Effingham—August 4, 2022—As expected, Effingham’s Planning Board Tuesday night continued its hearing on Meena LLC’s gas station application to Monday, August 22.
The outcome was expected because of an error made at the board’s July 7 meeting when it voted to continue the hearing to August 2. Neither of the attorneys in the matter could attend on that date.
Having voted to hold a meeting on August 2, and then publicizing it, it was necessary to meet on Tuesday to vote to continue the hearing to the 22nd, a date agreeable to all parties. The board quickly and unanimously did so.
Although word circulated that Tuesday’s meeting would be pro forma, about 14 members of the public attended, half of them via a Zoom link that had audio but no video.
A full hearing on the Meena LLC Site Plan Application by the Planning Board has been pending since February 3 when the application was ruled to be a Development of Regional Impact (DRI) affecting nine communities. In order to notify the affected communities, the hearing scheduled for that date was continued to April 7.
By April 7, however, a recommendation by Lakes Region Planning Commission, combined with opposition to the plan from municipal officials of the DRI-designated communities, resulted in the board voting to hire North Point Engineering to conduct a professional, third-party review of the Stormwater Management Plan and Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plan.
North Point found errors and omissions sufficient to require a substantial rewrite, and the applicant was granted a two-month continuance to July 7. The rewrites were submitted on June 30, and North Point reviewed them in a report submitted the day of the hearing, July 7.
Since that left no time for the board or the public or the DRI communities to review the documents, the hearing was continued to August 2, and now is set for August 22.
While there was no public discussion on Tuesday, several points of order were raised by Ossipee resident Tim Otterbach.
In one, he asked if the board would consider the petition submitted by Ossipee Lake Alliance and Green Mountain Conservation Group, and signed by more than 660 people, asking that the entire Site Plan Application be reviewed by North Point, not just the two plans it was assigned.
Otterbach, who is on the Alliance Board of Directors, said the application contains errors, discrepancies and omissions that should receive the same professional scrutiny as the Stormwater Management Plan and Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plan.
He said a professional evaluation would benefit the applicant as well as the public by avoiding a prolonged review process while ensuring that the information is correct.
Board Chair Theresa Swanick said the board would not be discussing the substance of the application that evening, although board member George Bull offered that it was the board’s responsibility to review the application.
Bull also said North Point’s review had not been limited in scope, although the engineering firm’s April 26 report states otherwise.
In another point of order, Otterbach asked if the board would be providing an opportunity for geoscientist Dr. Robert Newton to present his findings about the environmental impact of locating a gas station at the Meena LLC site, a request Newton made in January and March, and Ossipee Lake Alliance made on Newton’s behalf in July.
Swanick said there was already a lot of information available to the public, including Newton’s online video, and she didn’t see the necessity of a presentation to the board.
No vote was taken on either point of order, however, presumably leaving the two questions open for discussion on August 22. The meeting adjourned before 7 p.m.
Theresa Swanick’s position as chair should be to evaluate the entire project and take nothing for granted, including inviting Dr. Newton’s appearance at the meeting. He may have written his report or appeared on video, but being at the meeting to present his case also affords those in attendance to question him on salient points.
Anything and everything that can impact the final decision must be reviewed.
Dr Tung makes a good point. This board is formed to represent the people, and “the people” have requested Dr. Newton’s presence on three separate occasions. Not everyone relies on social media and posted videos for truth and information. At the very least, the board should allow Dr. Newton to present salient bullet points (10 or so) and maybe limit the public questions to 1 for each attendee that has questions. This is an important issue that shouldn’t be limited to the “lawyers” point of view.