The following editorial was published in the Carroll County Independent the Conway Daily Sun
To the Editor:
We take issue with Westward Shores executive Zachery Bossenbroek’s statement that the public’s concerns about flooding at the campground are “way overblown.” He goes on to say in your article that the 1998 Ossipee Lake flood was due to “mismanagement” of the dam, and that there have been no other “significant floods” since the state took over dam management in 1999. If anything is “overblown,” it’s misleading claims like these that the campground’s owners and their environmental consultant, SFC Engineering, have been making in public forums.
In regard to the 1998 flood, 17 inches of rain fell from June 13 to 15, raising the lake from the managed summer level of 407.25 ft. to 412.63 ft. Boats, docks, and chunks of the shoreline went down the river, and it took weeks for the lake to recede. That wasn’t the result of dam mismanagement; it was a freak of nature.
But freaks of nature are not uncommon on Ossipee Lake. In a 2007 Ossipee Lake News article, Bob Smart, who has studied the history of the dam and charted the lake’s water level for years, said similarly destructive floods took place in 1969 and 1976. Others recall a major flood in 1990, as your article reported.
Then there was October 2005, when more than 11 inches of rain fell on the lake. There was flooding, but damage was limited because the lake had been drained to its winter level early that year to allow property owners and businesses to make repairs to the shoreline. In short, dumb luck prevented another disaster.
The Ossipee River Dam has state and local eyes on it at all times, but dam management is just part of the equation. In the same 2007 Ossipee Lake News article cited above, Dam Bureau official Dan Mattaini said planned improvements to the dam control system could help reduce flooding but could not prevent it.
The reason? Three major rivers and several smaller ones flow into the Ossipee Lake system, and the channels that connect the big lake with the bays create a series of natural bottlenecks. Those bottlenecks impede the flow of water to the lake’s only point of egress, the Ossipee River. Even wide open, the dam can process only so much water at any given time.
The state’s designated natural mean high water mark for the lake is 407.25 ft., and when the water backs up, the lake floods. As in May 2006 when the lake level hit 411.66 ft. Or April 2007 when the water was over 411 ft. for four days and peaked at 412.17. Then there was April 2010 when the water level hit 4ll.40 ft. You get the idea.
Incidentally, all of these water level numbers were provided by the state to SFC Engineering in February, long before Mr. Bossenbroek began claiming that better dam management had prevented “material floods” on the lake since 1999.
Given Ossipee Lake’s inherent tendency to flood, does it make sense to double the capacity of a campground that sits on the floodplain? Can septic systems really be made secure from high waters? Will “anchoring” RVs and buildings prevent them from floating away? Can campers really be evacuated in a timely fashion if necessary? If Westward Shores didn’t already exit, would the state and town find it prudent to permit it at all?
These are important questions for officials to ponder and resolve. As they do so, the campground’s cavalier treatment of the facts about flooding should have those officials on high alert.
Ossipee Lake Alliance