Effingham Gas Station Case: Chronology

On March 29, 2021, Effingham’s Zoning Board of Adjustment approved Meena LLC’s application for a special exception for a gas station. The meeting lasted less than 90 minutes, and there was no mention of the Groundwater Protection Ordinance, which prohibits gas stations at the Meena site. More than two years later, the gas station proposal remains contested.

Click Here for Most Recent

NOVEMBER 2020

On November 19, Pankaj “Prince” Garg, who owns gas stations and other business properties in the region, structures an agreement to buy Boyle’s Market convenience store, laundromat and apartments. The deal is contingent on obtaining the state’s approval to add gas tanks and pumps.
DECEMBER 2020

On December 13, Garg’s agents submit an application to DES requesting approval of its construction plan for installing underground gasoline storage tanks and related gas station systems.
FEBRUARY 2021

On February 9, revisions to the DES application are made, and on February 23, the agency issues a letter conditionally approving the construction plan. The letter states that the approval does not supersede local regulations and ordinances.

 

On February 24, Garg purchases Boyle’s Market for $362,000. The business is closed.

 

Effingham learns of Meena’s gas station plan on February 25 when the Fire Chief receives his copy of the DES permit letter, which is standard practice for such permits.

MARCH 2021

March 2021

On March 2, Meena agent Mark McConkey emails Zoning Officer Rebecca Boyden, saying Garg wants him to apply for “whatever is needed with the town” to install the underground tanks. McConkey further asks if Meena can begin excavating “at their own peril” before obtaining town approvals. The Zoning Officer tells him the owner will need approvals from the ZBA and the Planning Board before any changes can be made. The McConkey email is here.

 

On March 3, McConkey contacts ZBA Chair Theresa Swanick, asking to have a “procedural conversation” in regard to a special exception application. Later that day, the Zoning Officer sends Swanick an email summarizing her conversation with McConkey. The email says the entire Boyle’s operation is a pre-existing non-conforming use, and notes the previous gas station at the site was removed in 2015.

 

On March 10, Meena agent McConkey applies to the ZBA for a special exception to add a third apartment at the site and build a gas station as an expansion of an existing use. The March application is here.

 

On March 29, the ZBA hearing focuses mainly on the third apartment. Less than 90 minutes later, the board approves the application without mention of the Groundwater Protection Ordinance’s prohibition of gas stations at the site, or the fact that the existing use ceased to exist in 2015. Meena is told to submit a Site Plan Application to the Planning Board, which is also chaired by Theresa Swanick. The groundwater ordinance is here. The meeting minutes are here. The special exception approval is here.

APRIL 2021

April 2021

On April 9, Meena principal Garg sends a letter to Planning Board Chair Swanick asking if he can start digging on Monday (April 12) without a site plan review. He says he is in “a tight time situation” which is “our fault completely,” adding that “the installation of any tanks, piping or pumps would not occur until after final approval.”

 

On the same day, April 9, Meena agent Jim Doucette makes the same excavation request of Nate Fogg of Effingham’s Land Use Department, saying “it is our own fault, but are hoping for a little understanding.” He says “the digging would be at our peril” and nothing will be installed.

 

On April 12, Meena agent McConkey submits a 33-page Site Plan Application to the Planning Board. It includes a request to waive the Certified Survey, Landscape Plan, Stormwater Plan, Traffic Impact Assessment, and Professional Qualifications requirements. The April application is here.

 

On April 13, Meena agent Doucette emails Nate Fogg, asking him to tell ZBA Chair Swanick that Meena has made the “difficult decision” to “start the digging portion of the project” that week. He promises the work “will not alter the existing site” and there will be “no resulting changes to the grounds.”

MAY 2021

May 2021

On May 5, the Planning Board takes up the Site Plan Application. In a brief discussion it determines the Groundwater Protection Ordinance prohibits gas stations at the Meena site, and the developer must apply for a variance from the ZBA. It returns the application to the ZBA. The meeting minutes are here.

 

On May 13, the Zoning Officer issues a cease-and-desist order to stop Meena’s construction work, which has been ongoing for a month and has resulted in the installation of the underground gasoline storage tanks and related equipment. Meena is directed to secure or barricade the excavated area to ensure public safety. The legal order is here.

 

Meena agent Doucette asks the town on May 14 to allow him to “close off the surface” (permanently cover) the underground gas tanks. The town denies the request.

 

Also on May 14, Meena applies to the ZBA for a variance that would grant it relief from zoning’s gas station prohibition at the site. The May application is here.

JUNE 2021

June 2021

On June 29, Meena agent McConkey explains to the ZBA that his client started construction work because there was a “window of opportunity” to avoid having to “wait for months.” Zoning Officer Boyden asks the board whether this is a Development of Regional Impact (DRI) because of the aquifer. Board Chair Theresa Swanick says Effingham is “the lower end” of the watershed. Board member Jim Pittman says there is “no regulatory obligation” to notify other towns, and there are “many other risks to groundwater.” The board declines to vote on the regional impact question and continues the hearing to July 8. The minutes are here.
JULY 2021

July 2021

On July 8, a new reason for the illegal construction work is put forward to the ZBA by Meena agent McConkey, who says the company was led to believe it had all the permits it needed. Board Chair Swanick says Meena was “aware of the risk,” and Zoning Officer Boyden says no one discussed the zoning issues with her in advance.

 

Members of the public tell the board why a gas station will threaten the aquifer and ask it to uphold the Groundwater Protection Ordinance. Regional impact is again raised, and the Zoning Officer reads the criteria aloud. A motion to declare regional impact fails on a 1-3-1 vote, with Board Chair Swanick abstaining. The hearing is continued to July 20. The news story is here. The minutes are here.

 

On July 20, the dispute about the illegal construction escalates. Meena agent McConkey reads aloud to the ZBA from an affidavit by real estate broker Jim Doucette, who says Zoning Officer Boyden failed to advise him the Meena site was in the Groundwater Protection District, and everyone was “under the impression” that only state approvals were needed to pump gas. Boyden again says no one consulted her, and Chair Swanick says it is not the town’s responsibility to ensure developers understand the zoning regulations.

 

The fact that the proposed site is a former gravel pit is raised for the first time when McConkey compares it favorably to two other area gas stations, one of which he says is in a swamp and the other has its gas tanks in a river. He acknowledges the Boyle family closed and dismantled the gas station in 2015, but suggests that “most people still think of it as a gas station.”

 

The board questions McConkey about the safety of the tanks, which McConkey calls “fail-proof.” Questions, comments and letters from the public focus on the plan’s conflict with the ordinance and its threat to drinking water. In a letter, geoscientist Dr. Robert Newton writes that approval of a variance would show “a wanton disregard for the health and safety of nearby residents.” Public comment ends, and the hearing is continued to July 29. The minutes are here. The news story is here.

 

On July 26, Ossipee Lake Alliance publishes an editorial questioning how members of the ZBA could have forgotten that gas stations are prohibited in the Groundwater Protection District, and how Meena and its local advisors—all veterans of the highly regulated gas station industry—failed to read the ordinance and thought they could start construction without a building permit or site plan approval.

 

On July 29, the ZBA begins deliberations. Board member Jim Pittman tells fellow members the purpose of the ZBA is to “provide a means of relief from imperfect zoning ordinances,” and “the groundwater protection piece” is not state law, so “when it says ‘prohibited uses‘, that is not immutable.” A two-hour discussion ensues about Meena’s claims that its application meets the five criteria required for a variance. The hearing is continued to August 4. The meeting minutes are here.

AUGUST 2021

September 2021

The August 4 meeting begins with a request by Meena agent McConkey to present his case on the five variance criteria for a second time, which is denied. A question about whether the site is grandfathered as a gas station is addressed in an email from Town Counsel, who says it is not. Two board members say they are still not sure.

 

Board member Mike Cahalane says he is inclined to support a variance because of “better technology,” adding “this is not virgin property.” Board member Pittman says he is “upset” about the illegal construction and suggests that Meena make an annual contribution to Green Mountain Conservation Group because “they test water in the area.”

 

Board Chair Swanick says she is “on the fence” about the variance and is concerned about “the human factor.” She discusses attaching conditions to an approval. Board member Tim White says that if the variance passes, it should not be a unanimous vote because “this case needs a dissent.”

 

On a 4-1 vote, with board member White dissenting, the ZBA votes that granting the variance would not be contrary to the public interest, would not be contrary to the spirit of the ordinance, would do substantial justice, and would not diminish the value of surrounding properties. It further finds that literal enforcement of the ordinance would result in unnecessary hardship for Meena.

 

The ZBA instructs Meena to provide the Planning Board with a Stormwater Management Plan and a Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plan as part of its Site Plan Application. The meeting minutes are here. The news story is here.

 

On August 10, members of the public meet with the Effingham Select Board to express concerns about the ZBA decision. They say only permitted uses can go through the variance process, and a gas station is not a permitted use at the Meena site. They ask that Town Counsel be consulted about whether the case should be reheard. The board says it will consider the matter. The news story is here.

SEPTEMBER 2021

September 2021

On September 1, Ossipee property owners William Bartoswicz and Tammy McPherson, whose homes abut the Meena property, join Ossipee Lake Alliance and Green Mountain Conservation Group (collectively the “appellants”) to file a motion for the ZBA to rehear the Meena case. The motion is here. The news story is here.

 

On September 7, the Planning Board takes up its review of the Site Plan Application, which is the same document submitted in April and includes Meena agent McConkey’s request to waive the Certified Survey, Landscape Plan, Stormwater Plan, Traffic Impact Assessment, and Professional Qualifications requirements. It is determined that an abutter was incorrectly noticed and the review should be continued to a later date.

 

Nonetheless, the board proceeds to question McConkey about aspects of the plan, including the location of dumpsters, whether signs will be internally lit, the adequacy of the septic system, and the need for new parking spaces. It asks him to show Phillips Brook on the maps, which is next to the Meena site. Fire Chief Burbank says adding a third apartment will create an “apartment building” requiring a sprinkler system, and asks about a diesel fuel tank in one of the buildings. Garg says the tank has been removed.

 

An abutter complains that the board is not allowing public comments. Board Chair Swanick says “this is not the appropriate time to provide comments since this is not a hearing.” Review of the application is continued to September 30. The minutes are here.

 

On September 20, Meena agent McConkey submits a revised Site Plan Application to the Planning Board. The application is here.

 

On September 28, the ZBA denies the appellants’ Motion to Rehear the Meena variance decision.

 

On September 30, Meena agent McConkey tells the Planning Board his client is dropping the request for a third apartment. He says the state has “no issues” with the proposed stormwater drainage system.

 

Public comments begin. Ossipee resident Tim Otterbach says the material being reviewed is not the same material provided to abutters and the public, and there has been no time for review. He lists errors and omissions that include no driveway widths, Phillips Brook is still not shown, there is no spill and containment plan, no landscaping and buffers shown, no lighting plan, and a signature is missing on the sealed site plan.

 

Otterbach asks if the septic designer is a registered civil engineer, and McConkey says he is not. Otterbach says the application is incomplete because it does not include a Stormwater Management plan created by an engineer. Chair Swanick says “the opinion of the Board is that this is not a requirement for the application.”

 

Applicant Garg expresses confusion regarding the town’s requirements. Vice-Chair Bull says “usually a stormwater plan is presented when there is any potential of water runoff.” Applicant Garg says he received information from DES that the berm added when Route 25 was built had been designed to handle water runoff issues. The meeting is continued to November 4. McConkey is advised that new or modified materials must be submitted 21 days in advance. The meeting minutes are here.

OCTOBER 2021

October 2021

Meena agent McConkey submits a new Sipe Plan Application on or about October 10. The document is here.

 

On October 28, the appellants file an appeal of the ZBA’s variance decision in Superior Court. The appeal document is here.

NOVEMBER 2021

November 2021

On November 1, Ossipee Lake Alliance publishes an editorial saying the Meena case is about more than just a gas station. It is about officials breaking the public’s trust by not upholding the ordinance’s groundwater protections. It calls on the ZBA to explain why it did not declare the proposal to be a Development of Regional Impact and did not seek technical help, given the complexity of the environmental issues.

 

On November 4, the Planning Board looks through the materials and decides the application is complete, but there is no vote taken. A member of the public reports that the new owner of an abutting property was not notified. Board Chair Swanick says the application “will not be accepted due to [the] discovered defect in notification of abutters.” She asks Meena agent McConkey to “get rid of” prior Site Plan Application materials so they don’t get confused with updated documents and plans. The meeting is continued to December 2 but will not occur until February 3. The meeting minutes are here.

 

On November 16, Meena principal Garg asks the Select Board for approval to finish backfilling the gas tanks and pipes and pave “disturbed surfaces” before winter. The board denies the request, saying Meena does not have an approved site plan, and the board supports the Zoning Officer’s cease-and-desist order.

DECEMBER 2021

December 2021

On December 8, Town Counsel Matthew Serge files an eight-page response to the appellants’ Superior Court appeal of the ZBA decision. He acknowledges that environmental impact data was presented, but says the board was “without sufficient knowledge or information to admit or deny the allegations.” Nonetheless, it was “reasonable under the circumstances” not to obtain a third-party engineering review of the application because the town “was under no obligation” to do so. Serge asserts that none of the plaintiffs have standing to bring an appeal to state court, including the two abutting families. The appeal response is here. The news story is here.

 

Meena agent McConkey submits a new Site Plan Application on or about December 12. The application document is here.

JANUARY 2022

January 2022

On January 23, geoscientist Newton sends a letter to the Planning Board explaining why he wants to make a presentation to the board about the environmental issues at the Meena site. He does not receive a response. The letter is here.

 

On January 28, Newton posts a video on YouTube calling the Meena site the “worst possible location” for a gas station because of its location in a former gravel pit in the “primary recharge area” for the region’s drinking water. Using high-tech graphics, he shows how years of removing gravel has substantially reduced the separation between the ground and the groundwater. The video garners more than 750 views in a matter of days, and eventually tops 1,000 views.

 

In a January 28 letter to the Planning Board, the appellants’ attorney says environmental issues in the application are “beyond the reasonable experience of the typical Planning Board member,” and an independent third-party engineer should review the application before it is accepted as complete. He says the board must address the regional impact of the development. The letter is here.

FEBRUARY 2022

February 2022

On Feb 2, Meena’s attorney tells the Planning Board there is no need for an independent evaluation because of “the focused nature of the contemplated project and the fact that this property historically operated as a gas station.” He says there is “no basis” for a regional impact ruling, and says the risk of leaks and spills is low given the “robust measures mandated by the state and the ZBA decision.” The letter is here.

 

On February 3, the Planning Board votes to accept the application as complete. Meena agent McConkey describes the site’s history and discusses information in his “Stormwater Erosion Control Plan” dated 12/21/21. Board Chair Swanick says anyone who made arrangements to speak may speak, and others may wait until the next hearing. No one choses to speak, and the hearing is continued to February 24. The meeting minutes are here.

 

On February 11, a Superior Court judge holds a Hearing on the Merits of the appeal of the ZBA variance decision. The news story is here.

 

A February 13 news story reports that geoscientist Newton’s video has resulted in letters to the Planning Board from the Town of Porter, Tamworth’s Select Board, Saco River Corridor Commission, NH Lakes and others. The article says the Planning Board appears to have violated RSA 36:54-58 by approving the application as complete without establishing whether it is a Development of Regional Impact.

 

The news story states that attorneys for Meena and the appellants presented arguments about regional impact in letters to the Planning Board that were submitted prior to the February 3 hearing, but were neither acknowledged nor discussed. The news story is here.

 

On February 24, the Planning Board is well into a discussion about vegetative buffers when a member of the public raises a point of order to say RSA 36:54-58 requires the board to vote on regional impact. The board appears to be confused, and the attorney for the abutters says the requirement was detailed in his January 28 letter to the board. Several board members say there is no need to vote on regional impact because there is “already a lot of awareness” of the application through news stories. At an audience member’s request, board member Paul Potter reads the RSA aloud.

 

Meena agent McConkey, who is also a State Representative, asks to speak and takes up the awareness theme. He says opponents of his client’s plan have “cast a wide net” of awareness among neighboring towns, but those towns have “refused” to get involved. He cites Freedom, Tamworth and Wakefield as examples, and says he doesn’t want the board to think that any of those towns have not been notified, at which point Chair Swanick cuts him off. McConkey does not mention the requirements of RSA 36:54-58.

 

The board votes 5-2 to declare the application is a Development of Regional Impact  and authorizes the Chair to notify neighboring towns and the Lakes Region Planning Commission. The hearing is continued to April 7. The meeting minutes are here. Information not contained in the minutes is from the Zoom recording of the meeting, which is here.

MARCH 2022

March 2022

On March 1, the Planning Board notifies Effingham, Ossipee, Freedom, Eaton, Madison, Tamworth, Sandwich, Wakefield, Porter and Parsonsfield that the Meena application is a Development of Regional Impact (DRI) affecting those towns, and they have abutter status for the purpose of being notified about meetings and giving testimony.

 

On March 16, Ossipee Lake Alliance and Green Mountain Conservation Group send the most recent Site Plan Application and materials to officials of the DRI-designated towns. A cover letter says the application presents unique environmental challenges and contains “alarming” waiver requests. It says Meena agent McConkey’s responsibility to his client may conflict with his responsibility as a State Representative, citing his actions at the February 24 Planning Board meeting. The letter is here.

 

On March 23, the Tamworth Planning Board becomes the first municipal board in a DRI-designated town to oppose the gas station proposal. Additional letters expressing concerns are submitted by the Towns of Porter and Parsonsfield. The news story is here.

 

On March 27, geoscientist Newton sends a second letter to the Planning Board saying Meena’s plan to funnel untreated stormwater to a DOT infiltration basin is a “recipe for disaster.” He says the board cannot rely on DES to evaluate the risks of the proposal because the agency doesn’t evaluate hydrological conditions. “They rely on you to do that through the local site plan review process.” He says he did not receive a reply to his January 23 request to present his findings to the board and repeats the request. The letter is here.

 

On March 29, Ossipee’s Select Board “endorses” the gas station if it meets “all Federal and State rules, regulations and laws.” A “To Whom It May Concern” letter from Board Chair Jonathan Smith is read aloud, in which he cites eight “reassurances” about the gas station from Charlie Krautmann, Oil Compliance Section Supervisor of DES’s Oil Remediation & Compliance Bureau. In a subsequent interview with Ossipee Lake Alliance, however, Krautmann says the town’s claim that DES dealt with “the entire project above and below grade” was taken out of context because only local land use boards, not the state, can rule on the risks associated with a particular location. The news story is here.

 

On March 31, the Conway Daily Sun and Carroll County Independent publish an Ossipee Lake Alliance editorial detailing how two brand-new gas stations can present the outward appearance of having the same low risk to the public’s health, safety and welfare, even though one has a far higher level of risk because of its location.

APRIL 2022

April 2022

On April 5, The Town of Freedom sends a ten-page letter to Effingham’s Planning Board saying Meena’s application does not meet the requirements of Effingham’s site plan regulations. The news story is here.

 

On April 7, Lakes Region Planning Commission tells the Planning Board it is concerned with Meena’s request for multiple waivers in its application. It recommends that the Planning Board hire a professional consultant “to review the adequacy of the applicant’s proposed site plan.” It further recommends requiring a Landscape Plan and an Environmental Impact Analysis. The letter is here.

 

On April 7, the Planning Board votes to hire North Point Engineering to advise it on the Meena matter. The Landscape Plan and Environmental Impact Analysis are not mentioned. Public testimony against the Meena plan is heard from abutters, members of the public, and the heads of Freedom’s Conservation Commission and the Saco Headwaters Alliance. Letters from the Eaton Select Board, Freedom Select Board, Town of Porter and American Groundwater Trust are acknowledged. The hearing is continued to May 5. The meeting minutes are here. The news story is here.

 

On April 26, North Point Engineering submits an “initial review” of Meena’s materials, noting that the Planning Board limited the scope of its work to the Stormwater Management and Spill Prevention Control plans. North Point’s findings are consistent with reviews conducted by the Town of Freedom and others that it the application is inadequate. It further says the applicant must apply for a Special Use Permit per Article 22 of the zoning ordinance. The Special Use Permit process would require Meena to provide additional environmental information and comply with a list of Performance Standards. North Point’s report is here. The news story is here.

MAY 2022

May 2022

At the May 5 Planning Board meeting, Meena’s attorney says the company will address the inadequacies identified in North Point’s report. Vice-Chair Bull, substituting for Chair Swanick, asks board members if there is anything else they would like to see in a rewrite. Bull suggests taking the Special Use Permit checklist into account. Board member Chick suggests adding an electric car charging station, and says dumpsters need to be “four-sided.” Board member David Garceau questions the proximity of the diesel pump to the apartments, and notes the lack of a pollution plan or a plan to test wells on-site and in abutting residential neighborhoods or a plan for tanker truck and emergency vehicle access.

 

Vice-Chair Bull says the Special Use Permit issue will not be discussed because the board has not received guidance from Town Counsel. Members of the public ask to speak and are told public comments will not be permitted because “no new information” has been presented. Meena requests a continuance to July 7 to address North Point’s report, which is granted. The minutes are here. The news story is here.

 

A May 16 news article details the opposing positions on the Special Use Permit issue. Meena says North Point is “legally incorrect” because a permit is only required for permitted uses, and a gas station is a prohibited use on the Meena property. The attorney for the abutters says that when the variance was granted, the prohibited use became an allowed use, thus requiring the permit. The abutters’ attorney says Meena’s plan to flow gas station runoff into an infiltration basin on DOT property requires a separate Special Use Permit per the Wetlands Article of the zoning ordinance. The news article is here.

JUNE 2022

June 2022

On June 2, a Superior Court judge upholds the ZBA’s decision to grant a variance, writing that “The standard of [the court’s] review is not whether the court would find as the ZBA did, but whether the evidence reasonably supports the ZBA’s findings.” In this regard, she writes, the ZBA’s decision was “not illegal.” The judge says Ossipee Lake Alliance and Green Mountain Conservation group have standing in the Meena matter. The appellants issue a joint statement saying they will continue to make the case to the Planning Board that it must deny the application “to protect human health and safeguard the sole drinking water supply for a majority of the people who live here.” The news article is here.

 

On June 9, members of the public present a petition to the Select Board asking it to address Meena’s illegal installation of underground gasoline storage tanks, which they fear could have disturbed the petrochemical contaminants DES documented when a previous gas station was removed in 2015. They ask that Meena be required to test their wells and account for how it disposed of the contaminated soil. They ask also for a list of zoning violations on the property so fines can be assessed for the illegal work. The news article is here.

 

On June 16, an online petition asking the Planning Board to require North Point to review the entire Site Plan Application, not just two parts of it, garners more than 500 signatures from residents and municipal officials in the DRI-designated communities in a matter of days. The signatures will reach close to 700 before the petition is closed. The news story is here.

 

On June 20, Green Mountain Conservation Group and Ossipee Lake Alliance post a video on YouTube explaining why area towns voted to protect the Ossipee Aquifer with Groundwater Protection Ordinances, and why a gas station should not be permitted. In an editorial, the Alliance asks the public to consider “how easy it was for the ZBA to grant relief from the gas station prohibition to provide a benefit for a single individual while creating an environmental risk for the rest of us.”

 

On June 30, Meena agent McConkey submits revised Site Plan Application materials to address North Point’s April 26 report. The revised materials, written by Horizons Engineering, are here.

JULY 2022

July 2022

A July 5 news story says the Planning Board will likely be asked at its July 7 meeting why it accepted the Site Plan Application as complete without ruling on Meena agent McConkey’s waiver requests, including a waiver of the professional qualifications requirement for himself. It says the online petition and the unresolved Special Use Permit issue are other likely topics. The news story is here.

 

On July 7, North Point submits a report evaluating Meena’s revised materials. It says Horizons Engineering’s rewrites address some issues while creating others. North Point says it is “not evident” that a newly proposed plan to capture, collect and pre-treat gas station runoff instead of “sheeting” it to the DOT property can meet primary treatment standards, and the runoff will still terminate in the DOT infiltration basin, where “it does not appear there is adequate separation to groundwater.”

 

The report says the Horizons material shows DOT property wetlands that were not shown in the McConkey materials, but does not include a plan to comply with the town’s Wetlands Ordinance. Also missing is an agreement with DOT to use its property for stormwater management, and an indication of whether the new materials are meant to replace the McConkey plans or be incremental to them. The report is here. The news story is here.

 

On July 7, Planning Board Chair Swanick says the board has not had time to read Meena’s new materials or North Point’s report. Since there will be no public discussion permitted, the petition, the waiver requests and geoscientist Newton’s letters requesting time to present to the board are not discussed. The board agrees there should be a special hearing in August focused solely on the application. The meeting minutes are here. The news story is here.

 

A July 26 news article focuses on N.H. Env-Or 407.06, which requires new underground gasoline storage tanks be located “at least 500 feet” from a Public Water Supply well. The article says the location of such a well on the Meena property was in Meena agent McConkey’s plans but is missing in the revised Horizons material, an omission cited in North Point’s July 7 report.

 

The article says the Planning Board was advised of the importance of the Public Water Supply well issue in a March 27 letter from geoscientist Newton, and in an April 7 letter from the appellants’ attorney, but it has never been discussed in public session. DES official Charlie Krautmann is quoted saying “I don’t disagree that this area is vulnerable to contamination given the hydrologic conditions, although that is why the Town created an ordinance to protect the aquifer.” The news story is here.

AUGUST 2022

August 2022

On August 4, Ossipee Lake Alliance and Green Mountain Conservation Group send a joint letter to the Commissioner of DOT advising that materials submitted to the Planning Board by Meena agent McConkey and Horizons Engineering show the use of DOT property to meet Meena’s Stormwater Management obligations. They ask if DOT has approved such an arrangement.

 

An August 9 news story says members of the Broad-Leavitt Bay Association, Ossipee Lake’s largest such organization, voted unanimously to oppose the gas station. American Ground Water Trust Executive Director Andrew Stone reminds the Planning Board by letter that a majority of the area’s residents rely on wells for drinking water. The news story is here.

 

An August 16 news story says State Representatives Bill Marsh and Jerry Knirk sent letters to DOT’s Commissioner opposing Meena’s use of state land, saying the state could be legally liable if petroleum contaminants enter the aquifer through the infiltration basin. State Senator Bradley sends a similar letter a few days later. The news story is here.

 

On August 19, Meena’s attorney tells the Planning Board that his client objects to geoscientist Newton addressing the board because he is “not an abutter and has no standing to testify or be heard regarding any aspects of this case.” Meena’s attorney says he also objects to the board accepting the petition asking for an independent review the full Site Plan Application, saying it “appears to be designed to improperly inject politics into what should be an objective review process.” The letter is here. The news story is here.

 

On August 21, Ossipee Lake Alliance publishes an editorial saying Meena cannot be trusted to operate a gas station in the Groundwater Protection District. It says the company’s lack of respect for the municipal process is shown by the repeated errors and omissions in its materials, and its attempts to limit information by blocking a full independent review of the application and a presentation by geoscientist Newton. It urges the Planning Board to deny the application at the special hearing on August 22.

 

At the August 22 special hearing, the mood of approximately 115 people at Town Hall and on Zoom turns angry when it is announced there will be no public discussion because materials were again not available to the board or the public in a timely manner. Board Chair Swanick shows visible irritation at requests for points of order raised by the audience to clarify what is occurring, and loudly slaps the table at one point to silence a questioner. Pressed on whether the board will agree to hear from geoscientist Newton, Swanick says the board is already familiar with Newton’s position. She later backtracks and agrees to accept “new” information from him.

 

The board holds a brief discussion on the Special Use Permit question, but does not engage either attorney or refer to their submitted letters or discuss the issue in legal terms. It decides a permit would be “redundant” to other requirements and votes unanimously that it is not needed. The board continues the hearing to October 6 and instructs Meena to submit its final materials by September 9. A subsequent written question from Ossipee Lake Alliance to Chair Swanick asking if the board received legal counsel on the permit issue is not answered. The revised materials are here. The meeting minutes are here. The news story is here.

 

On August 28, the Commissioner of DOT says its highway right of way “will not become an integral part of the development’s stormwater management plan,” meaning Meena will have to rewrite its Stormwater Management Plan by the September 9 Planning Board deadline. The news story is here.

SEPTEMBER 2022

September 2022

On September 6, the Select Board denies the June 9 request by nine Ossipee and Effingham property owners to require Meena to test their wells for pollutants and account for what it did with the contaminated soil it dug up during the illegal installation of underground tanks. The town agrees, however, to have Zoning Officer Boyden compile a list of zoning violations on the property. The news article is here.

 

On September 8, Meena submits its final Site Plan Application materials in time to meet the Planning Board’s deadline. The materials are here.

 

On September 9, Freedom’s Select Board says it is grateful for the North Point assessments. It says the risk of an accident remains high, and DOT’s position to not allow use of its property “alters the project significantly.” It calls on Effingham’s Planning Board to consider an Environmental Impact Study to provide a professional, unbiased view of the environmental impact. The letter is here.

 

On September 20, the appellants appeal the Planning Board’s August 22 Special Use Permit decision to Superior Court. The appeal is here.

 

On September 28, Meena again gets low marks from North Point, whose report contains 19 items requiring changes and explanations. It acknowledges the Planning Board’s decision to not require a Special Use Permit, but says Meena has “recognized and agreed” in writing that the Section 2210 Performance Standards still apply. “For clarity purposes, we recommend that the applicant prepare a brief narrative that discusses how the project is meeting each performance standard and/or why a particular standard does not apply to this project.”

 

North Point says the first item in the Performance Standards requires compliance with the State Stormwater Manual’s stormwater treatment criteria. It says Meena is “mistaken” in its argument that it is not required to provide the stormwater pre-treatment and treatment specified in the Manual, adding that the town’s Zoning Ordinance also requires compliance with the Manual.

 

Other errors and omissions include data mismatches between plans, incorrect elevation data, “vertical conflicts,” and questions about whether certain stormwater features can actually be constructed or will work if built. In regard to the grading of a proposed stormwater catch basin, North Point says it is unclear whether stormwater will actually drain into it. The report is here. The news story is here.

 

On September 29, dozens of people attend geoscientist Newton’s presentation “The Story Meena Doesn’t Want You to Hear” at Chocorua’s Runnells Hall. The news story is here.

OCTOBER 2022

October 2022

On October 3, the Conway Daily Sun publishes a news story on geoscientist Newton’s Runnells Hall presentation. The news story is here.

 

On October 4, Zoning Officer Boyden documents Meena’s zoning violations for the Select Board. She says she learned in March 2021 that underground gas storage tanks were being installed, and she informed “agents for the owner” that permits were required. “Those I spoke to said they would apply for the appropriate permits, but [they] were going to proceed with their work without permits,” she says.

 

She says fines were not assessed because they “immediately put in process” an application to the ZBA for a special exception, which was approved 19 days after being submitted. After the Planning Board ruled that a variance was needed, she says she issued a cease-and-desist order. She tells the Select Board she is concerned that the underground tank installation disturbed contaminated soil and was without proper DES oversight, citing the state’s Hazardous Waste Remediation regulations. The Zoning Officer’s report is here. The meeting minutes are here.

 

A Superior Court judge responds to the appellants’ September 20 appeal by issuing a Writ of Certiorari that indefinitely stays the Planning Board’s consideration of the Site Plan Application. The Conway Daily Sun news story is here.

 

On October 6, the Planning Board acknowledges the Superior Court stay by continuing the Meena hearing to November 3. The news report is here.

 

On October 21, the appellants appeal the Planning Board’s August 22 Special Use Permit decision to the ZBA, saying the decision violates the zoning ordinance.

 

On October 21, the Planning Board files a Motion to Dismiss the appellants September 20 appeal of the Planning Board’s decision to not require a Special Use Permit. It asks the judge to stay the December 4 deadline for submitting a Certified Record of the proceedings. The appellants reply with an Objection to the Motion to Dismiss.

 

On October 26, Green Mountain Conservation Group publishes an editorial explaining the importance of the groundwater protections that Effingham and other towns adopted by popular vote.

NOVEMBER 2022

November 2022

On November 3, the Planning Board continues the Meena case to January 5 due to the court-ordered stay. The news article is here.
JANUARY 2023

January 2023

On January 4, the ZBA hears arguments on the appellants’ appeal of the Planning Board’s Special Use Permit decision. The appellants’ attorney says the variance turned a prohibited use into a permitted use, requiring a permit. He says not requiring a permit will deprive the board and the public of important environmental information not contained in the Site Plan Application. The Planning Board’s attorney says the Special Use Permit process is solely for permitted uses, and a gas station is a prohibited use on the Meena property. Members of the public speak in favor of requiring a permit.

 

Board member Alan Taylor says the Planning Board made a mistake and he is ready to vote in favor of a permit. Board member Lawrence Edwards says he needs more time to review the issue, and the meeting is continued to February 1 on a 4-1 vote. The meeting minutes are here. The news story is here.

 

On January 22, Conway Daily Sun publishes an Ossipee Lake Alliance editorial saying “The Planning Board’s decision that Meena LLC does not need to apply for a Special Use Permit to operate a gas station on its high-risk property deprives the community of required environmental information by lowering the bar for the applicant.” It also says Meena has “aggressively pursued environmental shortcuts” since purchasing the property.

 

On January 27, a Superior Court judge grants the Planning Board’s Motion to Dismiss the appellants’ appeal of the Special Use Permit decision, saying “prohibited use and special use are mutually exclusive terms under the ordinance” despite the existence of the variance. The ruling is here. The news article is here.

FEBRUARY 2023

February 2023

On February 1, the ZBA cites the Superior Court ruling and denies the appellants’ appeal of the Planning Board’s Special Use Permit decision. The vote is 4-1, with board member Taylor dissenting.

 

The appellants on February 2 file a Motion to Rehear the January 27 Superior Court decision on the need for a Special Use Permit.

 

In a February 12 news article, it is reported that Planning Board Chair Swanick has not filed to run again and is stepping down. The article is here.

 

On February 21, Meena submits 90 new pages of material for its Site Plan Application despite the Planning Board’s September 9 deadline for the submission of a final application, and despite the court-ordered stay on the proceedings. The new materials are here. The news story is here.

MARCH 2023

March 2023

There are not enough members of the Planning Board in attendance to create a quorum at the board’s scheduled meeting on March 2. No business is transacted.

 

On March 14, a Superior Court judge denies the appellants’ Motion to Rehear the court’s decision on the need for a Special Use Permit.

APRIL 2023

April 2023

The Planning Board meets on April 6 but Meena is not discussed due to the court’s ongoing stay. George Bull becomes the new chairman.

 

Meena submits another 131 pages of material for its Site Plan Application on April 14, seven months after the board’s submission deadline.

 

Newly released public documents show Meena’s failure to consider zoning regulations led to a series of missteps that stalled their gas station plan, per an April 16 news article. The article is here.

 

On April 20, the zoning enforcement officer issues a letter ruling that the store on Meena’s property has lost its protected status as a grandfathered non-conforming use for being closed for more than two years. The letter is here. The news story is here. The same day, the Planning Board meets in a work session and Board Chair George Bull asks the Select Board to “intervene to retract the letter.”

 

Meena’s latest submission is released to the public on April 27, as is North Point’s evaluation. The Meena materials are here. The North Point report is here.

MAY 2023

April 2023

Planning Board Chair George Bull attends the May 2 Select Board meeting to say he opposes the zoning officer’s ruling on abandonment, and to urge the Select Board to seek legal advice. He says he is speaking as a resident, not as Planning Board Chair. The Select Board says Town Counsel will review the letter.

 

On May 4, the Planning Board meets and sets Wednesday May 17 as the date for a special hearing on the Meena application. Board Chair Bull addresses questions about the lack of a single, unified Site Plan Application, and his opposition to the zoning officer’s ruling. He says the board does not know what Meena will be presenting on May 17. The news story is here.

 

Tamworth and Eaton officials issue new letters expressing concerns and asking for clarity on what Effingham’s Planning Board will be reviewing and voting on at the May 17 hearing. Read Tamworth’s May 10 letter here. In a separate letter to Effingham officials, Ossipee resident and retired environmental consultant Dana Simpson offers a detailed assessment of the Meena site. His letter is here.

 

On May 11, the Planning Board appoints five new members, two of whom voted as ZBA members to grant Meena relief from the Groundwater Protection Ordinance’s prohibition against a gas station at the Meena site. The news story is here.

 

A news article on May 15 reports that municipal officials in towns affected by the Meena Development of Regional Impact have been unable to obtain a copy of the Site Plan Application that Effingham’s Planning Board scheduled to be heard on May 17.

 

Also on May 15, Effingham’s Zoning Officer revokes her April 20 letter about the discontinued use of the store after the town received a strongly-worded letter from Meena attorney Matthew Johnson. The story is here.

JUNE 2023

June 2023

On June 4, Ossipee Lake Alliance republishes an 2022 editorial saying the Planning Board has still not addressed the unique nature of the Meena location. The editorial is here.

 

Conway Daily Sun on June 8 publishes an article on the June 6 hearing, at which North Point Engineering concedes some of Dr. Robert Newton’s objections to the Meena plan are valid. The article is here.

 

A June 18 Ossipee Lake Alliance editorial says the June 13 hearing shows what the Planning Board has missed by limiting public comment for almost two years. Conway Daily Sun’s article on the June 13 hearing is here.

 

 

On June 23, Conway Daily Sun publishes an article saying the Planning Board is likely to approve the gas station application with conditions when it meets on July 11. The article is here.

 

A June 5 letter to the Planning Board from former ZBA member Knute Ogren states his opposition to the gas station plan, and calls Meena’s attitude toward scientific concerns “arrogant.” The June 29 news article is here.

 

On June 29, Ossipee Lake Alliance appeals the Planning Board’s decision to not require a Traffic Study and asks it to reconsider. The letter is here.

JULY 2023

July 2023

A July 8 news article summarizes previously unreported letters to the Planning Board from diverse groups of people opposed to the gas station plan. The story is here.

 

At the July 11 hearing, the Planning Board reviews a “Findings of Fact” document prepared by its attorney, and votes unanimously to approve the gas station plan with conditions. Neither the Findings of Fact document nor the conditions are made public, as reported by the Conway Daily Sun at this link.

 

The location of the diesel pump and design of the bioretention basin are among tasks that must be completed before a final sign-off, according to the Notice of Decision document released several days after the board’s conditional approval of the development. The July 16 news story is here, and the decision document is here.

 

The Select Board on July 25 is asked about Item 12 in the Planning Board’s Findings of Fact, which states that the Select Board in 2021 authorized the developer to install the gas station’s underground equipment without a variance or an approved site plan. Select Board member Seamans downplays the claim. Members of the public press to know if it is true and are told to ask the Planning Board. A July 31 news story about the meeting is here.

August 2023

August 2023

The Planning Board holds a hearing on August 7 after the Select Board says there to no evidence to support Item 12 in the Findings of Fact. At the hearing, Planning Board alternate Michael Cahalane, who chaired the Select Board in the spring of 2021, says that he and his fellow selectmen authorized the gas station installation work without an approved site plan. The news story is here.

 

On August 10, Ossipee Lake Alliance joins two abutters to the convenience store property to appeal the Planning Board’s conditional approval of the site plan to Superior Court on environmental grounds. The Alliance’s news story is here. The Conway Daily Sun’s story is here.

 

On August 14, State Superior Court issues a Certiorari Order staying the approval and instructing the town to provide “certified or sworn copies of all papers acted upon by the board.”

September 2023

September 2023

On September 5, the Select Board votes to lift the 2021 cease-and-desist order that halted construction of the gas station without permits.

 

Abutters and Ossipee Lake Alliance file an appeal to the ZBA on September 13, alleging the Planning Board’s conditional approval of the gas station site plan application violates the zoning ordinance. The news story is here.

October 2023

October 2023

On October 27, the ZBA convenes a hearing on the appeal of the Planning Board’s conditional approval of the gas station and rules the issue requires notification of nine additional towns and Lakes Region Planning Commission as a Development of Regional Impact issue. The hearing is continued to December 6.
November 2023

November 2023

An article published on November 12 details errors, omissions and misleading statements in the Planning Board’s “Findings of Fact” document, which was the basis of the board’s July 11 conditional approval of the gas station site plan. The article is here.

A November 26 article explains the origin of the claim that the former Boyle’s Market convenience store lost its grandfathered status and must be brought into current zoning compliance.

The long-standing question of where gas station soil was taken after being removed in late spring 2021 is answered in an article on November 29.

 

Also on November 29, Meena’s attorney files a response to the abutters’ September 13 appeal to the ZBA.

 

At a special November 30 meeting, the Planning Board votes that Meena’s new materials satisfy the seven conditions set in July. Members of the public say there are still unanswered questions. A letter from geoscientist Bob Newton, says new data shows the stormwater management modeling is significantly in error, an issue that is neither acknowledged nor discussed. The story is here.

December 2023

December 2023

The ZBA meets on December 6 and continues the hearing to January 3 due to the town’s error in not notifying LRPC and neighboring towns. The story is here.

A December 15 editorial examines Item 12 of the Planning Board’s Findings of Fact document through the lens of a famous Japanese film director.

The Alliance’s annual news review appears on December 27 and is dominated by stories about the gas station case.

January 2024

January 2024

On January 3, the abutters’ attorney files a rebuttal to Meena’s November 29 answer to their ZBA appeal.

The ZBA meets on January 3 to hear the abutters’s appeal. During public comment, Select Board member Chris Seamans says Town Counsel “changed his mind ” about abandonment, one of the three issues in the appeal. The board subsequently votes 3-2 to deny the appeal.  The Conway Daily News story is here. A Notice of Decision is deferred.

The Planning Board meets on January 4 and chairman George Bull signs documents signaling the board’s final approval of the site plan. The documents are not released to the public.

Ossipee Lake Alliance files a public information request on January 8 to obtain the documents Effingham Selectman Seamans introduced into the January 3 ZBA hearing. A news story on the RSA 91-A:4 request is published on January 18.

The Planning Board meets on January 18 and schedules a hearing on its recommendation to remove the Fire Chief’s defined role in the zoning ordinance to review and approve Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Plans (SPCCs). The news story is here.

February 2024

February 2024

On February 2, the abutters file a Motion to Rehear the ZBA’s January 3 hearing, saying it was “replete with deficiencies.” The story is here.

Also on February 2, the Planning Board votes unanimously to recommend that voters approve changes to the ordinance as to who is supposed to review SPCC Plans.