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Tension apparent in talks over use of pond by rowers

Tension apparent in talks over use of pond by rowers

HARVARD — Tensions between the town and Bare Hill Rowing Association rose again on Monday, when the Parks and Recreation Commission spent a good hour renegotiating parts of the contract.

BHRA Board of Directors member Jim Ware explained that he was only bringing forth changes to the fall and spring programs, postponing requested changes to the summer program until after Harbormaster Bob O’Shea evaluates all of the safety issues in the pond this fall.

The major changes involve allowing practice on 85-degree days in June and September if there is less than 30 people on the beach. The current contract signed in April forbids the team from rowing on any day that reaches 85 degrees during those months.

The other major change involves allowing BHRA to have six launches on the pond as opposed to the current five.

The current contract came after several months of negotiations and disagreement between Parks and Rec and BHRA. After the town learned that selectmen actually have control over how the Bare Hill Pond land is used, Town Administrator Tim Bragan worked out the details of the contract and presented it to all parties.

Member Patricia Nelson asked why, in the agreement it just signed, the BHRA agreed to five boats and now wants to move to six.

Ware said the group agreed to the contract at the time because it was the only way for the teams to use the pond. Students were traveling into Cambridge and Methuen to practice, he said, and novice teams did not get on the water at all.

“Basically, Tim Bragan wrote an agreement, handed it to us three weeks into our season and we couldn’t get on the pond until we signed the agreement,” he said. “After many discussions, Stu Sklar gave us the advice that said sign the agreement and we’ll come back to it.”

Ware said six would be a better number because there is a benefit, on some occasions, to have a coach on the water to support the teams in addition to the four competitive teams and the one Learn to Row group.

Nelson said she believed his reasoning.

“My gripe is the way you just presented on it,” she said. “I want to call you on it because it’s not right, it’s not right to make a statement that somebody essentially ignored your request and did something all on his own when in fact he didn’t do that.”

But resident Barbara Griesbach said the noise from the coaches in the morning was unbearable.

“The language is abusive, the volume is extremely, extremely high,” she said, adding that she believes the town should support a smaller rowing program on the pond.

O’Shea said the sound issue is a problem, but the permit drafted for Bare Hill Rowing for the summer eliminated the use of any power megaphones unless the wind is at a certain speed.

The same language will be in the permit for fall that BHRA will have to sign, he said.

“If the wind is that high, nobody’s going to hear sound anyway,” he said.

Peter Ginouves, a parent of current and former Bromfield rowers, stood up in support of the program. In the past, he said, the program’s existence was questioned every single month.

“Whenever we found a coach and could get those coaches and get a boat working up, the season was on and we had a season for another semester,” he said. “It was semester by semester and it’s a very fragile program.”

“The program ebbs and will flow, and when it flow it often can die, as we’ve seen in other programs,” he added.

What people are losing sight of is what the program brings to the community, he said.

“How many Ivy League students have now graduated from Bromfield as a result of BHRA?” he asked.

He compared the noise from rowboats to the motor boats on the water, and asked Griesbach if those bothered her too.

“Not at 7 a.m. they don’t,” she said, adding that what bothers her is when a coach yells “damn you lady,” and “there goes that lady up there.”

She said that’s not the spirit you want from your rowers — “who cares if they go to Ivy League school.”

BHRA board member Pamela Erdos said the coach’s words were not appropriate to be shared in this forum.

“We were assiduous in going back and talked to the coach, and we had an attorney to talk to the coach,” she said.

It was stated to the attorney, Erdos said, that those comments were not made and that he didn’t say those things.

Griesbach made a point that she had a recording, but Erdos maintained that Massachusetts is a two-party consent state.

“Under the law you can’t tape record without consent of the other party,” she said.

Even if that’s true, Griesbach’s husband Mike argued to Erdos, wouldn’t you agree that it’s inappropriate talk coming from a coach?

“Let me just stop this now,” said Parks and Rec Chair Wyona Lynch-McWhite.

Joe Gartland, a Harvard resident who identified himself as the father of the coach in question, stood up and apologized, stating that his son is only 24 years old.

“I know there was an incident on the water where you came up to him and challenged him and he probably didn’t handle it the way that some of us a little older and wiser probably would’ve handled it,” he said.

He emphasized the impact rowing has had in his son’s life, and said his son is really passionate and cares about the kids on the team.

“I apologized if Joe crossed any kind of line, but trust me this is a really good kid who’s really just trying to do the right thing,” he said.

After some more discussion, the commission voted to allow the team to practice on 85-degree days in June and September when there’s less than 30 people on the beach.

The commission tied, however, with the number of six boat launchings allowed at the dock. Member Steven Victorson was not in attendance to break the 2-2 tie.

The BHRA is in the process of going through all the requested changes with all parties involved, as the Board of Selectmen directed at their last meeting.

Drinking on the Common

The commission tabled a proposal to allow drinking in a defined area on the common near the General Store for a trial period from July 25 to September 26. The proposal would exclude the weekend of August 15, when the longboarding event takes place.

The trial period would allow drinking in the area — set by the Congregational church to the west and the General Store to the east — on Fridays from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Resident Billy Salter argued that allowing the motion would not contribute to the problem of underage drinking very much.

“There are so many wonderful opportunities, if you are underage, to drink in this town,” he said. “The notion that kids are going to sit between the general store and the church to do their underage drinking — those are kids you need to worry about because they’re really stupid.”

But the issue of liability posed an obstacle — Lynch-McWhite said the town’s insurance would not cover the activity.

“We are now being informed that we now place the town at risk,” she said. “How do we reconcile that?”

Nelson clarified that the liability would pass to member of the Parks and Rec Commission.

General Store owner Scott Hayward, who presented the proposal, said there are a lot of smaller towns in western Massachusetts allow drinking on public property.

Member Steve Gordon said he’d like to see some precedents of people who have tried to sue the towns.

Nelson said it would be interesting to know whether those towns had to amend their liability policy. Based on the information the group has right now, she said, the plan’s not looking really good.

“You’ve done a really good job of containing the proposal,” she said to Hayward. “It’s a great trial, it’s very limited, so from that perspective it’s attractive to give it a try. But this liability stuff that came from Chief Denmark and Tim Bragan scares the hell out of me.”

Lynch-McWhite said the issues to be discussed for the next agenda is the liability and monitoring of the activity.

Follow Amelia on Twitter and Tout @AmeliaPakHarvey.