Effingham—June 29, 2023—Two years ago, Effingham ZBA member Knute Ogren voted to grant Meena LLC a special exception for a gas station. Now he says he wishes he and the board knew then what is known now about the risk of pumping gas at the former gravel pit.
“In the many, many months this case has received public scrutiny, it is clear—the science tells us—that a gas station at this location has a real potential to cause harm,” he said in a June 5 letter this month to the Planning Board, in which he asked that the application be denied.
Ogren, who is no longer on the ZBA, made clear in his letter that he was speaking for himself, not for Green Mountain Conservation Group, which he chairs. He reminded the Planning Board that he recused himself from the Meena case as it morphed from a special exception request into a request for a zoning variance in the summer of 2021.
In hindsight, he wrote, his recusal was a “regretful decision.”
Still a sitting board member at the time, but sidelined without a vote or a voice, he said “There are many regrets we can all have about this whole chaotic affair.”
Ogren had harsh words for the applicant, saying that Meena had “chosen to strong arm from the very beginning,” pointing to delays in providing documents, the decision to start building the gas station without approvals, and delaying hiring qualified legal and engineering help.
He called the company “arrogant” in its regard for the “real scientific concerns that have been brought forward” since the variance was granted, citing geoscientist Dr. Robert Newton in particular.
“Dr. Newton has raised appropriate concerns in his latest testimony submitted to you in recent days,” Ogren wrote to the Planning Board.
“He has helped us see what before was not so clearly understood.”
Ogren said there should have been a more effective effort to engage surrounding towns, saying the gas station issue is “not just an Effingham concern,” and he decried the divisiveness the issue has caused between friends and neighbors.
“We appreciate your commitment,” he told the Planning Board, acknowledging that they are volunteers and deserve to be respected.
“We value our water, and we urge you to vote no on the application,” he said.
“You are well within your right to vote no,” he concluded.
Editor’s Note: A chronology of the Meena LLC case is at https://bit.ly/meenagas.