Ossipee—March 22, 2023—When Leona Simon said a gas station in Effingham’s Groundwater Protection District would be a hidden but ever-present danger to drinking water, she was speaking from experience.
The long-time Ossipee resident, who died from pancreatic cancer last month, endured years of stress and uncertainty after discovering the state had unintentionally poisoned the aquifer under her home, making her water undrinkable.
The experience gave her a sense of perspective she wanted to share after learning that terms like “state of the art” and “fail-proof” were being used to convince Effingham officials to override groundwater protections and approve a gas station where gas stations are prohibited.
“She knew better,” said her friend and neighbor Billie Lunt. “She understood the risks and wanted to share her experience with the officials charged with protecting the public.”
In testimony and letters that were respectful but direct, Simon recounted what happened after she and her husband and small children moved into their first house on Ossipee’s Old Route 28 in 1985.
Alarmed about oil being sprayed on their dirt road for dust control just feet from their well, she phoned a town official who advised her to worry instead about the road salt the state was storing above the aquifer across the street. Sure enough, a test of her well showed significant salt contamination that made the water unsafe.
Five years of testing, a new well and multiple fracking attempts followed, none of which fixed the problem. A filtration system using reverse osmosis, a new technology at the time, finally allowed the family to have potable water, but by then the salt had destroyed their appliances.
A few months later, Leona’s husband died, and financial uncertainty necessitated selling the house, which was unsaleable because of the contaminated well.
Billie Lunt was a teenager when Leona’s husband passed away. Leona hired her to help take care of the children while she juggled family and work while trying to sell the house. Eventually the state was forced to buy her out.
Fast forward 30 years and Lunt, long-since married and with children of her own, was canvassing neighbors to create awareness of the gas station proposal when she ran into Leona, now living in Blueberry Estates, a stone’s throw from the Meena site. The two reconnected.
“Leona immediately saw the risk of the proposed development and wanted to help,” Lunt said.
Leona had commitments on Thursday nights but rearranged her schedule so the two of them could attend the Effingham hearings together, usually accompanied by Billie’s daughter, Stella, who at 15 is the same age Billie was when she babysat for Leona.
Leona marched in Ossipee’s Fourth of July parade last year as one of the Dancing Grannies. Within weeks, however, Lunt says it was clear she was seriously ill. Even so, she kept attending the hearings.
“Here you have someone who is so sick but had the will to be there in person because she knew people were talking about the probability of things not happening instead of the serious unintended consequences of what might happen,” Billie said.
“I could tell she was in a lot of pain, but I was so glad she was able to get up and speak about her experience.”
Earlier this year, Lunt ran into Leona at the Effingham gym, and they spoke about her illness.
“People tell one another what they really think when there is a terminal illness,” Billie said. “I told Leona from my heart what she meant to me as a mentor when I was young, and how her bravery in the face of illness had affected my daughter.”
Leona’s final letter to Effingham was on January 24 to the ZBA, which was considering whether the Planning Board should have required a special use permit, something Leona believed was needed because of the many site plan deficiencies identified by the Planning Board’s independent advisor.
“The water quality issue is personal with me,” she wrote. “What Meena is proposing is a huge risk that, in my view, the Planning Board is not taking seriously.”
Once again pointing to her personal experience, she said “From my research, the process that was used to remove salt from my water cannot be used with gasoline. There is no obvious or inexpensive solution to removing gas from a well that has been contaminated, and probably no way to remove it from the Ossipee Aquifer.”
“These are Planning Board failures, not the ZBA’s, but you have an opportunity to address them by requiring a special use permit,” she wrote. “I hope you will do so.”