Ossipee—March 7, 2023—Stella Lunt is 15, a sophomore at Kingswood Regional High School. She lives in Ossipee, a stone’s throw from Leavitt Bay, where she and her family swim in the warm months off a small piece of shore they own.
In grade school she attended Green Mountain Conservation Group’s Volunteer Biological Assessment Program, which got her interested in the natural world and started her on a habit that continues today—picking up litter along Old Route 25 and Leavitt Road, especially around Phillips Brook, which empties into the lake.
“Every day is Earth Day,” she says with a laugh about her litter routine. “Another opportunity to show respect for the environment.”
For the past two years, Stella has ramped-up her environmental commitment by being a visible and vocal attendee at the Meena gas station hearings. She has written letters, spoken out, and learned from observing the proceedings, which she attends with her mother, Billie Lunt. She is a notable young presence in a sea of adults.
She says she knows the issues in the Meena case are complicated, and appreciates that the ZBA and Planning Board have always listened to her respectfully. But she’s disappointed at what she has seen.
“At one meeting there was a discussion about bushes and landscaping that went on forever,” she says. “There hasn’t been enough discussion about why it’s dangerous to have a gas station on top of the water supply for ten towns.”
Most people learned about Meena’s application by reading about it. Stella learned about it first-hand because her school bus stop is directly in front of the Meena site, which is the former Boyle’s Market. That likely made her the first in her neighborhood to see construction workers arrive one day two years ago and start digging things up.
She asked her mother what was going on, and her mom asked the workmen, who told her to mind her own business. That got their attention. Later it was found the work was illegal and had to be shut down by the town.
By then, Stella had learned a lot about the owner and the application and the hearing process by which Effingham will decide whether a gas station will be safe for the public, including her family, friends and neighbors. She and her mom have attended all of the hearings except one when Stella had a school conflict.
At first, the idea of speaking in front of a crowd was scary. But after writing a few letters and reading them aloud, she got the hang of it. Teachers at school and her friends encouraged her.
“It’s hard to be the one who says what other people are afraid to say,” she says, “but I learned to do it.”
At the hearings, her comments are always respectful but to the point. Having witnessed Meena’s construction workers start building a gas station without town approvals, she felt justified in giving the ZBA a candid opinion of Meena’s trustworthiness.
“They’ve already proven that they don’t follow the rules,” she said at the special use permit hearing in January.
“A special use permit would at least allow the community to understand how the applicant intends to protect the aquifer.”
Stella is committed but realistic. She knows some people are reluctant to make the gas station their issue because it’s not near where they live, or they think it won’t affect them if something goes wrong. She says she wishes more people would attend the hearings when they start up again.
“Experiencing the hearings is different from reading about them,” she says.
“If more people attended, they would see that you can’t just pretend a development like this won’t affect you because you don’t live near it.”