When the Effingham Planning Board meets Monday night for a Special Hearing on Meena LLC’s Development of Regional Impact (DRI) proposal, it should deny the application.
The Conway company has had more than a year to prove to the Planning Board, as it is required to do, that a gas station in a depleted gravel pit in the Groundwater Protection District won’t threaten the public’s health, welfare and safety. It hasn’t done so.
An independent review of the Stormwater Management and Spill Prevention Control plans in April found them to be deficient enough to require a two-month rewrite. Meena’s June 30 rewrite submission addressed some issues but created others, including a proposal to install equipment on N.H. DOT land to funnel gas station runoff into an infiltration basin barely above the water table.
More than seven weeks later, Meena has not submitted new documents or explained the plan’s shortcomings, even as State Representatives Knirk and Marsh and State Senator Bradley sent letters to DOT’s Commissioner asking about the State’s potential liability for the proposed runoff plan.
On Friday, Meena finally spoke through its attorney, who said his client would address the wetlands issue “on or before” Monday night, leaving no time for the Board or its consulting engineers or the public to assess the information prior to the Special Hearing.
The company’s attitude toward municipal process is further illustrated by its treatment of Dr. Bob Newton, arguably the foremost authority on the Ossipee Aquifer, the entity at the heart of the gas station debate. Newton wants to explain to the Board the science behind his belief that a gas station at the Meena site will create a significant long-term environmental risk.
If Meena believes Newton is wrong, what better opportunity to question his research than by doing so in public session? But Meena doesn’t want to question Newton, it wants to keep him out of the review process entirely. On Friday it told the Planning Board that Newton “has no standing to testify or be heard regarding any aspects of this case.”
Meena also dismissed concerns about the completeness of its application. The consulting engineers identified errors and contradictions in the Stormwater Management and Spill Prevention Control plans, but there are many others issues in the rest of the application that have never been independently assessed.
As a result, 670 people in nine towns signed a petition asking the Planning Board to give the full application the same independent professional scrutiny as the Stormwater Management and Spill Prevention Control plans.
But Meena doesn’t want that. Writing on Friday, its attorney called the request for a full review an attempt to “inject politics into an objective site plan review process,” oddly using the word “objective” in a sentence calling for less transparency and less thoroughness.
Exercising its abutter rights, The Town of Freedom in March stated its opposition to the gas station in an eight-page assessment that concluded “the specific environmental and public health risk of this site is significant.” Tamworth’s Planning Board followed suit. Other towns expressed various levels of concern and waited to see what might come next.
What came next is now apparent: A plan to pump gas station runoff into State Wetlands without the State’s approval, and in violation of two sections of Effingham’s Wetlands Ordinance. Meanwhile, 14 bullet-pointed items of concern identified by the Planning Board’s engineering consultant on July 7 remain unaddressed, and the meeting date—which Meena itself requested—is upon us.
Meena’s plan is opposed by an array of municipal officials, individuals and non-profit organizations. But letters are not enough. The Planning Board needs to see and hear from everyone who believes the gas station plan is too risky a threat to our environment.
It needs to hear from everyone who has followed this process for more than a year—starting with Meena illegally installing underground gas tanks at the site—and who believes the applicant cannot be trusted to protect our irreplaceable drinking water resource.
Having failed to demonstrate its plan isn’t a threat to the health, welfare and safety of the public, Meena has earned a definitive “no” to its Development of Regional Impact application. The time for the Planning Board to deny the application has come, and it is on Monday night at 6:30 p.m. in Effingham Town Hall.