Freedom—March 29, 2022—Tamworth’s Planning Board last week sent a letter to Effingham officials saying it believes a gas station at the former Boyle’s Market site on Route 25 will threaten the region’s drinking water.
“It is the position of the Tamworth Planning Board that the Effingham Planning Board respect its own groundwater protection efforts and vote to deny the approval of the application for this development,” the letter stated.
The vote to send the letter was unanimous.
Tamworth is one of nine towns that were granted abutter status after the gas station proposal was declared to be a Development of Regional Impact (DRI) because of its proximity to the Ossipee Aquifer, the region’s drinking water source.
Abutter status means DRI-designated towns have an opportunity to take a figurative ‘seat at the table’ in deliberations on the matter. Lakes Region Planning Commission was also notified of the DRI ruling and is said to be planning to comment on the application as a regional matter.
Tamworth’s letter, signed by board chair Sheldon Perry, noted that gas stations are prohibited in Effingham’s Groundwater Protection District, where the site is located.
Saying Tamworth is in the process of developing groundwater protections for the “health, safety and general welfare” of its residents, Perry said “the approval of a variance [in Effingham] to allow this prohibited development sets a precedent which will encourage further inappropriate developments, thus weakening and threatening our own efforts to protect this essential resource.”
Two Maine towns, Porter and Parsonsfield, were also granted abutter status and have submitted letters to Effingham officials expressing their concerns.
In a letter from Porter’s Code Enforcement Officer and the chairs of the Planning Board and Conservation Commission, the town said it wanted to reiterate concerns that were raised by Maine-based Saco River Corridor Commission that contamination entering the aquifer in Effingham could impact Porter and more than 20 other downstream Maine communities.
Parsonsfield’s Select Board and Planning Board chairs jointly informed Effingham officials they plan to attend the next scheduled hearing on the matter “to better understand on what basis a variance was granted for this project.”
A Significant Risk
In Freedom, meanwhile, the Select Board moved its March 21 meeting from the Town Office to Town Hall to accommodate approximately 35 people who came to hear the Conservation Commission brief the Select Board on the matter.
Commission chair Jeff Nicoll told the board that after studying the site plan application and reviewing scientific data provided by Ossipee Aquifer specialist Dr. Robert Newton, it was clear that “the specific characteristics of the land at this location, its prior history as a gravel pit and the current erosion and stormwater management plan submitted by the applicant combine to create a significant risk to the aquifer.”
In attendance at the meeting was State Representative and general contractor Mark McConkey, who is responsible for the gas station site plan application as agent for the applicant, Meena LLC, a Conway limited liability company.
McConkey, who represents Freedom in Concord, said he was unaware that the gas station was going to be discussed that night, but was glad to be there to speak about the development. He said Effingham’s ZBA had held extensive hearings on the matter, and said new gas station technology had reduced the risk of leaks and spills.
In regard to spills, McConkey offered that they can happen anywhere, including on the lake. He said the state maintains a fund to pay for mitigation and clean-up costs beyond any costs the gas station owner would be responsible for.
State Representative Jerry Knirk, who also represents Freedom in Concord, was at the meeting as well, following-up on a letter he sent to the Select Board expressing doubt that mitigation strategies would be sufficient in the event of a major spill that contaminated the aquifer due to spills or stormwater runoff.
“The gas station should be in a different location,” his letter to the Select Board concluded, adding that “I urge you to oppose this inappropriate location for a gas station and make your opinions known to the Effingham Planning Board.”
In a unanimous vote, Freedom’s Select Board asked the Conservation Commission to finalize a letter to Effingham officials. At last night’s Select Board meeting, Conservation Commission Chair Nicoll said the letter is being worked on.