Homeowners object to Amherst’s Baboosic Lake rowers

AMHERST – During a heated meeting last week, Baboosic Lake homeowners told the Amherst Recreation Commission they are afraid the new rowing club will take over the lake and they object to plans for a rowing club boathouse.

The May 8 meeting was held in the Souhegan High School auditorium to accommodate more than 100 people, including about 30 high school members of the Baboosic Lake Rowing Club.

A year ago, the town Recreation Department gave the club permission to put their boats in the water, and now, the club is proposing to build a boathouse near the town beach on the site of an old building that would be torn down.

Homeowners said they are concerned about the club’s expansion plans and the threat of invasive milfoil being spread by the boats.

A few people also said the yelling of the coxswaine wakes them up at 5:30 in the morning.

Sue McCarthy, of Broadway, said there’s not enough parking at the beach, and “yesterday, a mother and child were building a sandcastle” and rowers asked them to move. “I love seeing (the boats) out there,” she said. “They are beautiful, but we don’t have the space for it. We don’t need a big building down there.”

Another woman said she witnessed a boat capsizing and said crews are not following standard safety procedures. When she passed around photos of an incident, she said she witnessed, students and their parents objected.

There were people from the Merrimack side of the lake at the meeting, and one of them said the club is not providing enough details. Another said he is concerned about congestion on the lake.

“It’s bad enough that marine boats are on top of us … wanting to see our permits,” he said.

Students and their parents defended the club.

Tim Emory, of The Flume, said he has observed the positive effect of rowing on young people. “I wonder how sincere the cries for safety” are, he said. It seems as if people are saying, “‘it’s our private lake,’ when it belongs of all our citizens.”

One parent said kayaks come to Baboosic Lake from all over and “every member of the association knows it.”

Many of the student rowers went to the microphone to talk about what rowing means to them and praise the competence of their coaches.

“I learned many lessons in safety and I learned not to give up,” one of them said. “If not for crew, I would be sitting home watching TV.”

Another young rower told the homeowners there is no intention to impede on homeowners’ use of the lake.

“We try to respect your lives as much as possible,” she said.

There was applause from one side or the other after nearly every speaker.

At the beginning of the three-hour meeting, Jim Kaveney, president of the Baboosic Lake Rowing Club, gave a PowerPoint presentation describing the club and its mission “to introduce the sport of rowing to Amherst and build a community of athletes.” He talked about the history of its relationship with town departments and with the Baboosic Lake Association, the homeowners’ group.

Plans to build a boathouse are still “exploratory,” he said, and the aim of the club, a nonprofit organization, is a public/private partnership.

Having two or three of the 56-foot-long boats out on the water should not conflict with other recreation activities, he said, because “we tend to row when no one else wants to be on the water,” meaning in the spring and fall and very early morning.

But some homeowners said that they are not getting enough information from the club and that its expansion plans are worrisome.

“Why do you want to continue … where you are not wanted?” asked Ken Eaton, of Broadway.

Other people said there must be room for compromises and some suggested the homeowners are being selfish.

“The attitude, ‘I was here first’ doesn’t hold much weight,” said John Dowd of Courthouse Road. “We have to co-exist in a space that doesn’t belong to us.”

Near the end of the meeting, Wendy Rannenberg, commission vice chairwoman, said people are closing their minds and not listening to one another.

“Let’s not assume there is an evil plan,” she said. “Stop making assumptions.”

The commission had met earlier in the week, moving the meeting from a small office in the Recreation Department building to Town Hall when more than 100 people showed up.

“I was absolutely unprepared for the response,” said commission Chairman Manny Almeida, in a phone interview.

All the commission can do, he said, is take information, ask questions and make a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen. The commission has nothing to do with what goes on in the water – its jurisdiction ends with the water line, and the state Fish and Game has jurisdiction over the lake.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@