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BHRA, town reach agreement on use of Bare Hill Pond

*CORRECTION: A previous and printed version of this article stated that the Parks and Recreation Commission had voted to limit the rowing team to 80 members. This was incorrect. The commission voted to limit the number of people on the beach at one time to 80, not necessarily the number of team members.

HARVARD — The Bare Hill Rowing Association and the town have settled on an agreement for the nonprofit’s use of the town beach, putting an end to months of debate stemming from concerns of crowding at Bare Hill Pond.

The agreement requires BHRA to keep the varsity and novice teams at a 49-51 percentage ratio of nonresident to Harvard students, respectively.

While it does not limit the number of participants on the team, it restricts the number of BHRA participants on the beach at one time to 90 people, including staff and coaches. The BHRA will also pay the Parks and Recreation Commission $4,500 by March 31 every year, the contract states.

Previous yearly fees ranged from $1,600 and $2,000, according to Parks and Recreation Commission Chair Pat Nelson.

Parks and Rec member Joseph Schmidt explained that before, the amount included a set fee for the beach house and a set fee for storage, as well as a fee based upon the number of out-of-town residents on the roster.

Now, the $4,500 is based on the number of boats that BHRA is storing at the pond, he said. This brings the group in line with the fees that are charged to residenta for boat storage and boat moorings, he said.

The rowing association features a competitive high school team of students from Harvard and Acton-Boxborough schools. The issue between BHRA and Parks and Rec reached a boiling point when the commission voted 3-2 in August to limit the number of rowers on the beach at one time to 80.

But the town later discovered that selectmen, and not the commission, had purview over the use of land, said Town Administrator Tim Bragan. In the fall, Bragan met with BHRA, Parks and Recreation and selectmen to discuss the issues at hand.

The months-long negotiation was a pull and tug for both sides.

When the town suggested that the 51-49 ratio not include the BHRA’s “Learn to Row” program, BHRA said they might have to kick some Acton-Boxborough students off the team to maintain the ratio, Bragan said.

“It was never our intent to kick any kids off of this,” he said.

The final contract allows the current ratio, which is 47 percent Bromfield students and 53 percent Acton-Boxborough, to stay throughout the spring, Bragan said. In the fall, they will have to adopt the new ratio.

The contract also outlines the association’s summer hours at 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. The group had been rowing at a set time in the evening, but the town’s harbormaster restricted their evening rowing to a certain area because of speedboats on the pond.

BHRA Coach Holly Hatton said the association had planned to run a Learn to Row program during the summer, but now she does not know how they will squeeze it in those hours.

“At this point, because of those restricted hours, honestly, I’m not sure what we’re going to do,” she said.

The restricted area for evening hours, she said, is not very safe for the small boats.

The association can not hold programs when the temperature reaches 85 degrees in June and September, according to the contract. In the spring and fall, they can operate from 2:30 p.m. until dusk.

Hatton said the team had been practicing at a rowing club in Methuen, Northeastern University’s boathouse, and Community Rowing in Boston while the contract was being worked out. In the future, the parties will need to talk about ratio numbers, Hatton said, because the ratio does not always allow enough kids for the number of boats.

“The issue that’s been lost by everyone is that in our sport, there are certain numbers that work to get kids out in boats,” she explained.

In an email statement, BHRA President Terry DeWitt said the association is very pleased that it could reach an agreement with the town.

“We have moved our equipment back at the beach and the students are now practicing on the water,” he said. “Everyone is happy to be back home on Bare Hill Pond.”

DeWitt thanked Bragan, selectmen and other town boards for their time and energy.

“While we were not able to address every concern, we and the town have committed to continue working together to create the best possible experiences for our athletes and the Harvard community,” he said.

Nelson, who had voted in August to decrease the number of rowers, said the commission is pleased that the issue was assumed by selectmen.

“This has been just an extraordinarily difficult situation for a long time,” she said. “We had the confusion of the Board of Selectmen, we had the confusion of Bare Hill Rowing and the confusion of Parks and Rec, and we could never circle the wagon and come to a conclusion.”

Nelson also highlighted the importance of a piece of liability language in the contract, which Bragan said had never been included before.

“There were a lot of good things that came out of this and we in Parks and Rec are just happy to never have to talk about it again,” she said.

Nelson said Bragan did the right thing for all parties.

“I think everybody gave a little bit and at least now we have a written agreement that is a legal agreement,” she said.

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