Effingham—August 28, 2022—In a letter last week, the N.H. Department of Transportation said any stormwater treatment measures or requirements for Meena LLC’s Development of Regional Impact gas station need to be on Meena’s property, not on abutting State-owned land.
“The highway right-of-way will not become an integral part of the development’s stormwater management plan,” said N.H. DOT Commissioner Victoria Sheehan in a letter to Green Mountain Conservation Group and Ossipee Lake Alliance dated August 24.
Meena’s most recent Stormwater Management Plan, submitted to Effingham’s Planning Board on June 30, proposed putting equipment on State land as part of a “closed system” to capture gas station runoff. Ultimately the runoff would have entered a “level spreader” to be dispersed into DOT’s wetlands.
The Planning Board’s consultant, North Point Engineering, flagged the plan as problematic, noting, among other things, that there did not appear to be an agreement with the State for the arrangement.
Opponents of the gas station, including abutting residential property owners, said through their attorney that the plan would violate Effingham’s Wetlands Ordinance and increase the likelihood that petroleum contaminants could enter the groundwater through a basin, which the state calls a “ditchline,” next to Route 25.
DOT’s decision means the Conway company must rewrite its Stormwater Management Plan and submit it by September 9. The Planning Board set the deadline after Meena’s late submittal of materials caused a Special Hearing on August 22 to be canceled shortly after it began.
More than 100 people who appeared in person and online to discuss the Site Plan Application were angered by the cancellation, the second postponement this summer caused by Meena’s delays in submitting required documents.
The Planning Board said it will review all materials received by the deadline at their September 15 work session, and then hold a public hearing on October 6.
In a concession made after a testy exchange with attendees at the truncated August 22 meeting, Board Chair Theresa Swanick said she would accept a submission from geoscientist and gas station critic Dr. Robert Newton, provided that his information is “new” and he meets the deadline.
Swanick said the board is familiar with Newton’s research and his opinion that the Meena site is the “worst possible location” for a gas station because of its highly transmissive soil and location in a recharge area for the Ossipee Aquifer.
Meena purchased the former Boyle’s Market convenience store in January, 2021, and two months later won ZBA approval for a Special Exception for a gas station. The board subsequently realized that pumping gas at the site had been legally abandoned as a grandfathered use, and the Groundwater Protection Ordinance prohibits new gas stations.
An application for a variance to provide relief from the gas station prohibition was approved by the ZBA that August and survived a legal challenge in Superior Court. That has left it to the Planning Board to determine, through the Site Plan review process, whether a gas station at the site will threaten the public’s health, safety and welfare, as critics of the plan charge.
Meena agent Mark McConkey submitted the first Site Plan last September. Since then, numerous versions have been submitted, withdrawn and rewritten, and the review process has been plagued by delays and continuances for procedural and technical reasons.
Most of the materials in the current plan were written by Horizons Engineering in the past four months, replacing the McConkey documents.
Thanks so much for this clearly written information about this most serious issue.
All aspects of this leaves this resident wondering, why expend so much time, effort, and expense at such great risk, both to the economic base of the region (the lake, and by extension, our domestic water supply) and community good will, for such little return to the tax coffers and the balance sheet of a large corporation?
Thank you for the updates on this Critical Matter!
Thanks for the update
Perry Fine is right on target. The old saw “follow the money” shows minimal financial value to the town or the Company.
I was not aware that the basis for establishing a business was to add money to the tax coffers. I thought the idea of starting a business and working hard was to make profit, establish economic independence and have the potential for a better standard of living for oneself and family (you know, that silly thing called capitalism). If the business is being started to benefit the state/town, why bother taking on all the headaches, associated risks and costs?
And speaking of risk has anyone been able to quantify the risk associated with re-installing a gas station at the site? Or are we looking for a zero environmental risk, tax windfall for the town as the only criteria to allow the station to operate?
And if we are not OK with the Meena gas station, are we then OK with Abbotts’ gas station or any of the other gas stations on the lake? I mean if we really are panicked about the environment then don’t limit the prohibitive action to one little gas station…shut them all down!!!
In response to the “give the board a break” lamentation, this argument paints them in an even worse light – that they are “unwitting.” Individually, the board members are educated, experienced, and accomplished.
That said, how do you explain the most basic board processes being dismissed with such consistency and stubbornness for over a year?
* No agenda before the meeting. Ever.
* No minutes drafted and posted in a timely fashion. Almost never.
* No minutes “approved” in a timely fashion.
* Technical issues and inconsistency with technical issues that are not any more difficult than turning on a light switch or running your microwave. Their explanation is “modern technology” – but it’s simple things like un-muting, plugging in, testing, etc. It is not the technology – it is pure lack of effort in 90% of the issues.
* There is no consistency with Zoom calls – between the EPB itself or for any other Eff board meeting. Some require registration, some don’t, some meetings are arbitrarily not even Zoomed.
And, finally, in a classic “Cancel Culture Gone Mad” moment, Dr. Bob Newton has been blocked by both the applicant and the board FOR OVER A YEAR! BANNED! Letters not answered or even referenced. Worse, the board acquiesced to Meena’s attorney’s demands just this month: “Mr. Newton is not an abutter and has no standing to testify or be heard regarding any aspects of this case.” Where is the moral courage of the board here?
I find this simple hubris on the board’s part – it’s a fundamental obligation of this board (and all boards) to hear from the public – and especially the experts. What are they afraid of? Why is this even an issue? The ZBA listened to Meena’s “Underground Storage Tank” (UST) expert talk for as long as he wanted. He was allowed to speak without any conditions, time limits, or hostility. That’s why, during the 2+ hours of final deliberation by the ZBA board last summer, the members of the ZBA mentioned “UST” 20 – 25 times and spent at least 30 minutes discussing it. During the same two hours, they barely mentioned such fundamental environmental impact issues as Philips Brook (under 300 feet away), wetland proximity (against current regs), private well proximity (300 -400 feet), public water supply (inside the 500 foot NH regs perimeter), proximity of Ossipee Lake, town of Ossipee abutter issues, ground water protection district definitions and requirements, Ossipee Aquifer, DES 2016 report of soil contamination and groundwater flow in the direct path of Ossipee abutter’s wells, etc. Score: UST Tanks – 20. Environmental Impact: ZERO (or 1 or 2 … not a lot). This is what you get if you don’t let the public and experts speak. Theresa Swanick was the ZBA Board Chair who would not let Dr. Newton (and long, long time Madison property owner) speak last sumer and she’s the same person who is now chairing the Effingham Planning Board this summer. What gives?
According to Theresa during the last meeting, “watching his (Dr. Newton’s) video and reading 2 (actually 3) letters to the board” is sufficient.
For Vice Chair George Bull, he’s “doing research on my own.” It’s a little like saying “umm, I know Einstein’s got some answers, but I’ve read his book. And, I’m pretty smart myself … this physics, or geology, or hydrography, or gas building, or wetland, naphthalene contamination, or whatever … just takes a little research … and the applicant’s been more than forthcoming with the limitations of his own project.” (Sarcasm)
Consider the irony: I, and the rest of the public in the greater DRI village, might have more opportunity to speak (and less knowledge) than the one person who has NO OPPORTUNITY to speak and has the most knowledge.
I’ll leave it with a final observation. I was at an EPB that was actually not about Meena. It was on Aug 4th and it was a simple application that was continued until Sep 1. It was not Zoomed (no reason given). There were only two members of the public in the room. It was continued until Sep 1. But, the public does not have access to a Zoom recording or draft minutes (which used to be posted within a couple of week a year or two ago), so they have ZERO knowledge of the application. There is a fundamental lack of transparency. And, this is not the first time – they made changes to the RV “lengths of stay” and other issues back in the spring, and when they did a follow up for public input, they had not posted any draft minutes, so even if the public wanted to opine, there simply was not any information out there.
I have attended dreadful, toxic and threatening Ossipee board meetings where board members go in to child-like rages and stomp out of meetings, so I know that the “this Effingham Planning Board’s not so bad” argument has its merits. But, if you are one of the abutters (a Vietnam vet who has struggled with cancer) who found himself with two 15,000 gallon tanks (illegally and without notice) dug in next to his private well just 300 feet away, I would be BULLSH*T and demand (1) much greater rigor; (2) attention to process; and (3) public input from ANYONE – but, most importantly, from experts.
As bad as Ossipee’s meetings have been, I hate to say this, but Effingham is giving them a run for their money. Without sound process, the EPB is undermining the public’s trust in local institutions across the watershed.
Greetings. This is Founding Father Benjamin Franklin corresponding from beyond the grave, to express great appreciation to OLA for facilitating this discussion on a community issue of great importance–unfettered discussion among citizens who value transparency as a keystone to democracy has been so near and dear to my heart for more than 300 years!
But TJ236 reminds us that I, too, was quite fond of writing whimsy under the cover of anonymity, shielding me from time to time from the inevitable embarrassment of accountability. Farce and wit, couched in the pretense of feigned logic, is a tricky business. As an old pro at this, I can proclaim that TJ236 has succeeded wildly. At moments such as this, I do wish I’d coined the phrase “laughter is the best medicine”; because TJ236 has provided us a powerful tonic.
While closing all gas stations situated atop our highly sensitive aquifer is a great and noble idea, unfortunately there exists a certain aspect of the Zoning Ordinances which, (at this time), prevents us, the concerned citizens, from doing just that. All of the current gas stations,
(8 if my recollection is correct), located over our Aquifer are grandfathered, that is, they existed prior to the enactment of the Local Ordinances protecting our groundwater.
The illegally installed proposed gas station Meena intends to operate at the former Boyles Market site, however, is not grandfathered. The previous fuel dispensing facility at Boyles was discontinued, abandoned, in 2015 rendering it no longer allowed by grandfather laws. Further, it sits within Effingham’s Groundwater Protection District, and on a former gravel pit, basically the most environmentally sensitive of sites for a proposed gas station, also a Use “not allowed” in the Groundwater Protection District.
And as we all know, there is no gas station facility which can provide zero environmental risks!
Additionally, as national research has indicated, the profit margins on the sale of gasoline and diesel fuel are at best, pennies per gallon of fuel dispensed.
Clearly the town will not realize much, if any, benefit from a gas station within its borders. And similarly, this propsed gas station will not bring added value or benefits to the citizens in Effingham, as there currently exists two gas stations within less then a mile from this location.
However, this new facility, a reopened market, (without the gas station component), is certainly a viable and welcomed addition to the local business community, which will definitely serve the needs of the vast numbers of people who travel along Rt. 25, whether they be local citizens, or visitors to our area, just as Boyles Market had done for the several years, even after they, (with NH DES assistance), removed the old gas tanks, pumps and associated equipment.
Perhaps Meena needs take a more practical and sensible look at their proposal and eliminate the gas station component from their Market plans. This is the only responsible action for them to consider.
Not sure if Benjamin is trying to impress with literary skill or make an actual point. But if democracy is going to prevail it should be in the presence of hard facts and data.
With that it is a fact that the proposed station is located within the aquifer. Also a fact that gas could leak into said aquifer. However it is also true that there are advanced mitigation measures to counter the risk. The one question I have not seen answered throughout the entire debate is the likelihood/probability of a gas leak from operation that would actually impact the groundwater. Without that the decision is just being made based on emotion… of which there seems to be plenty of.
Additionally if anyone believes they have a right to modify Meena’s business plan they should not then be shy to provide working capitol commensurate with their influence.
So at times like this I wish I had coined the phrase “better to keep quite and let everyone think your a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
Save Forest Lake supports y’all, see you Oct 6! http://www.SaveForestLake.com #WaterWarriors Unite!