Courtesy of Conway Daily Sun
Effingham—March 1, 2022—With about two dozen people watching in person, and more on Zoom, the Effingham Planning Board voted Feb. 24 that a proposed gas station at the former Boyle’s Family Market would have regional impact on neighboring towns.
On Aug. 4, the Effingham ZBA voted 4-1 to give Meena LLC a variance to allow a gas station at the former Boyle’s Market property at 41 Route 25 in Effingham. The property is just south of Leavitt Bay and southeast of Ossipee Lake. The gas station sits on a giant aquifer that serves about 14 towns in the area.
Last Thursday’s planning board meeting was a continuation of the Feb. 3 public hearing where the project was explained. After about an hour of discussion, the board voted 5-2 that the project has regional impact.
What this means is potentially affected towns will receive official notices about the project, including one for a public hearing scheduled for April 7. Board members said the Lakes Region Planning Commission could help them determine which towns need to be notified.
The planning board consists of chair Theresa Swanick, vice chair George Bull, secretary Elaine Chick, Grace Fuller, Paul Potter, Gary Jewell, selectmen’s representative Lenny Espie and alternate David Garceau.
Regarding the vote, Jewell and Espie were in the minority and Garceau didn’t vote as there was a full board present.
The planning board received about 50 letters of concern about the project from people as far away as Fryeburg, Maine, and several from Tamworth.
One came from the Maine Water Co., which has customers in Fryeburg, as well as Porter and Parsonsfield, Maine. It said protection of the aquifer is critical for those downstream from it.
“Maine Water Co. believes source water protection is the most effective approach to safe drinking water,” said the Saco, Maine-based company.
“We hope that the planning board weighs heavily the concern for potential gasoline and fuel oil contamination of the Ossipee aquifer,” it added.
Swanick said some letter writers may have thought the planning board has judiciary powers over the zoning board, but that is not the case. “That is in court, and that that will work its way,” said Swanick. “But we’re in the planning board reviews for this proposed plan for operations. And so that’s what we’re going to look at.”
Green Mountain Conservation Group, Ossipee Lake Alliance, William Bartoswicz and Tammy McPherson are challenging the variance in Carroll County Superior Court, saying gas stations aren’t allowed in the groundwater protection district and the gas station is over the aquifer.
The town and Meena argue that the ZBA was in its rights to grant the variance and that new technology will ensure the gas station does not pollute.
The planning board discussed driveway paving on the property and vegetative buffers around the project both for aesthetics and as a means to keep litter from blowing around. But at one point someone on Zoom made a point of order and asked the board to consider regional impact and said it should have done so before the board voted Feb. 3 that the application was complete.
Matthew Johnson of Devine Millimet, the attorney representing Meena, objected. “I think the planning board is reviewing the site plan regs as they should,” he said.
Ultimately, the planning board agreed to discuss regional impact and read the statute aloud.
Attendees and some planning board members seemed confused about what it meant. Tim Otterbach of Ossipee Lake Alliance said the law “clearly states” that if there is any doubt that a proposed project would create a regional impact, then the board should determine that it does.
But Mark McConkey, environmental and land use consultant working for Meena, who also happens to be a Republican state representative from Freedom, argued that Green Mountain Conservation Group and Ossipee Lake Alliance “cast a wide net” informing towns from Wakefield to Tamworth about this project.
“Ossipee, Wakefield and Tamworth have refused to write a letter saying that it was regional impact,” said McConkey. “The closest that came to it was Freedom, with a Conservation Commission letter that speaks in broad terms, if something (a spill) were to happen, it would cause a regional impact.”
Andy Yale of the Parsonsfield, Maine, Planning Board said his board learned of the project through word of mouth. “I don’t think that substitutes for an effective and official noticing process,” said Yale.
Jewell felt the proposed project was “well noticed” — not by official means but because it has been written about in the newspaper. “Everyone knows about it,” said Jewell.
Swanick summarized the position of those who spoke in favor of regional impact. “I think the point is that people that weren’t noticed might have been here for this,” she said. “I don’t think we should be proceeding with any analysis.”