Effingham—May 8, 2022—Effingham’s Planning Board on Thursday continued the Meena LLC gas station hearing to July 7 so that the applicant can address insufficiencies detailed in an independent partial evaluation of its site plan.
The Planning Board mandated a third-party review by Concord-based Northpoint Engineering after the plan was ruled to be a Development of Regional Impact and Lakes Region Planning Commission (LPRC) questioned the “adequacy” of the materials.
“Given the sensitive nature of the site of the proposed gas station above the Ossipee Aquifer, LRPC recommends that the Planning Board seek consulting services to review the adequacy of the applicant’s proposed site plan, Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plan, and Erosion and Stormwater Management Plan,” the commission wrote.
The Planning Board proceeded with arranging for the review, but limited its scope to the Stormwater Management and Spill Prevention plans, according to the engineering firm.
Thursday night’s meeting was chaired by Planning Board Vice Chair George Bull, substituting for Theresa Swanick, who was absent.
Bull said a key recommendation in the report, that the applicant needed to apply to the board for a Special Use Permit, would not be publicly discussed that night because Swanick was the only one who had discussed the issue with Effingham’s Town Counsel.
“I can’t speak for the chair, and she was literally in consultation with the town counsel and I was not privy to that, other than he does not necessarily agree with Northpoint, but to what degree and why, I don’t know,” Bull said.
Special Use Permits govern the storage, handling and use of “regulated substances in quantities exceeding 100 gallons” in areas of groundwater protection, such as the Meena site. Obtaining a permit would require the applicant to meet specific Performance Standards, including addressing “setbacks between water supply wells and stormwater practices,” and having a “source control plan to minimize the release of regulated substances.”
Attorneys representing the applicant and the abutters were present and prepared to argue the Special Use Permit issue, but Bull said the board would review their written submissions. He did not say how or when the issue would be publicly discussed and resolved.
Several Ossipee and Effingham families who abut the Meena property were present to ask questions and discuss the report, but Bull announced there would be no public comments because “no new information” had been presented.
His decision appeared to contradict the fact that Northpoint’s findings were new, having been released to the public three days days in advance of the meeting.
The meeting did produce discussion, however. Since the application will be revised, Bull asked board members whether they had questions or concerns they wanted the applicant to address in the new materials.
Board member Paul Potter asked Meena’s agent, Mark McConkey, to clarify the nature of a marker shown on one of the maps, and Elaine Chick asked the applicant to consider adding an electric car charging station.
Board member David Garceau had a long list of questions and comments, starting with asking the applicant to show the distance between the diesel tanks and a well site on the property, and providing more detail about the wetlands.
“I would like on the plan if you could, to show some of these wetlands that are directly across the street, and the brook that is just over the other side. I would like to see the relationship to the project of all of these things,” he said.
Meena’s attorney said he wasn’t sure he had access to information about “property we don’t own,” but Zoning Officer Rebecca Boyden said the information was on the town’s “high value wetlands maps,” which was confirmed by board member Elaine Chick.
“I’ve been here before and questioned wetland locations, and I was shown that exact map, so I bet you can get it too,” she said.
Garceau went on to focus on the state property adjacent to Route 25, where gas station runoff will be directed. He asked whether the state was aware of the drainage plan, and added that “some of the contours don’t look right.”
“The entire front region has a lot of questions,” he said, noting that the application’s “poor quality” made it difficult to read. “Blow-up detail would help,” he said.
Garceau also asked two questions that have been previously raised by abutters but never addressed. One was: How often will wells in the vicinity be tested for contamination, and who will pay for it?
The second questions was: What happened to the soil that was removed from the property when the tanks were installed, and was it tested for contamination?
The first question wasn’t answered, but Vice Chairman Bull responded to the second one by saying he didn’t believe the board should be revisiting the past history of the property from “years ago.”
This was evidently a reference to 2015, when the site’s previous owner discontinued pumping gas and removed the gas tanks under DES supervision, an act that Effingham’s Town Counsel deemed “legal abandonment” of the gas station use.
Garceau clarified that he was referring to the soil that was removed last year when the applicant excavated the property and installed underground gas storage tanks without town permits or site plan approval.
Among the reasons the illegal excavation has become an issue is that the tanks installed last year are twice the size of the tanks that were removed in 2015, meaning the new excavation was deeper and most likely disturbed potentially contaminated material from the area below the former tanks.
In its report on the tank removal, DES said the soil sample from beneath the dispenser line contained the potential carcinogen naphthalene in a quantity four times higher than considered safe. Additional petroleum-related compounds found at the site included toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes and several alkylbenzenes.
Bull did not press McConkey or Meena’s attorney for an answer about the soil removal.
Meena attorney Matthew Johnson said that with the exception of the Special Use Permit requirement, his client did not disagree with Northpoint’s recommendations and would comply.