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Rounds: It’s up to Ayer, Harvard to find a solution

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AYER — After a two-year hiatus, the Joint Boards of Selectmen (JBOS) reconvened on Jan. 24 to discuss the future of Devens.

At issue for at least one participant was the need for Ayer and Harvard — the towns that voted town the Devens as a town option — to come up with a solution their townspeople would accept.

For over two hours, numerous viewpoints were heard with members adjourning with a handful of questions for their constituent boards. Ayer Selectman Pauline Conley summarized the key unknowns of future negotiations as being venue, membership and timeframe.

In addition to 35 residents from the area, selectmen from Ayer, Harvard and Shirley, and most of the Devens Committee attended the meeting. The session was chaired by Ayer Selectman Frank Maxant who called the meeting after a proposal to establish Devens as a town was voted down in October. Shirley was the only town of the three to pass the question on town meeting floor.

Following the vote’s failure, the group that produced the ballot question, the Devens Disposition Executive Board (DDEB), went on hiatus until further notice.

A list of recommendations from Harvard selectmen suggested that the hiatus continue for the foreseeable future. But that was not adopted by the JBOS. While it drew some support, the recommendations had not been provided to the Devens Committee beforehand. A decision was deferred until they could review it.

Harvard Selectman Robert Eubank said his board wasn’t necessarily asking that the executive board to cease forever, but to instead, take at least a brief hiatus while its work was evaluated by the JBOS. After that, disposition could go back to the executive board or a new group.

That idea was met with some doubts, including those of Ayer resident Patrick Hughes. He said the executive board drew a wide group of officials and citizens into the discussion. He cautioned against the JBOS trying to reinvent the wheel.

“I feel if you do that, you’ll end up with something like the executive board, but by then a couple of years would have passed,” he said.

The JBOS was formed as an advisory group after the state took control at Devens. It was through the joint boards that the executive board was launched to address disposition in 2005.

Other recommendations from Harvard included reviewing primary goals, compiling data from a variety of sources, and determining a disposition process.

The question of time-frame was raised by Shirley Selectman Leonardo “Chip” Guercio. He wants the Devens question addressed soon and is in favor of retaining the membership structure of the DDEB. Devens residents, MassDevelopment and the Devens Enterprise Commission should remain equal partners in disposition, he said.

That position did not square with Maxant’s preference that only elected officials comprise the JBOS. The question is expected to be taken up again in February.

There was a variety of input from the floor, with differing opinions voiced on the executive board. While detractors said the DDEB had failed to produce more than one alternative for Devens’ future, supporters cited the extensive work done.

Several Devens residents said they already have a separate community. They questioned whether it makes sense to consider the former military post as part of the neighboring towns.

Shirley resident John Rounds said the issues facing his community and Devens in the recent vote were straightforward. The issues facing Ayer and Harvard were more complex.

“I believe that, despite the great challenge confronting the municipal governments of Harvard and Ayer, it is really up to them to bring to the table a solution that can be sold to their towns,” he said.

The next meeting of the JBOS was scheduled for Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. at Ayer Town Hall.