[The following public letter was written by Ossipee Lake Alliance Executive Director David Smith and appeared on January 7 as a Carroll County Independent guest editorial].
To the Editor: As a decade ends and a new one begins, Ossipee Lake and the surrounding area face two important issues that will play out in the coming months.
The first is the question of who owns the lake’s shorefront land below 410 ft. By law, the state owns to the “natural average high water elevation,” and on Ossipee Lake that benchmark is set at 410 ft., which is two feet higher than the dam. State officials aren’t sure why it was set that high or who set it or when it was set.
If the origin of the benchmark is murky, the implications are not. As our board member Bob Reynolds said at a forum we hosted last month, dozens of lake property owners and some businesses are directly affected by the benchmark, and the potential exists for ruinous land ownership claims and a significant tax revenue loss for Freedom, Ossipee and Effingham.
The second issue is milfoil control. For years the state has spent millions on milfoil prevention and left milfoil control largely unfunded. On Ossipee Lake, DES has contributed just $15,000 toward a control bill that now exceeds $155,000. Statewide, the agency last year had $60,000 on hand for $450,000 in proposed control projects.
The state’s perennial shortage of milfoil control funds means lake communities face a no-win decision: spend scarce town money to pay the full cost or allow the invasive weeds to continue spreading. Ossipee and Freedom will both have votes this spring on whether to allocate thousands of dollars toward new control projects that rightly should be paid for by the state.
Fortunately, state and local officials have taken an interest in both of these issues. Ossipee and Freedom selectmen attended our forum on the natural mean high water benchmark and helped arrange for state decision-makers to attend. Information is now being gathered to illustrate why the lake’s benchmark should be changed.
In regard to milfoil, local conservation commissions last month took an important step forward by agreeing to form subcommittees to improve inter-town coordination of control projects. In Concord, meanwhile, the N.H. Legislative Exotic Aquatic Weeds and Species Committee plans to introduce a bill to provide $5 million in milfoil control funding over five years starting in 2011.
We are participating in these efforts and are encouraged by the initial results. But changing the mean high water benchmark is a judicial, not a legislative, matter, making the process, timing and outcome far from certain. Similarly, milfoil control has legal, political and economic components that are likely to complicate and slow down a legislative decision on funding.
The Ossipee Lake system and the surrounding bodies of water are vital to our area’s economy, and the outcomes of these two issues will ultimately affect everyone: businesses; those who own lake property and those who don’t; those who are residents and those who are non-resident taxpayers; and those who vacation here or attend one of our summer camps.
Success requires citizen involvement and a vigorous effort by our local elected officials. We encourage everyone in the Ossipee Lake area to get involved and follow the progress on these issues by signing up for our free email news service at www.ossipeelake.org/email.
David L. Smith, Executive Director
Ossipee Lake Alliance