Video Puts Drinking Water at Center of Lake’s Future

An Editorial

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

 

8 Comments

  1. Richard Phillips 2 months ago June 22, 2022

    Is there a link to the video? I would like to watch it before I comment.

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  2. Anne Cunningham 2 months ago June 22, 2022

    David, Thank you for your eloquence in describing how important this water is to all of us who live on its shores or enjoy it in other ways. And for your unfailing energy and helping us save it.

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  3. Curious Mariner 2 months ago June 23, 2022

    Curious David. When will you be going after the three marinas that pump gas on the Lake? Every season it’s a poorly kept secret that untold gallons of raw gasoline are spilled directly into the Lake collectively at these facilities, with no means of recovery or remediation. Why the steadfast pursuit of this particular gas station while casting a blind eye on perhaps the most direct and obvious source of point petroleum pollution into the Ossipee Lake and it’s watershed? This double standard surely deserves an explanation by you and the Association….

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    • David Smith 2 months ago June 23, 2022

      The question in the Meena case is whether Effingham officials should allow a NEW gas station to be built in a place that town law says it should not be built. That situation has nothing to do with marinas and gas stations that were built years ago and are grandfathered. The state is responsible for regulating how those established businesses operate, and if you have questions or concerns you should contact DES. We are unaware of any issues with them. In contrast, the town (not the state) is responsible for whether a NEW gas station can be built on the Meena property; and our position is the same as the position Effingham voters took when they approved the Groundwater Protection Ordinance ten years ago, which is that a gas station should not be built on the Meena property.

  4. Donna Aldred 2 months ago June 23, 2022

    Well, this video was an eye-opener…very informative. And as a homeowner on Leavitt Road, It’s raised some great concern. It also makes me question the other gas stations around the lake, and why there isn’t the same concern with those? Abbotts is just a 1/4 mile away. Where can we find out more information?

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  5. Linda 2 months ago June 23, 2022

    Agree with other comments regarding fuel stations currently on the water and over the aquifer. When was the last time any of those were evaluated for conditions concerning ground and water pollution? And I disagree with the owner being the only one to benefit, as anyone who has lived in the neighborhood knows that location is swamped all summer with locals.

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  6. Glenn 2 months ago June 25, 2022

    The main once enough is to protect the the aquifer. I have the cleanest water, right out of the aquifer. I understand the argument, but as large as the aquifer really is, it seems we would have to ban gas stations for miles away from the lake. Is there not a way to provide gas stations, locally, that would ne 100% environmentally safe?

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