that 410 number it is in fact arbitrary and meaningless. I’m just suggesting that right and wrong can work things out between neighbors but we need legal and illegal to work things out with Government. Be aware government holds the pen that writes the laws and common good trumps whatever interests we might share. Yes… I’m a cynic.. but I mean well.

  11. CGG 14 years ago April 21, 2010

    If in fact the DES and the State regulators somehow forgot the 410 rule I know for a fact that since at least 2000 the Town of Ossipee, Town of Freedom and the DES have all issued permits for new consruction and the installation of new septic systems within the 410 perameters to shore front owners of Ossipee Lake. For them to claim ownership after allowing private development and infrustructure improvements “within the 410 zone” constitutes the approval and acknowledgement that deeded land owners where within their rights and ownership of the parcels. I personaly hold such permits and approvals.


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