If you live on Ossipee Lake, or vacation here or own a business here, the water you drink comes from a well fed by the Ossipee Aquifer.
In a new video we produced with Green Mountain Conservation Group, our drinking water receives its due for the gift it is. A gift like the breathtaking view of Mount Shaw as you enter the big lake from the channel, or the call of the loons during summer, or the way the ice cracks loudly at night in the dead of winter.
If you’re like me, you’ll remember the first time you saw that view, heard the loons, and listened to the ice crack. You may also, like me, remember the first time you tasted the local water. Clear, clean, icy cold. Different from the water where I lived when I wasn’t on the lake.
The longer you’ve been around the lake, the more changes you’ve seen. Yet the lake’s special qualities endure, even when we take things for granted—like the availability of clean drinking water from the Ossipee Aquifer.
As I wrote last November in an op-ed for the local papers, the Meena issue is not really about a gas station, per se. The proposal could have been for a wastewater lagoon, a junk yard or a solid waste landfill—any of the twelve land uses that Effingham voters decided should be prohibited in areas where there is a high risk of contaminating the Aquifer. Areas like the Meena site.
The true issue for the public to contemplate is how easy it was for the town’s ZBA to grant relief from the gas station prohibition to provide a benefit for a single individual while creating an environmental risk for the rest of us. That a state court judge ruled the ZBA’s variance was “not illegal” means it could happen again as long as a board’s procedural deliberations are done ‘by the book.’
So, now it’s up to the Planning Board to determine whether Meena can demonstrate, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, that a gas station over the Aquifer in a former gravel pit isn’t an unreasonable threat to the public’s health and safety. Here’s what we’ve seen thus far in the process:
The board-hired independent third-party engineering firm North Point’s analysis of two key sections of Meena’s Site Plan Application found the material was flawed enough to require major revisions.
North Point’s finding that the zoning ordinance requires Meena to apply for a Special Use Permit—which would provide an extra level of environmental protection through performance standards—was rejected by Meena’s attorney as “legally incorrect,” and will likely be appealed if the town sides with the engineering firm it hired.
And lest we forget, it’s worth recalling Meena’s decision to start building the gas station last year without obtaining the required approvals, an action it later admitted it knew was illegal but thought necessary in order not to miss out on the summer gas business.
So, no, we’re not encouraged by what we’ve seen, and we’re in good company. Seven of the towns identified in the “Development of Regional Impact” ruling have looked at the plan and either raised serious concerns or stated their opposition.
But meanwhile, there’s the new video. It’s a paean to our area, narrated by Green Mountain’s Moselle Spiller, that combines the science of the Aquifer, a summary of why our towns voted to protect our water supply with local laws, and a list of the specific risks a gas station would create at the Meena site.
The video is short. You’ll recognize the landscape, and you’ll be reminded that underneath it all, where you can’t see it, is the essential ingredient of our way of life and our tourism economy—the Ossipee Aquifer. We urge everyone on the lake to watch it. We hope the Effingham Planning Board will watch it as well.
As the narration concludes: “We need to be thoughtful about economic growth…but when the level of risk is obvious, and our drinking water is at stake, we believe established groundwater protections must be honored and take priority.”
The Planning Board will take up the Meena LLC case again on July 7. When it rules on the Meena proposal, its decision will be long-lasting, just as the ZBA’s variance decision was, and is. Something everyone who treasures our area should keep in mind.
David L. Smith is co-founder of Ossipee Lake Alliance