Gas Station Opposition Grows as Hearing is Set

Effingham—August 9, 2022—Opposition to building a gas station in the Groundwater Protection District continued to grow last week as Effingham’s Planning Board scheduled a special hearing on the matter.

Reviewing Meena LLC’s Site Plan Application will be the only item on the agenda when the board convenes on Monday, August 22, in Town Hall at 6:30 p.m., according to Board Chair Theresa Swanick.

The date and single topic focus accommodates requests made by the attorneys representing the applicant and opponents of the plan.

The board’s Site Plan Application review was scheduled to start on February 3, but has been repeatedly delayed for procedural reasons, and to facilitate rewrites of the plan based on independent professional reviews by the board’s technical consultant, North Point Engineering.

While the board was setting the hearing date, local lake organization Broad and Leavitt Bay Association (BLBA) and Concord-based American Groundwater Trust became the latest organizations to go public with their concerns about the “Development of Regional Impact” affecting nine communities in New Hampshire and Maine.

At its annual meeting, BLBA, whose 175 property owners make it the largest place-based organization on Ossipee Lake, voted unanimously to oppose the gas station as a threat to the area’s drinking water.

Screen grab from a video produced in June by the Alliance and Green Mountain Conservation Group shows the proposed gas station location relative to the lake.

Their letter to the Planning Board cited published data about the site’s unique hydrology and proximity to the Ossipee Aquifer, and noted that Broad Bay and Leavitt Bay have more than 300 private wells for which there is no regular testing for VOCs and other contaminants which could enter the groundwater at the Meena LLC site and migrate to residential and commercial wells.

Well contamination could go undetected without regular testing, the letter stated, placing residents at risk for long term health effects. The letter referenced the struggles of residents in near-by Fryeburg, Maine, where a municipal water supply well serving hundreds of customers was shut down after tests showed the presence of contaminants.

“Do the right thing,” BLBA President Kyle Copeland and Board Secretary Gloria Villari wrote.

“Show your support for the citizenship in your town, your surrounding towns, your state and surrounding states.”

Copeland said a copy of the letter was sent to the Ossipee Select Board, as many of the lake organization’s members are Ossipee taxpayers. In April, Ossipee Select Board Chair Jonathan Smith issued a qualified “endorsement” of the gas station plan, which is on Ossipee’s town border. Other Ossipee boards followed suit.

At American Ground Water Trust, Executive Director Andrew Stone said he felt so strongly about the issue he decided to write a follow-up letter to one he sent to the Planning Board in April, since “It seems the issue has not yet been resolved.”

Stone, whose Concord-based organization focuses on the protection and sustainability of groundwater resources nationally, said three out of five New Hampshire residents rely on private wells for their drinking water, making it a key factor in his concern about the Meena LLC site.

“Once an aquifer source is contaminated, it is a permanent loss of essential environmental and economic inventory,” he wrote.

“The Ossipee Aquifer can’t move. A gas station can be sited in a different place,” he concluded.

More than 65 letters have been received by the Planning Board from individuals and non-profit organizations, including N.H. Lakes, Northern Forest Resources, Saco River Corridor Commission, and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the latter of which said “the protection of water supply lands and important aquatic resources…should be paramount for organizations, municipalities and state agencies.”

The Town of Freedom and Tamworth’s Planning Board have written letters opposing the plan, and elected municipal officials in Parsonsfield, Eaton, Effingham, Tamworth and Sandwich have submitted their concerns about the development’s threat to drinking water.

A recent petition to the Planning Board signed by more than 660 people also reflected a wide geographic spread. It asked the board to have North Point Engineering review the entire Meena LLC Site Plan Application rather than just parts of it.

On April 7 the board voted to hire North Point to evaluate “the application and all materials submitted,” according to the meeting minutes. Without explanation, however, the review was limited to two parts of the document, according to North Point’s initial report.

The Planning Board has not yet ruled on the petition, and a majority of the Site Plan Application remains unreviewed by an independent third-party.

4 Comments

  1. Mark Steadman 2 months ago August 10, 2022

    Just curious- there was in fact a gas station at that site for 30-40 years prior the property being sold a few years ago. Was there any leakage or ground contamination during those decades? I’m certain regulations and levels of precautions concerning underground gasoline tanks were a lot less strict back then.

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  2. Richard Fahy 2 months ago August 11, 2022

    Great points.

    Yes, there was a gas station there and in fact one that was put in back in the 1990s, Dynomite—and you are correct, things were less strict then and there wasn’t as much knowledge of aquifers or drinking water areas. In 2015, Boyles market removed their tanks voluntarily because NH DES was asking gas stations to upgrade to better and safer tanks. NH DES – at complete cost to the state, not the owner – removed their tanks with the concurrence of the owners. In the meantime, the Town of Effingham and other towns in the area (Freedom, Madison, Ossipee, Sandwich and Tamworth) were working on creating town ordinances to protect areas where they knew the aquifer is. Towns created these ordinances as Aquifer Protection Ordinances in order to protect their drinking water resources. The area where Boyles Market is located is a drinking water resource. This ordinance in Effingham went into effect in 2011 and when Boyles removed their tanks this extinguished thier location as a gas station. Gas has not been pumped from that area for over 7 years now and it is not grandfathered, per Effingham’s own town counsel. Gas stations are one of just a handful of businesses prohibited in Drinking water zones.

    Yes, per the 72 page report that DES contracted in 2016, there was contamination detected when the tanks were removed but the site was capped and left. The report also determined that the ground water meandered but tended to flow in a northerly direction – from the road and the former gas station towards Ossipee lake and the 300 private drinking wells in that corridor. How would you like to have a house in that triangle today knowing that they installed two 15,000 gallon gas tanks underground without permits or adherence to process and were planning to pump gas in and out of it for the next 30 – 40 years? Never mind the cancer concerns … consider the cost of buying bottled water or testing your own well for VOC’s – a $230 through the facility in Concord, NH (I know because I got my well tested last week). Consider also the mental health of the residents and lake dwellers whose fears are not allayed by the compounding health risks from their own water.

    You are correct that the problem with gas stations is not just the tanks. Yes, today tanks are considered “state of the art” and they should not leak. The issues are much more related to operational errors that occur during the filling of individual cars, or cans for lawn mowers, ATVs, snow mobiles, etc or when the storage tanks are filled by the oil companies. At one public hearing in Effingham (and repeated in Ossipee) I heard a story from a previous gas station owner on Route 16 about a gas tanker coming in to fill his tanks and having the hose rip out of his truck, spilling 250 gallons of gas. His comments included the response “by time the fire department arrived, the gas was all gone because it had “evaporated.”

    The reason NH DES has helped towns (108 in just the last decade) to put drinking water protection ordinances into place is to protect drinking water lands. Most residents in NH (and over 70% in Ossipee and Effingham) get their drinking water from their own private wells so it is very important that communities work together to make sure that land within areas where there are prime aquifers are protected from inappropriate development.

    Please attend the August 22 hearing in Effingham if you can. Thank you.

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  3. Bob Hunt 2 months ago August 13, 2022

    Does anyone know why the current ordinances apply to Gas Service Stations near public water supplies but Marina’s right on the lake seem to be OK?

    Is there something different about the systems used in Marina’s vs. Service Stations? Or is this a situation where they are pre-existing and therefore Grandfathered in?

    I’m having trouble reconciling this…..

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  4. Rich Fahy 2 months ago August 14, 2022

    An Environmental Impact Study (EIS) would give a thorough answer to the Marina vs service station. But, as you suggested, it’s not really an argument because one is pre-existing and one is not.

    When Boyles Market was bought in early 2021, it was bought at “market” price for a convenience store, laundromat, and apartment building complex. It was not purchased as a gas station and had not been for 5 – 6 years. The Ground Water Protection ordnance that was passed in 2011 in Effingham (after the marina was established) was well known by the Boyles owner’s when they purchased it in 2021, and by their representative, contractor, realtor, etc. Boyles is not “grand fathered” and is not “pre-existing” – not my words, but the determination of Effingham’s own lawyer and other attorneys as well. And, it’s not even a close call – it has now been 7 years since there was a gas station there, and the legal length of time is only 2 years.

    My concern goes with the abutters and people that have property between Boyles and Ossipee Lake and the people on Leavitt Bay (in particular) and houses on Philips Brook. In April 2021, these home owners had two 15,000 gallon tanks – the size of two swimming pools – buried within hundreds of feet from their properties ILLEGALLY. They were told that the plan was to fill these tanks with 30,000 gallons of gas and then that gas would be re-distributed in 2 – 15 gallon containers (gas tanks, cars, snow mobiles, boats, etc) for the next 30 – 40 years … but it was “safe” because the tanks were “state of the art.” The environmental impact due to operating a fuel distribution station was never seriously even discussed.

    Take a look at your own property and ask yourself if you had bought your property in a “Ground Water Protection” zone where gas stations were expressly prohibited – and then this was ignored by both developer and town leaders., how would you respond? How would it sit with you if this impacted your home value? How would you feel if this risked the health, safety and wellness – physical and mental – of your children and your relatives with pre-existing conditions like cancer? If your tap water suddenly looks or smells “gassy,” who is going to pay for your to check your water?

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