FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Ossipee — February 24, 2005 — What do the candidates for Ossipee Selectman think about lake issues, and what would they do if they are elected? The results of a new survey show a diversity of opinions and approaches, according to David Smith, executive director of Ossipee Lake Alliance, which initiated the survey.
Kevin Houle, Robert Rivera, Jean Simpson and Joseph Skehan are running to replace Joe Chromy, who is leaving office this year. Smith said all four candidates participated in the survey by answering questions about funding for milfoil control, working with neighboring lake towns, and the like.
“The candidates will be presenting their backgrounds and qualifications in other forums,” Smith said. “Our focus was solely on what they think about the lake issues they will face if elected. We believe this is the first survey of its type in our area, and we are very grateful to the candidates for taking the time to respond during the past two weeks.”
Milfoil Control and Prevention
Milfoil and what to do about it is a major issue in the State and no less so for Ossipee Lake, which is infested in multiple locations. The survey asked the candidates to describe the role they think Ossipee officials should play in preventing and controlling milfoil, and how they would bridge the gap between the high cost of such efforts and the limited amount that the State is willing to pay. Answers to this and other questions are in alphabetical order based on the candidates’ names.
In his response, Kevin Houle said he does not see a role for the Selectmen in milfoil control because “they didn’t bring it here” and “we have more important issues at hand,” citing homelessness and burning plastics at the incinerator. Regarding funding, he said that “nowhere is it carved in stone” that the State expects the Selectmen to address the issue. “Perhaps you should take up a collection from shorefront property owners,” he offered.
Robert Rivera said the Town needs to “communicate with and educate the public” on milfoil, saying that the “cooperation and dedication” of volunteers will also be needed. While he will pursue grants, he said Town officials should work “in coordination with all property owners, associations, committees and organizations” in the three lake towns “to coordinate efforts to pay for this shared problem” which has “potentially devastating repercussions to the Town’s tax base.”
According to Jean Simpson, Town officials should explore the potential for “common action” between the towns abutting the lake, including working together to create a “suggested budget” for each town as “a reasonable contribution to lake support” that would supplement State funds. She also favors seeking grant money and encouraging local conferences and workshops on successful control methods deployed elsewhere, and cited voluntary boat inspections and having high-pressure hoses available at boat landings as milfoil prevention methods to consider.
The Selectmen’s role should be “advisory,” according to Joseph Skehan, who said he believes the Town should work with the Ossipee Lake Dam Authority (OLDA) to deal with lake issues. Ossipee and Freedom Selectmen jointly oversee the Dam Authority with the Dam Bureau of the State Water Division of DES. Skehan said that he would raise the issue of how to fund milfoil control at Town Meeting to “find out what the people want to do,” adding that he would also stay in close contact with State officials about money that’s available.
Open Space, Joint Town Efforts and the Environment
The candidates were also asked to comment on whether open space should be preserved on the lake and whether there is a need to work more closely with neighboring towns and the State on lake issues, including shoreline protection and quality of recreation.
Enforcing the Shoreland Protection Act “should be left up to the State,” according to candidate Houle, who said he sees no role for local officials to be proactive with the State on water safety or quality of recreation. Should the Town encourage the preservation of open space? Houle responded: “This whole town is nothing but open space. No, I think it’s prime time to share your lake with year-round residents in the form of public beach access.”
Rivera said he favors strong enforcement of the Shoreland Protection Act and “more communication, coordination and cooperation” between the towns on Ossipee Lake. He said the Town has a responsibility “to educate the public (both residents and non-residents)” to the rules of the waterways, and he would like the Town to appeal to owners of undeveloped land to “consider preservation as an alternative,” which he said “would benefit the Town in the long run.”
Simpson said she sees an active role for the Town regarding shoreline protection, ranging from ensuring that the law’s provisions are considered during subdivision and site plan reviews to increasing awareness of the law among land development professionals. She said she would like local residents to have new beach access “planned with natural areas reserved.” Further, she would like to see new lakefront development projects planned with “natural areas…reserved for non-development.”
Skehan stated that the Town’s code enforcement officer presently works with the State on shoreline compliance issues. He said he believes that “steps have already been put in place” to address the preservation of open space on the lake, and that the Town has been looking into quality of recreation issues through the Dam Authority. Based on his experience, he expressed confidence that such issues “can and will be dealt with.”
Message to the Lake Community
Since many lake property owners are not year-round residents, the survey asked if the Selectmen hopefuls wanted to say anything specifically to them about their candidacy and how their ideas might differ from the other candidates.
Asked for his message to non-resident taxpayers, Houle wrote: “Too bad you’re not eligible to vote here.”
Candidate Rivera said that he has reviewed the State’s milfoil materials and believes it is “very clear that the State wants each individual town to play the leadership and management role in their own preventative maintenance programs.”
Simpson said that the continued attraction of seasonal residents to the lake is “an essential financial component” of the Town’s structure, and that their “needs and well being…should be a major concern.” She noted that the taxes seasonal residents pay help support “the largest local expenditure – expenses for schools and winter road maintenance.”
Skehan pointed out that he has lived on the lake for 18 years, writing “I share their concerns about the lake and this beautiful gem we have in our town.”
Finally, candidates were asked to comment on any lake issue of their choosing. In his response, Houle said he has “fond childhood memories” of the lake and now kayaks there regularly during the summer. Stating that “milfoil will never be eradicated,” he reiterated his belief that addressing invasive weeds should be left up to “shorefront summer residents.” He wrote: “It’s your private lake, and milfoil is your private problem.”
If elected, Rivera said he would be “a voice of the people” who will “listen carefully to each and every resident and respond quickly to their every concern.”
Simpson said she would like to see Ossipee develop a “long range view” of the ideal mix of seasonal and year-round property owners, and assess how to represent the Town’s “unique resources” to potential new residents. She called the Alliance a “valuable resource” for ideas and for communication between the Selectmen and the lake community.
Skehan said he believes the Town needs to be “proactive” on all lake issues. In his answer, he wrote that the lake is a “major source of revenue,” adding that it “needs to be protected to ensure that revenue source.”