Frustration and Confusion at Effingham Gas Station Hearing

Effingham—August 23, 2022—At least 65 people packed Effingham Town Hall, with another 50 on Zoom, to attend Monday night’s Special Hearing on Meena LLC’s Development of Regional Impact for a gas station in the Groundwater Protection District.

What they got instead was a “business meeting,” as Planning Board Chair Theresa Swanick described it, during which board members discussed and voted on a legal question that has been pending since early April, and then voted to continue the Meena matter to October 6.

No public input was permitted, but there was discussion nonetheless.

As the over-capacity crowd strained to hear and grasp what was happening, tempers flared when it became evident that the Site Plan Application would not be discussed by the applicant or anyone else because new materials had been submitted at the last minute.

Board Chair Swanick became visibly irritated by requests for points of order to clarify the confusion and, in several cases, to challenge board members on alleged misstatements.

Aquifer protection signs created by Green Mountain Conservation Group have started appearing around the area, including this one next to DOT property where Meena wants to pump gas station runoff. Contributed Photo

Asked by Ossipee resident Perry Fine about potential testimony by Ossipee Aquifer expert Dr. Robert Newton, whom Meena claims has “no standing to be heard regarding any aspects of this case,” Swanick said the board is familiar with Newton’s position on the application.

“If you had sent me two letters and I had watched a half hour video of you and your thoughts on a subject, I wouldn’t think that after those two letters and watching your video that I would need you to come and do a presentation for me,” she said, according to an audio recording of the meeting.

After Fine attempted to clarify his point of order question, Swanick interrupted, loudly saying “Excuse me” and twice slapping her hand hard on the table to audible gasps from the room. “I’m the chair,” she said.

“But not the czar,” Fine responded to laughter from the crowd.

Zoom participants could hear the exchange but not see it, a technical issue that also plagued the board’s hearing on July 7, which similarly ended without a discussion of the Site Plan Application, the purpose of the meeting.

The reason in both cases was a delay in Meena’s timely submission of materials so that the board and its consultant, North Point Engineering, could review them before the meeting.

Meena delivered new materials late Friday afternoon with an apology from its attorney, who said he thought they had already been submitted. The materials were made available to the public on Monday at 2 p.m., approximately four hours before the meeting began.

The single issue discussed by the board Monday night was whether Meena needs to apply for a Special Use Permit under Article 22 of the Zoning Ordinance, which pertains to the handling and use of regulated substances in quantities exceeding 100 gallons in areas of groundwater protection.

In its initial review of the plan, consulting firm North Point Engineering identified the lack of a permit as a deficiency, but was rebutted by Meena’s attorney, who called their conclusion “legally incorrect.” North Point subsequently reiterated its opinion and recommended that the Planning Board discuss it with Town Counsel.

After a brief discussion Monday night, the board voted unanimously that the permit was not needed. Asked by Ossipee Lake Alliance in an email whether Town Counsel had rendered an opinion prior to the board’s vote, Board Chair Swanick did not reply.

A later point of order about Dr. Newton by Ossipee Resident Tim Otterbach yielded Swanick’s agreement that the board would accept information from the Madison resident provided that it is new information and is submitted by September 9, which is also the deadline for additional materials from Meena.

Critical Comments
Public comments critical of the meeting—online, on the Zoom dashboard, and as the audience filed out of Town Hall—focused more on the way the meeting was conducted than on the frustrating technical problems.

“This was a pretty difficult experience on the Zoom side of things,” wrote Knute Ogren, Colin Sheehan and Pete Schiller in a group post. From Sue Avery, also on Zoom, “The board didn’t report on letters;” and from Mahra Teikmanis came a plea during the meeting that the board “Identify all speakers please for the benefit of the public,” a request that went unheeded.

“This material bs has happened at EVERY meeting,” posted Edwina Boose. “If not received, do not accept! It is always sent the DAY of the meeting and the board members have ‘not had time’ to review. Enough! How many motions to continue is this board going to do?”

Board Chair Swanick personally took direct hits from attendees, with Rich Fahy and James Misercola, among others, calling her demeanor “rude,” and Bryant G writing that the meeting was a “Perfect example of why politics at every level needs to be changed.”

From Linda Taylor: “I have never heard something so chaotic in all my years of being involved with addressing community issues,” adding that she was “discouraged and disgusted.”

“A circus,” concluded Susan Wiley in an email.

Speaking, he said, on behalf of those who had come “from all over the county” to attend the meeting, Mark Longley expressed his disappointment that Swanick didn’t “berate” the Meena legal team for again submitting materials late, and at the last minute.

12 Comments

  1. Dorfman 1 month ago August 24, 2022

    She yelled at people who were trying to get information. Embarrassed herself in front of her community. Showed no respect for people who had come a long way to attend or people on zoom who could barely hear and whose comments were ignored. Was super nice to the people in the room whose fault it was that the meeting had to be postponed again. What in the world is going on?

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  2. AC 1 month ago August 24, 2022

    Something is starting to smell fishy to me with this board.

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  3. Linda Taylor 1 month ago August 24, 2022

    Board and Lawyer delay tactics until the “summer folks” are gone perhaps???

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  4. Patricia Riker 1 month ago August 24, 2022

    I too was frustrated using Zoom link to not see who the speakers were nor be able to hear well. That seemed to set the tone of what proceeded and the rudeness that ensued. This is such a clear case of impropriety by Meena and the lawyers game playing against what Effingham citizens established in 2012 with our Ordinance.

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  5. Susan Marks 1 month ago August 24, 2022

    It was disheartening at the very least to see how people were being treated by some members of the Board. From the comments of the Chairwoman at the beginning to an overflowing room “there are more chairs over there if you can find a place to put them” to having a zoom meeting where every one on zoom can barely hear anything nor the camera working, the attitude that overrides the meeting is of arrogance and lack of respect. Most community officials, elected or appointed, treat people with more respect.
    Why wouldn’t one have all the chairs set up or make sure the zoom equipment is working before the meeting started. Or for that matter knowing as they do that this project has attracted a great deal of attention because of its impact on our aquifer and the importance of the ground water protection ordinances to all, why wouldn’t they move the meeting ahead of time to another location so that everyone could have a seat and feel safe going to a public board meeting

    And no apology to the public who had gathered as to why the applicant is allowed to continually hand in his homework just before the actual meeting when obviously no one has had time to read the documents. Perfect politeness to the applicant and his lawyer, and yet when people asked about points of order and asked questions they were rudely shouted down and told they could speak later during the public portion which never happened.

    Is this chaos staged or pure incompetence?

    “ONE AQUIFER. LET’S PROTECT IT” (GMCG)

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  6. JeanDeThomas 1 month ago August 24, 2022

    UNACCEPTABLE!! Once Again no ACCOUNTABILITY!!! People not doing their jobs!! SHAMEFUL!!

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  7. Bill W 1 month ago August 24, 2022

    I was at the meeting Monday and a bit confused about what was going on and raised my hand to ask a general question and the board chairperson shouted at me that there would be no questions. At the end of the meeting I asked another board member the question and he was kind enough to answer it. The question I was wondering about was if all the time being spent to set up another meeting was due to the fact that the applicant did not respond in a timely manor for the meeting in process. The answer was yes. That told me this Planning Board was being played like a fiddle by the applicant or was there more going on than most of the public realize? To me the board had a perfect opportunity to deny the application. As I researched this further it seems the applicant had an agent that did not do a very good job regarding due diligence with respect to the Effingham Groundwater Protection Ordinance that restricts a gas station from going in at the site. Upon further investigation is it not interesting that this agent (Mark McConkey} is a state rep from Freedom. Is this not a conflict of Interest? Also what I find interesting, as a resident of Center Ossipee, is that one of our selectman Jonathan Smith wrote a letter that went to Effingham stating please consider this letter an endorsement of the project. It appears to me that Freedom and Ossipee residents need to think about who we have as state Reps and Selectmen! I agree with AC that said something smells fishy!!

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  8. Roberta MacCarthy 1 month ago August 24, 2022

    I was at the meeting Monday night and I was shocked at the attitude of the Effingham Planning Board and their lack of community respect. Residents of Effingham, Ossipee, and Freedom are all very concerned about water quality not only for us but for future generations. The Effingham Planning Board demonstrated that they did not care to hear any public concern or comment. The Board Chair was rude and had no interest in sharing information with the community. She showed no respect for people who are trying to understand the impact of this project on their drinking water and their future health. It demonstrated town government as a chaotic process with no accountability.

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  9. Steve Foley 1 month ago August 24, 2022

    Big, deep pocketed corporations here folks. It appears the board is now bowing to them having their shortcomings forgiven. It will continue in this vane till they have disgusted everyone to the point of realizing, “You really can’t fight city hall.”

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  10. tj236 1 month ago August 25, 2022

    This is indeed another of the infinite examples of how political our society has become. It’s extremely unfortunate that we have digressed to this point.
    I would very much like to have the gas station up and running. As long as all safety and leak containment mitigation are met, I am comfortable with the very limited risk. And I live in the area. I have a stake in any mishaps that might occur.
    We are a capitalistic society. Restricting growth or development because we don’t like the risk, based on “what if” scenarios, is short sighted in my opinion. There are inherent risks in daily life. From flying to driving to playing sports. We manage the risks and move on. We don’t stop flying, driving or engaging in sports because of the risks.
    Most all the comments I’ve read on this site seem to refer to this gas station as some kind of conspiracy theory or a dark money funded project. It’s just a gas station, at a location, that has had gas stations for decades without incident.
    Regardless of what happens it’s just so disappointing to see how we struggle to all try and control each other because we think we have the moral superiority to do so.

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  11. Bill W 1 month ago August 26, 2022

    The towns of Freedom, Effingham and Ossipee Center have one very sad thing in common. We each have a NH State Rep that does not seem to be acting in the best interest of the people they represent. Freedom has Mark McConkey who is the agent for the applicant instead of representing the best interest for the residents of Freedom. Ossipee Center and Effingham have the same NH State Rep, Jonathan Smith, who should be concerned about our best interest. Rep Smith is also the selectmen in Center Ossipee who wrote a letter to his fellow selectmen on 3/28/22 suggesting they send a letter of endorsement for the project to Effingham.

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  12. Bob Pustell 1 month ago August 29, 2022

    I was at the latest meeting and share the crowd’s frustration with how things went. However, I worry that everyone is jumping all over the conduct of the Planning Board and its chairperson. Meena LLC has repeatedly put the Board in an awkward position. I do not know if they did this on purpose in hopes the Board would shrug off the last minute nature of their submissions and approve things just “to get this over with” or if the delayed submissions were only due to sheer incompitance. Either way it put the Board into an almost impossible situation. They could not hold the advertised Public Session since they could not review the materials. They did hold a working session in the view of the public but it was NOT a public session where the public had a right to speak. Things got out of hand and tempers flared on both sides but the only entity to blame is Meena LLC and its agent.

    I think it is very unfair to be lableing this Planning Board and/or its Chairperson as into the conspiracy or pulling some big govvernment coverup. This is small town American government with “normal” citizens serving as Board Members. They are not trained or personally equipped to smoothly handle bizzare situations such as Meena has forced them into. Give them a break and give them the benfit of the doubt, folks. They are fellow citizens working for no pay to do a civic duty as best as they can.

    I thought it was nice that the Board did NOT give Meena another special meeting after this second round of late papers forcing another postponement. They did not use these words but they basically, in my opinion, told Meena that we are sick of your delaying tactics. No more special meetings – you can come to us in a scheduled meeting. And, by the way, the next scheduled meeting it too soon so you can bloody well wait until the following scheduled meeting, two months from now.

    Forgive the Board its awkwardly run meeting and look at what they actually did – no more special meetings, come to us on our terms at our time. This is good.

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