Residents call for equal access at Reservoir Pond

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A view of Reservoir Pond courtesy of George T. Comeau

A view of Reservoir Pond courtesy of George T. Comeau

The Earl Newhouse Waterfront on Pleasant Street is an area dedicated to the memory of the late Canton Police officer who was highly respected by both colleagues and the citizens he served. Newhouse enjoyed spending time outdoors and loved to fish. A path from Pleasant Street, next to the William Armando Recreation Center, leads to a quiet area with tall pine trees and barbecue grills on the edge of Reservoir Pond, known to locals as the Rez.

Although used by generations of Canton residents for recreational purposes, the Rez only recently became a town-owned property, and the Newhouse waterfront serves as the access area for the public to unload their boats into the Rez. However, black and gold signs in the parking lot at the waterfront state that motorized boats and trailers are prohibited, leaving boaters who do not live on the properties that abut the Rez with the option of using canoes, kayaks and other non-motorized boats.

In a June 25 letter to the editor of the Canton Citizen, Jonathan Comeau argued that the restrictions at the waterfront have created “two classes of citizens in this public recreation area.”

“The Canton Reservoir is a public, town-owned, 300-acre body of water that has about 40 residents along its borders and municipal and state land along the western shore,” Comeau wrote. “Today the town allows the 40 families unlimited access, without restriction as to use, while affording the rest of the town minimum access and a ban on motorized access.”

Canton acquired ownership of Reservoir Pond from the Napleton Company after town meeting voters unanimously approved the acquisition in 2011. In exchange for a tax write-off, Napleton agreed to make needed repairs to the dam on Pleasant Street and then donate the pond and dam to the town. The transfer was completed in early 2013.

In July of that same year, the Board of Selectmen adopted short-term plans for boater access at the Newhouse waterfront, including a prohibition on motorized watercraft. Additionally, the board asked the newly formed Reservoir Pond Advisory Committee to begin working on a long-term access plan — a process that is still ongoing.

“When they redid the dam, they got rid of the access,” Comeau said, referring to a spot on Pleasant Street at the dam where parking is now prohibited. “Now that the town owns the Rez and has property on it (the Earl Newhouse Waterfront), they’re going to limit access.”

He went on to describe the process of getting watercraft into the Rez at the Earl Newhouse location, where two boulders impede close access. “You have to drive into it,” he said. “You can take your kayak or canoe off. Then you drive back to the Armando Center. Then you go back and use it. There’s no launching of motorized boats, which is ordered by the town.”

The waterfront has parking for several cars, including two handicap spaces. Signs direct overflow drivers to park at the Armando Center. There is a marked walking path between the two locations.

Jonathan Comeau’s brother George shares his feelings. “They can’t disallow people to use it,” George said. “Towns figure it out. Committees figure it out. You could do so much on that reservoir in the summer if you opened it up. It’s a really cool space. There is access. It’s just really difficult to evaluate how that access is used.” Other residents have expressed similar concerns on the Everything Canton Facebook page.

The two Comeau brothers feel that the solution is for the town to have a plan that allows equal access for all residents and is ADA compliant, to build a boat launch at the Newhouse waterfront, and to have a boat washing station so that boaters do not bring invasive plants from one location to another. In his letter, Jonathan Comeau suggested that the Recreation and Conservation commissions work together to write a proposal seeking money from the Community Preservation Act and from the state for a boat ramp and boat washing station. He also suggested that town officials contact the Office of Fishing and Boating Access, which is part of the Department of Fish and Game and has been building boat ramps for towns at no cost.

Board of Selectmen Chairman John Connolly said that he has walked the path from Pleasant Street to the Earl Newhouse Waterfront more times in the last month than he has as long as he has lived in Canton, checking the condition of the property for trash and signs of damage.

“We had to put some boulders there because people were doing wheelies and donuts,” he said, noting that it caused thousands of dollars worth of damage. “People can access the Rez. We had to stop the access at Pleasant Street for safety reasons.”

He said that he has not received complaints from residents regarding access and usage issues with the Rez, but is aware that people are concerned about the present situation.

“We have [an advisory] committee set up that’s looking at it,” Connolly said. “We didn’t give them a timeline. We will have something sooner rather than later. I would hope it would be sooner so that we have the plan ready to go. The ultimate decision will be made by the entire board. We will do what’s fair for everybody.”

He added that the BOS has not looked into the state funding for boat ramps, but could and would make sure that a new boat ramp would be ADA compliant.

The members of the Reservoir Pond Advisory Committee represent town departments and committees and citizens at large. Bill Cohen of Wampatuck Country Club is the chairman. “We’re kind of early in the game here in terms of access, specifically access for all and ease of access for all,” he said. “It’s a work in progress.”

Committee members are investigating what regulations other towns, such as Sharon and Plymouth, have in place for boaters and swimmers.

“It’s a site-specific issue,” Cohen said. “We may not follow what other communities have done. We’re trying to educate ourselves. We’re not going to rush it. We want to be clear, concise, and have a plan in place. Ultimately it comes down to the Board of Selectmen. All we can do is advise.”

The next meeting of the Reservoir Pond Advisory Committee is scheduled for Wednesday, August 5, at 7 p.m. at Pequitside.

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