Freedom—June 28, 2022—An online petition asking Effingham’s Planning Board to dig deeper in assessing Meena LLC’s application to build a gas station in a prohibited area has garnered more than 500 signatures from residents, property owners and municipal officials in nine towns affected by the plan.
The petition, posted on the home page of Ossipee Lake Alliance’s website, was publicized by the Alliance and Green Mountain Conservation Group through grassroots word-of-mouth. The two groups plan to present the signatures to Effingham’s planners on July 7 when the hearing on the proposal continues.
In February, the gas station plan was ruled to be a Development of Regional Impact (DRI) because of its proposed location in a former gravel pit atop the Ossipee Aquifer, the region’s primary source of drinking water. As a result, Freedom, Ossipee, Tamworth, Sandwich, Eaton, Madison and Wakefield were granted abutter status, as were the Maine towns of Porter and Parsonsfield.
On April 7, the Planning Board responded to a recommendation by the Lakes Region Planning Commission (LRPC) by agreeing the public would be best-served by having an independent third-party review of the Site Plan Application. It hired Concord-based North Point Engineering for the purpose.
But North Point’s report, submitted on April 26, stated the Planning Board asked them to limit the scope of the review to the stormwater management design and spill prevention plan, thus excluding a majority of the application from its analysis.
After reviewing the meeting minutes and Zoom video of the April 7 Planning Board meeting, the Alliance and GMCG said it was clear the board had voted to conduct a complete review of the application and all materials submitted, as LRPC recommended, and not a partial review.
“By narrowing the scope of the review, the board has allowed errors and conflicting statements in the 80-page application to be free of independent evaluation,” the online petition stated, adding “It is critical that Effingham’s Planning Board apply the highest standards in assessing all parts the application for this high-risk development.”
North Point’s report on the two parts of the application it reviewed cited errors and omissions consistent with those uncovered by the two conservation groups, and by municipal board members of the DRI-identified towns, most notably Freedom, whose eight-page assessment concluded that “the use of the site as a gas station in the past does not justify its future use as such when the risk of potential negative impact on public health and environmental quality of the surrounding communities is so high.”
At the May 5 Planning Board meeting, Meena’s agent, Mark McConkey, said his client did not dispute North Point’s findings and would address the application’s shortcomings by submitting revised materials.
But Meena’s attorney, Matthew Johnson, said he disagreed with North Point’s finding that Meena needs to apply for a Special Use Permit under Section 2208 of the ordinance, which grants the Planning Board authority over the “storage, handling, and use of regulated substances in quantities exceeding 100 gallons.” Johnson called North Point’s conclusion “legally incorrect.”
A Special Use Permit would require Meena to comply with a higher level of environmental protections, including adhering to defined Performance Standards. Johnson said that while he believes a Special Use Permit is not required, his client, Pankaj “Prince” Garg, would voluntarily comply with the Performance Standards “to the extent applicable.”
Attorney Biron Bedard, who represents abutting Ossipee property owners opposed to Meena’s plans, filed a legal brief supporting the Special Use Permit requirement.
Referring to Johnson’s statement that Meena would voluntarily comply with the Performance Standards, Bedard said it was “unclear” how the town could evaluate Meena’s compliance and enforce infractions without a permit.
Effingham Town Counsel Matthew Serge has not yet filed a public legal opinion on the matter, according to a Planning Board spokesperson.
It is anticipated that the Planning Board will discuss and rule on the Special Use Permit issue when it reconvenes the Meena hearing at 6:30 p.m. on July 7.