All Eyes on Effingham Board

Editor’s Note: The following editorial appeared in the Conway Daily Sun a year ago. Meena LLC’s latest plan—its fifth—still does not specifically address the unique nature of the location and the potential risk to the Ossipee Aquifer. We are reprinting this editorial to as a reminder of that information gap. The next hearing is Tuesday, June 6, at 6:30 p.m. in Effingham Elementary School. 

Editorial

The argument in support of a gas station at the former Boyle’s Market on the border of Ossipee and Effingham centers on the claim that gas stations are safer than ever. Or, in the words of the applicant’s agent, Mark McConkey, they are practically “fail-proof.”

Last year, the “fail-proof” claim and DES’s approval of permits for the underground storage tanks (USTs) helped persuade Effingham’s ZBA to grant McConkey’s client, Meena LLC, relief from the town’s prohibition against new gas stations in the Groundwater Protection District. It’s an argument that continues to be used as a rationale for the ZBA approval, even though it only tells part of the story.

Gas station equipment is better than it used to be, thanks to regulations mandating improved environmental protections. Double-walled tanks, automated alarms and related improvements in USTs have lowered risk, and there have been improvements above ground as well, including automatic shut-off valves for hoses.

Despite that, DES’ latest gas station Environmental Fact Sheet (2020) reminds us that regulators and equipment designers have not succeeded in eliminating all groundwater contamination risks.

Each year DES publishes data showing spills and leaks continue to be a fact of life. In Carroll County alone, there have been nine spills of more than ten gallons in recent years, including a 2020 spill in Bartlett that released 45 gallons.

So, here’s the rub: While the risk of a major gas leak or spill has been lowered, it is not zero; and that makes where a gas station is located a critical factor.

Consider two brand-new gas stations, both with state-of-the-art tanks and technology. Both have experienced operators and on-site personnel trained in DES’ best management practices. We can assume the risk of a contamination event at both sites has been lowered, but is not zero.

Let’s further assume that one station is situated in the kind of location DES recommends (which is away from drinking water sources) and the other is the Meena LLC property, a former gravel pit with highly transmissive soils sitting atop the region’s drinking water supply and adjacent to dozens of residential wells and a tributary that empties into Ossipee Lake.

The risk of a major gas spill is identical for both stations—reduced, but not zero. But if a major spill were to occur, the results would be quite different. A major spill at the first site could likely be contained and mitigated, while the environmental impact at the Meena LLC site would likely be catastrophic, with gasoline entering the aquifer and migrating to private wells and beyond.

As we said, what Mr. McConkey told the ZBA last year about the equipment and permits was only half the story. The other half concerns the high level of risk embedded in a worst-case scenario in which the location will determine the level of environmental damage.

DES has something to say about locations in its aforementioned Environmental Fact Sheet. It advises that even in an age of improved gas station equipment, the “likelihood” of spills, leaks and contaminants in stormwater runoff means towns should “consider restricting the siting of gas stations as they would any other land use that is likely to contaminate groundwater.”

Further: “If the municipality’s zoning ordinance prohibits the location of certain high-risk land uses in wellhead protection areas, aquifer protection areas, or other areas of high-value groundwater, gas stations should be considered for inclusion in the list of prohibited land uses.”

The state doesn’t mandate these protections in the same way that it regulates USTs. Instead, it delegates responsibility to the towns, 109 of which have created groundwater ordinances. That includes Effingham, where gas stations are prohibited in aquifer protection areas like the former gravel pit where the applicant proposes to pump gas—the site the ZBA last year said was suitable for a gas station because ‘the tanks are fail-proof and DES issued permits.’

Since that ruling, more than 850 people have viewed Dr. Bob Newton’s video about why the Meena LLC site is the “worst possible location” for a gas station. Additionally, the site plan application has been determined to be a Development of Regional Impact (DRI) affecting ten communities, some of which plan to exercise their abutter status and take a figurative ‘seat at the table’ when Effingham’s Planning Board begins deliberations on April 7. [Note: views have now exceeded 1,000].

As Effingham planners prepare for that hearing, we hope they will consider the example of how two brand-new gas stations can present the appearance of having the same low risk to the public’s health and safety while actually having a much higher level of risk based on location.

Note: The next hearing is Tuesday, June 6, 2023, at 6:30 p.m. at Effingham Elementary School. There is no Zoom option. 

7 Comments

  1. tj236 9 months ago June 5, 2023

    So, what I hear is there must be zero risk of contamination in order to allow the station to exist. Otherwise, thousands of people are at risk of…I don’t know…dying? If that is the rational for prohibiting progress, then, I assert, there are many other enterprises and activities that pose risk to lives. Just a few include driving, flying, covid shots, walking on the sidewalk, going to the store (especially in states like Ca, NY etc), construction and on and on. All are activities that if are engaged in might result in death. So, should the government now outlaw/prohibit these activities? If the goal is zero risk and we must insist on zero risk to allow us to move on, then I see a future of significantly limited freedoms for us all. I’m not OK with that. There will always be risks but we have the intelligence to learn from our mistakes, mitigate them, make improvements and move on.
    What we should really be focusing on is mitigating the risk of, not prohibiting, the station. Ensuring safeguards, designing backup systems and ensuring compliance is effort better spent instead of demonizing a new potential business owner.

    REPLY
  2. Richard N 9 months ago June 5, 2023

    Potential outcomes from this “risk taking” by this business owner cannot be measured in terms of “lives lost” unless you want to consider the death of a lake’s ecosystem. This endeavor illustrates that the oft quoted aphorism “the perfect is the enemy of the good” is not a good yardstick to use when the public’s health and safety are threatened. The Town of Effingham is enduring a burden of its own creation; the mishmash of its responses to this business owners’ hodgepodge of documentation clouds the present need for responsible action. An error must be clearly addressed to keep the Ossipee Aquifer free from all risk of contamination by a gas station.

    REPLY
  3. tj236 9 months ago June 6, 2023

    If you have been reading along with all the posts on this site, you must have noticed the reactions towards the Meena station. The predictions made by opponents of the station reek of devastation and disaster…as if death is imminent. Over-the-top reactions clawing for justification.
    Point being that we rarely have zero risk in our everyday lives but now we demand it from Meena. Instead of working with Meena to ensure containment plans, reactionary protocols, safeguards, spill sensors /containment, and compliance audits ect (all at Meena’s cost) are in place all I hear is Meena is going to contaminate our water as if it is a foregone conclusion. I don’t buy into the fearmongering. What’s more I have never seen any kind of analysis the quantifies the actual risk. Just that there’s risk is not good enough to shut the project down.
    And since you mentioned the lakes ecosystem let me tell you I have been here since the 70’s. The water is not as clean, not as clear and there’s more pollution (not to mention the milfoil) than there ever has been. Not because of big bad business but because the state/town wanted to create more access and in doing so overpopulated the lake. I find the passive concern for the lakes eco system compared to the overwhelming panic of “potential risk” to groundwater to be disingenuous at best.

    REPLY
  4. Marc 9 months ago June 6, 2023

    Tj
    What is your motivation for this gas station? Is it out of fairness to the new owner?
    Why do we need 2 gas stations less than a mile apart

    REPLY
  5. tj236 9 months ago June 7, 2023

    I am a staunch supporter of capitalism. I find that competition among various businesses keeps the system honest. That being said I don’t appreciate the gas station being presented preemptively as an environmental failure. There is little to no regard for the safeguards and containment designed into the system. Much of what I have read borders on irrational hysteria.
    I would have appreciated and respected an approach that required compliance of sound criteria/safeguards for Meena to meet rather than pushing a fear narrative. If Meena can’t comply, then by all means deny the approval.

    REPLY
  6. Terrance K 9 months ago June 7, 2023

    TJ, it sounds like you are new to this issue. Town law says you can’t have a gas station at that site for environmental reasons. The ZBA overruled that, so the focus turned to whether a gas station would be safe. Each of the first four plans had errors, omissions and fanciful thinking that was dinged by the public and the town’s professional consultant (not to mention DOT) and Meena had to go back and try to fix it. That process, which you say has been missing, has actually been going on for two years! Meena is being asked to comply with existing requirements, nothing more. That’s hardly irrational hysteria.

    REPLY
  7. tj236 9 months ago June 7, 2023

    Town law? There has been a gas station at that site for decades.
    For whatever reason Boyles could not make the station work but I never recall an incident of water contamination or spills that harmed drinking water…and I live in that area, I would know.
    I think there was some fancy footwork to not allow grandfather status and hurry along the abandonment laws, after Boyles pulled out their tanks (Abbotts, on the other hand, gets to keep their antiquated system).
    I will concede that I don’t know the details and nuances of Meena’s application, however, I am fully on board with ensuring Meena’s compliance with all regulations.
    But, as I have said, much of what is posted here seems more about an assurance that if a gas station is allowed expect contaminated well water and that, in my opinion, is hysteria and unfair.

    REPLY

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *