Ossipee—February 22, 2017—The application by Valley Point LLC to build a gas station and convenience store in West Ossipee was temporarily withdrawn at Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting because abutting property owners did not receive timely notice of the meeting. The applicant said it plans to re-file with the Planning Board. If the filing takes place by the end of the month, a new hearing could take place as early as March 21.
Green Mountain Conservation Group is opposing the plan, which calls for eight gas pumps and a 5,000 square foot convenience store. The organization says it fears excavation during the construction could cause pollutants in the soil to be released and enter the groundwater.
Existing Contamination at Issue
The site, formerly a garage and oil company, is “extremely contaminated” from its previous uses, according to state and town records. Previous underground tanks were removed, and a DES mitigation plan has been ongoing at the site since 1993. Monitor wells indicate the pollutants remain in the soil.
The property, at the junction of routes 16 and 41, is situated over the Ossipee Aquifer and is part of the town’s Water Resource Protection District. As such, town law requires that the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Planning Board both establish that the development will not pose an environmental threat.
The Zoning Board has already done so. In July 2015 it voted 4-1 to grant a variance to the project’s previous principal organization, Four Long Pond Realty Trust, to use the property as a gas station, which is otherwise not a permitted use.
At the same time, and on the same vote, the ZBA granted a variance for the applicant to use underground gas storage tanks. The approval was granted despite concerns expressed at the meeting that disturbing the soil in the process of excavation could cause a “plume” of pollutants to enter the groundwater and spread.
Water Quality Concerns
Scientific knowledge about the Ossipee Aquifer, the area’s primary source of drinking water, was a key factor in the creation of environmental protections that years ago were written into local zoning ordinances.
Both Ossipee and Freedom provide such protections, which place the burden of proof on developers that their actions will not harm the area’s groundwater. Local planning and zoning boards are responsible for overseeing those protections by determining whether an applicant’s assurances of no environmental harm are reliable.
The Valley Point plan is the second significant proposal in Ossipee to generate public questions about a development proposal’s potential harm to groundwater. Last year, Ossipee’s planning and zoning boards both signed off on a plan by Michigan developers to double the size of Westward Shores Marina and Campground despite its location on the Ossipee Lake floodplain. Green Mountain Conservation Group opposed the plan as environmentally unsound and a threat to groundwater, and the Towns of Freedom and Effingham soon joined that opposition.
After the failure of appeals to the Ossipee Planning Board to reconsider its approval of the expansion, the Town of Freedom exercised its abutter status and sued the Town of Ossipee in State Superior Court. Work on the expansion has stopped until the case is resolved.