Editorial: Make This the Year of the Lakes

The following editorial by the Alliance’s Susan MacCarthy Marks and David L. Smith appeared in the July 5 edition of the Conway Daily Sun.

You have to wonder if our elected officials and agency leaders in Concord truly understand the importance of protecting our lakes as a primary environmental and economic resource. Here is what we see at our small non-profit organization on Ossipee Lake.

At globally rare Ossipee Lake Natural Area, volunteer boaters and conservationists partnered with the state for years to keep people inside the recreation zone with a combination of law enforcement and boater-to-boater influencing.

That partnership fell apart during the pandemic and needs to be addressed. But the Department of Forests and Lands, which manages the property, says its Rangers are in short supply, and Marine Patrol says its officers can’t enforce anything on land.

Common sense tells you that this deficit in interagency cooperation could be resolved if someone wanted to resolve it, but we’re still looking for that individual.

Then there’s DES’s recent approval of an 82.5 ft. x 3 ft. wharf with five 34 ft. x 3 ft. piers for nine boat slips accessed via a 6 ft. x 4 ft. walkway on Leavitt Bay’s tiny Loon Island, which is unoccupied except as a loon nesting site.

Ossipee’s Conservation Commission told DES the island is incapable of handling the increased use, and the Planning Board told the agency that dozens of Leavitt Bay property owners attended a board meeting to say the plan threatens boating, wildlife and the environment.

We sent DES a letter saying the dock application and review process were flawed, including the agency’s inexplicable decision to not hold a public hearing because the issue was “not of major public interest.”

After DES approved the plan, more that 200 lake property owners, three local conservation organizations, Moultonborough’s Loon Preservation Committee, and Camp Marist, Leavitt Bay’s children’s summer camp, asked DES for mediated discussions to resolve issues created by the approval.

DES declined, saying we needed to appeal to the State Wetlands Council, an expensive, time-consuming, Department of Justice-managed process—all simply to get facts on the record that should have been on the record months ago through a public hearing.

Speaking of DES, you may have heard that potentially contaminated dirt from a former gas station was dumped on the beach and playground of a Leavitt Bay campground. That intel came from a whistleblowing insider, whose claim was reported to DES last October.

Given the nature of the allegation, and the campground owner’s concession that the dirt transfer took place, you might have expected DES to look into it. But DES has done nothing beyond saying it is short-handed, and it has not responded to repeated requests for an update.

That’s just on our lake. We are also aligned with other lake associations in seeking wake boat regulations that would allow the popular watercraft to be enjoyed by their owners without damaging the environment and threatening swimmers.

Research shows that wake boats ideally should be kept 400-500 feet from shore. NH LAKES supports 300 feet as a compromise, while the watersports industry wants 200 feet.

A House bill specifying 300 feet passed committee but was tabled without a vote or even a discussion thanks to the efforts of State Representative Joe Sweeney (R-Salem), who called the bill “awful” and claimed it would “destroy the culture of our lakes.”

The convoluted process that followed saw a Senate bill for a 200-foot setback modified by the House to 300 feet and sent back to the Senate, where Senator Denise Ricciardi (R-District 9) led a successful vote to “non-concur” and kill it.

Ricciardi said keeping wake boats further from shore would increase “dangerous and unsafe conditions,” and scolded lake property owners for being divisive.

What’s going on here? Senator Tim Lang (R-Sanbornton), a supporter of the watersports industry’s 200-foot setback, said the quiet part out loud by acknowledging that wake boats are a “fairly significant industry in the state.”

If you live on a lake, you understand why all of this is so maddening. Lake property owners are watching lakes deteriorate in real time and are trying to do something about it, while state agencies shrug their shoulders and legislators like Sweeney and Ricciardi tell us to stay in our lane.

But even if you don’t live on a lake, you should be concerned that state inaction on a range of long-standing lake issues threatens our $2.6 billion tourism economy—including critical local revenue. Imagine the Town of Ossipee without Ossipee Lake, for example, and you see the point.

More than 400 state legislators and other officials will be selected in this year’s election. Do you know where your candidates stand on protecting our lakes? Are they likely to be productive or obstructive? Are you confident that they will think and vote independently of party pressure and industry lobbying?

Consider that while our legislature was contemplating joining Alabama and Tennessee in adopting a wake boat setback based on lobbyist hype, neighboring Maine and Vermont were enacting fair and meaningful wake boat standards based on science and research. Those new standards went into effect this summer.

A new crop of lake-friendly legislators to add to the lake stalwarts already in place can make a big difference in Concord. You can help by asking candidates tough questions in the coming weeks. Keep asking until you get straight answers.

Let’s make this the year of the lakes.

Susan MacCarthy Marks and David L. Smith are co-founders of Ossipee Lake Alliance in Freedom.

8 Comments

  1. Rosemarie Rung 3 weeks ago July 5, 2024

    This is very important editorial that I hope your readers act upon. Voters must vet state office candidates on their positions regarding our environment, and specifically our lakes to ensure that bills to protect them are passed in the next term.

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  2. Steve Foley 2 weeks ago July 6, 2024

    These days one has to pondering the ‘as of late’ meaning of, “Live Free or Die”.
    When it comes to approving a gasoline station construction permit within an aquifer identified sensitive area, a wildlife breeding site being disrupted or the up and coming wake boats operating close to vulnerable shore lines, it seems a chasm of political disconnect is cloaking the light of common sense decisions or the lack thereof, to defend the defenseless, protect the precious water sources of Lake Ossipee and sustaining shore front ecosystems.
    So does ‘Live Free or Die’ conjure up Natural Rights and promoting, “Do as You Please” or is it simply relieving elected officials of their duty to Defend and Protect the essence of Life?

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  3. Jane Ny 2 weeks ago July 6, 2024

    Well said. Thank you.

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  4. Edwina Boose 2 weeks ago July 6, 2024

    Terrific LTE. Thank you. I hope it was sent to many papers.

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  5. Mike B 2 weeks ago July 6, 2024

    The Long Sands Natural area has descended into being a complete disaster. People treating it like Revere Beach, and dogs running all over the place. Very disappointed in NH state government in general. They get caught up in meaningless crap and ignore larger important issues that directly affect quality of life and our critical tourism industry. No blame or finger-pointing regarding Democrats vs Republicans here. It’s just common sense, which is absent in our state and federal governments.

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  6. Susan C. Hoople 2 weeks ago July 7, 2024

    Great letter!! The other emerging threat to the ground water and wetlands are these “Aerofin” septic systems that are being installed on environmentally sensitive lots and their likely failure if misused–check out the fine print—

    Also, Freedom needs to rethink going back to our original 125′ setback from wetlands for septic systems with the new knowledge that PFAS and microplastics have been found in leachate/effluent from leach fields as well as in “tire dust” from the wear of tires on the roads and then the runoff into drainage ditches and streams that eventually lead into the lake. Leachate from dumpsters are another source.

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  7. M Bokhan 2 weeks ago July 8, 2024

    Great letter, and also a great response from Steve Foley. I love the letter’s message: ask questions to the candidates, listen carefully and follow up. Then vote appropriately!

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  8. Larry G. 2 weeks ago July 8, 2024

    So sad that current legislators and state regulatory agencies turn a blind eye to the deteriorating conditions in our lakes. Short sighted. Lake Winnipesaukee is facing similar and increasingly frustrating threats to the most important resource in our area and state

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