December referendum likely on Scarborough leash law

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SCARBOROUGH — A voter referendum could be held Dec. 3 on repeal of the town-wide leash law, after Town Clerk Tody Justice certified almost 2,500 petition signatures.

A Nov. 6 public hearing has been scheduled by the Town Council, and the election must be held no more than 30 days after the hearing. Absentee ballots could be available as soon as Nov. 7, Justice said.

The referendum would reverse an Oct. 2 Town Council vote requiring all dogs on town lands and beaches to be leashed throughout the year. The ordinance, which carries a minimum $50 civil penalty for a first offense, is not being enforced before the referendum.

To repeal the ordinance, at least 2,379 voters must cast ballots in the referendum – 25 percent of the registered town voters who cast ballots in the 201o gubernatorial election.

Lucky Lane resident Katy Foley took out the petition on Oct. 3 and returned them about three hours before the Oct. 16 Council meeting. She said she has about 250 people willing to help get the vote out.

“Many people do not take the time to get out for a special election. This will require a very coordinated effort,” Foley said.

A successful repeal would restore the prior ordinance, which only established leash restrictions for dogs on town beaches from 5 p.m. to sunset between June 15 and Sept. 15.

Foley is a leader of the political action group Dog Owners of Greater Scarborough, and said she is not completely opposed to some leash laws.

“We believe in some restrictions, (and) we believe we had a well-balanced ordinance in place,” she said.

Councilors reconsidered the town-wide leash law at an Oct. 16 meeting, but a 3-3 deadlock left the amendment to the Animal Control Ordinance in effect.

Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist, Vice Chairwoman Judy Roy and Councilor Jessica Holbrook supported the reconsideration. Councilors Ed Blaise, James Benedict and Kate St. Clair opposed the reconsideration.

Councilor Richard Sullivan, the chairman of Council Ordinance Committee, was absent from the meeting.

Repealing the ordinance could also jeopardize a consent agreement between the town and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which sought tighter restrictions for dogs on town beaches after the July 15 death of a piping plover on Pine Point Beach.

Councilors were having a second reading of ordinance revisions addressing dogs on beaches Oct. 2 as a way to reduce a $12,000 fine from the agency to $500 when the town-wide leash law was introduced by St. Clair.

The agency found the town at fault for the death because the dog had not been required to be on a leash at 7 a.m. when the piper plover, which is considered threatened or endangered by state and federal standards, was killed.

The agreement, reached by Town Manager Tom Hall and approved by a 4-3 council vote Oct. 2, also drew ire from repeal supporters who said it relinquishes too much town control and contains provisions for hiring a “piping plover coordinator” that will cost more than $12,000.

In September, Vesper Street resident Phillip LaRou Jr. offered to pay the federal fine, as long as the ordinance was not amended until a committee could discuss beach and wildlife management questions.

On Wednesday, he said the offer could still stand.

“I have not really thought about that, I haven’t ruled it out,” he said.

LaRou, who helped form DOGS, and Foley said a committee is still needed for an inclusive policy, and dogs remain one of the least worrisome predators for piping plovers.

“Balance is our primary goal,” Foley said. “Sadly, we were not given an opportunity to bring all stakeholders together to work towards a better solution. And now, we simply cannot even think about that until we overturn this very harsh, unfair, and over-reaching ordinance.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.