Ossipee—February 19, 2017—Should Ossipee officials approve an application for a new gas station-convenience store development at the junction of routes 16 and 41 in West Ossipee? Not according to environmental organization Green Mountain Conservation Group (GMCG). Last week it issued a public letter asking residents to oppose the project on environmental grounds when the Planning Board meets to discuss it this Tuesday, February 21.
The applicant, Valley Point LLC, wants to build eight gas pumps and a 5,000 square foot convenience store with a drive-up window, 25 customer parking spaces, and a separate employee parking lot at the rear of the building. A state filing shows Valley Point was created in December 2015. Henry LeTarte of Tamworth is the registered agent, and Bradford C. Cushing of Plymouth, Mass. is the organization’s manager.
The development site is in the Water Resource Protection District, which prohibits uses such as gas stations unless the developer can convince zoning and planning officials that the use poses no threat to the environment, including the groundwater.
Long-time visitors and residents will recall the property as the location of White’s Garage, a Ford dealer in the 1950s and 1960s. More recently it operated as Johnson Gas Company. Over time, leaking underground storage tanks—the oldest dating back to 1911—polluted the property and caused it to become “extremely contaminated,” according to the minutes of a 2015 Ossipee Planning Board meeting.
A DES mitigation plan has been addressing the contamination since 1993, with $547,000 of a $1.5 million dollar clean up fund expended to date, according to the town. Despite those efforts, monitor wells show the property remains contaminated.
Zoning Variances Granted
Valley Point has already convinced the Zoning Board about the safety of its plan. In July 2015, the applicant, then known as Four Long Pond Realty Trust, was granted two variances for the development—one authorizing use of the site as a gas station, and the second authorizing underground gas storage tanks. Neither is a permitted use without a zoning variance.
While no one at the July 14 meeting spoke against the gas station use, minutes show there was discussion about the gas tanks. At the time, the plan had the tanks located above ground. But ZBA member Jim Rines, who recused himself from the discussion in order to represent the applicant, showed photos of above-ground tanks and said locating them in a protected underground vault would “create a better situation and [be] more attractive.”
During the public comments section of the meeting, State Representative Mark McConkey, who served on the Ossipee Zoning Board for 20 years and now lives in Freedom, cautioned that the discussion should not be about “the aesthetics” of the tank placement or the number of walls contained in a vaulted tank structure. Instead, McConkey said, the concern should be about excavation.
“It’s the excavation that has to be done on a site that is already extremely contaminated,” the meeting minutes paraphrased McConkey’s comments. “It is possible that you could break loose a plume that could float in any direction.”
After further discussion, the ZBA granted the tank variance on a 4-1 vote, although the Planning Board must also approve the application before the plan can proceed.
Ground Water Protections Cited
In its letter opposing the gas station application, GMCG official Corey Lane pointed to the Ossipee Aquifer as a key reason the town approved a Water Resource Protection District in the town’s zoning ordinance.
“The Ossipee Aquifer is made of sand and gravel which means it can be easily contaminated. Some areas are more permeable than others, which is why Ossipee residents chose not to allow uses such as gas stations and underground storage tanks in certain areas.”
Saying “Clean, safe drinking water is one of the most valuable resources we have,” Lane asked residents to oppose the plan when the Planning Board meets to consider it at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 21st.