By Bill Kirk
---- — Town officials remain committed to banning nonresidents from Pomps Pond despite the fact the policy appears to conflict with a federal grant used to build the pond’s bathhouse in the late 1970s.
“We are staying the course,” said Mary Montbleau, director of the town’s Department of Community Services, which oversees the beach and other facilities, located off Abbot Street.
“It’s a safety issue. We’d have the state all over us if we had a drowning. We are trying to avoid a drowning.”
For years, the beach at Pomps Pond has been open to residents as well as nonresidents. A 1978 federal grant used to build the bathhouse prohibits the town from discriminating on the basis of residency.
But Montbleau said last week that recent heat waves have drawn so many people to the pond that the lifeguard staff has been overwhelmed.
“We have fewer staff,” she said. “We are trying to provide services to residents. The facility is not large enough. The beach area has limited access.”
While there are just 70 parking spaces at the beach, Montbleau said the town sold 300 annual passes to Andover residents this year in addition to more than 1,000 day passes.
On July 4, the beach staff was so overwhelmed with visitors the head lifeguard had to shut the parking lot just an hour after opening it to the public.
In an attempt to cope with the big crowds, the town hired three additional lifeguards. Even with the beefed-up staff, safety became a concern.
“It’s not that large a swim area,” head lifeguard Paul D’Ambrosio said. “We were worried about safety when we had over 100 people in the water.”
Mary Durham of Gould Road in Andover said she was at the pond one day this month with her children, ages 12 and 13, and it “was so mobbed they had lifeguards on the hill, in the sand and on the docks, but it was still hard to see my kids.”
Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski agreed.
“The pond has been very busy this year,” he said. “We have limited parking and our first priority is our town residents. I wouldn’t have made the decision if we didn’t have the heat wave and the influx of town residents. I don’t remember a summer quite as hot as this with repeated heat waves.”
But the ban on nonresidents could imperil the town’s access to future federal grants.
According to documents provided to The Andover Townsman by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the grant for the Pomps Pond bathhouse was to help in the “design and construction” of the new structure. The money came from the U.S. Department of Interior’s Land and Water Conservation Fund.
According to Section 8-2 of the Federal Financial Assistance Manual governing the fund, discrimination on the basis of residence is prohibited. A spokeswoman for the state said the provision has no statute of limitations. She said that if the town continues to deny entry for nonresidents, it will be ineligible for future federal funding under the grant program.
It appears the town may also be violating the federal statute in another way. The statute requires that “annual permit systems available to residents must also be available to nonresidents.” But at Pomps, nonresidents can purchase daily passes only. Annual passes are available only to residents.
Selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli said last week that he would ask the town manager to present information about the closure to his board sometime in the next couple of weeks.
However, the pond closes in mid-August for the season.