February 5, 2011 — Ossipee — A bill designed to end the uncertainty about who owns the land along the edge of Ossipee Lake will be heard by a legislative committee on Tuesday. HB 278. will be heard by the House Resources, Recreation and Development Committee at 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 8, in room 305 of the Legislative Office Building in Concord.
If passed, HB 278 would change natural high water mark of Ossipee Lake from 410 feet above sea level to 406 feet. The bill reduces the amount of shoreline the state would own. Ossipee Lake Alliance found that a significant amount of people bought property along the lake that’s below 410.
“Thirty-five survey respondents said the state owns more than 25 percent of their lake property as a result of the current benchmark, with 12 of those saying the state owns everything including their home,” wrote Ossipee Lake Alliance Executive Director David Smith on ossipeelake.org.
The 410 rule’s importance became clear when the N.H. Department of Environmental Services began prohibiting people from making improvements on their property below the 410 mark, said the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Mark McConkey of Freedom. As examples, McConkey said people haven’t been able to repair or replace retaining walks or fix up already existing beaches.
“We’re trying to resolve whose land it is,” said McConkey. “This would remove the uncertainty making it easier for people to buy and sell land.”
No one knows what state agency set the 410 rule or when, said Smith.
The proposed 406 rule is based on some historical data from the 1800s before the the lake was dammed, said McConkey. Officials at the DES were hoping to have their recommended natural high water mark determined by January.
New Hampshire Dam Bureau head Jim Gallagher said based the investigation so far, the natural high water mark appears to be “no more than 408 feet.” The state wasn’t able to complete its investigation because of heavy rains in October prevented them from being able to look at the lake when it was low enough. Getting the number right is important because the state would have to defend it if it’s challenged.
“We’re not on opposite sides, we just haven’t been able to complete our investigation,” said Gallagher.
McConkey said 408 would clear up most of the issue.
“If we go to 408 most people would be able use the land they pay taxes on,” said McConkey.
The committee has several options of what to do with the bill. As examples, they could pass it as is, or amend it to 408, or hold it until DES has an opportunity to complete its research.
If HB 278 passes through the committee, it will go on to the full House, the Senate and the governor. Other Sponsors of the bill include Harry Merrow, (R-Ossipee), David Babson (R-Ossipee), and Sen. Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro).
This bill would not impact septic system regulations and nor would it influence how the state regulates the level of the water. The state maintains the lake at 407.25 feet, said McConkey.