Freedom—June 2, 2016—At a special meeting convened on May 31, the Freedom Conservation Commission approved sending a letter to Ossipee officials stating the proposed expansion of Westward Shores Campground and Marina is a regional issue that should be assessed by surrounding communities, not just the Town of Ossipee.
Citing N.H. RSA:36:54-58, the state law pertaining to the establishment of regional impact, the conservation group pointed to two legal factors it believes should have prompted Ossipee planners to engage Freedom in the assessment process: the project’s proximity to the Freedom town line and its proximity to aquifers and surface waters which transcend municipal boundaries.
Ossipee Lake, which abuts Freedom, Ossipee, and Effingham, is one of the cleanest lakes in the state and sits above a stratified drift aquifer supplying much of the region’s drinking water.
“The size of the Westward Shores project and its proximity to this invaluable water source is a very serious concern,” the Freedom group wrote to Ossipee officials. “A catastrophic environmental occurrence could affect water quality in the waters of surrounding communities. This is more than an Ossipee matter. It is a regional concern.”
The owner of Westward Shores, Michigan-based Northgate Resorts, is proposing to increase the capacity of the property from 258 campsites to 522 and has already won several approvals from state and local authorities. The campground sits on a 308-acre flood plain on the shores of the big lake and the Bearcamp River. More than a third of the acreage is wetlands that the state considers to be the “highest ranked habitat in N.H.”
The fact that the entire property is on the flood plain has raised concerns that the septic system could be compromised during floods. George Ferdette and Dan Flores of SFC Engineering Partnership, the Nashua consulting firm Northgate hired to shepherd the expansion plans through state and local requirements, say they’re confident in their septic system plan.
Yet some of SFC’s answers to town concerns strike many as cavalier, to say the least. Asked by Ossipee Conservation Commission member Ron Adams whether flooding would affect the septic system, Ferdette replied that “most people would not be flushing toilets if the flood waters were up,” according to the minutes of the Ossipee Zoning Board’s March 8 meeting.
Other unusual statements in the minutes of the March 8 meeting prompted the Carroll County Independent to fact-check SFC’s written and verbal statements to town officials, a process that revealed a pattern of confusing and misleading information.
Among SFC’s claims was that it was “working with” Green Mountain Conservation Group and Ossipee Lake Alliance to meet state and local requirements, a claim both organizations said was false. Alliance officials also told the ZBA it did not authorize, and knew nothing about, a letter written on Alliance stationery in support of the expansion plan.
The Independent also examined SFC’s statement that Dan Flores met with Chris Martin of N.H. Audubon Society who said the expansion would have “no impact” on near-by eagle nests. Martin said to the best of his knowledge he never met Flores or had such a discussion.
In regard to the potential impact of increased boat traffic on the lake, SFC’s Ferdette told the ZBA he spoke with Officer Scott McLain of N.H. Marine Patrol, who saw “no issues with the expansion.” McLain told Ossipee Lake Alliance he “vaguely remembers” someone calling him about boat traffic, but said he would never have said or implied that Marine Patrol has “no issues” with the expansion.
“Marine Patrol has no authority over anything that happens on land,” he said. “We would never make such as statement,” adding that his department head planned to send a letter to the town to correct the meeting minutes.
Based on these and other examples of confusing information, Green Mountain Conservation Group on May 7 asked the ZBA to reverse its approval of a Special Use Permit on the property in regard to road width requirements.
“Because of the sensitive habitat and natural resources and possible irreversible impact to those resources, [we] respectfully ask the Ossipee Zoning Board to consider revoking the permit and reopen the hearing process to reconsider the factual information regarding natural resources on and near Westward Shores Camping area,” the organization wrote in its letter.
The ZBA postponed consideration of the request until the next ZBA meeting, on June 9.