The ongoing renovation of Harvard’s Weld and Newell boathouses on the Charles River has recently come under scrutiny from environmental groups advocating increased public access to docks along the river.
Construction of the historic boathouse over 100 years ago predated Massachusetts’ Public Waterfront Act (also known as Chapter 91). The Charles River He Watershed Association, a local nonprofit environmental organization, said Harvard must increase public interest on its water front in light of ongoing renovations.
Harvard University began renovating the boathouse this summer to modernize the building and improve accessibility.
Jennifer Ryan, CRWA’s deputy director for advocacy, said it was unclear whether the refurbishment project currently complies with public access requirements.
Harvard published plans and proposals for both projects, but Ryan said the university “didn’t provide enough detail about public access issues.”
“Harvard lacks publicity and transparency in its Chapter 91 due diligence and has for years restricted public access without compensating the public,” Ryan said in a follow-up email statement. I am writing to “This is about protecting public rights.”
Ryan said Harvard should provide an assessment of existing public access and a “feasibility study” to “completely explore what is possible at those sites.”
At a hearing in October, Harvard representatives ruled that public access to the dock was not feasible because it is currently only accessible through a private boathouse, The Boston Globe reported. . A representative added that it was necessary to keep the dock private to protect boat equipment and ensure the safety of students.
Matthew J. Lyons ’26, a member of Harvard University’s lightweight men’s crew team, said he agreed with Harvard’s justification for keeping the facility private.
“If it was open to the public, I think it would actually be a pretty big safety issue,” Lyons said.
The Lyons cited an incident at last month’s Head of the Charles Regatta where personal belongings of some rowers went missing while the boathouse was hosting other teams. .
Ryan said there are solutions that can provide public access without compromising the safety of student rowers.
“While students are in the boathouse, we are not asking the public to enter the boathouse,” Ryan said. “I think there’s a bit of a misunderstanding about that.”
Harvard University spokesperson Amy Camosa said in an emailed statement that the university has proposed an alternative plan that would benefit the public while keeping the boathouse private.
“Updating the college’s Weld and Newell boathouses will allow for significant upgrades to public areas, including improvements to public pathway networks and landscape features,” Kamosa wrote.
Camosa added that Harvard University has pledged to help develop a new dock on the Charles River. The proposed dock is located at Christian Harter Park, about one mile (1 mile) from Newell Boathouse, and will be open to the public and high school boat teams.
However, Ryan said there was not enough information about Harvard’s proposal to determine whether it was sufficient to provide public access.
Of Harvard’s proposed endorsement of Christian Herter Park Doc, Ryan said, “It’s too early to comment on the filings we haven’t seen.
Other private entities, such as boat clubs and other university wharves, with facilities along the waterfront that are not permitted public access, may be interested in the results of CRWA’s advocacy.
A successful push from CRWA could set a precedent forcing these groups to invest in expanding public access to their properties, such as adding sidewalks and docks.
“These facilities are subject to a license under Chapter 91,” said Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson Edmund Colletta, who “will continue to be reviewed under current Hydrographic Regulations.” .
Ryan said Harvard University needs to consider how best to support Cambridge beyond just complying with regulations.
“Harvard is committed to the diversity, equity, and inclusion paradigm and wants to find ways to be a better, more creative and innovative partner,” Ryan said. “This is your chance.”