Diaper derby: Scarborough tells horse owners to keep beach clean

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SCARBOROUGH — A new ordinance aimed at keeping manure off town beaches has horse owners crying foul.

But riders could get an extra year to comply and train their horses to wear manure catchers.

On Sept. 6, the Town Council voted unanimously to amend the Horse Beach Permit Ordinance to require riders to attach “a containment device to the rear of each and every horse so operated.” 

Councilor Bill Donovan, chairman of the town’s Ordinance Committee, said he will request the ordinance be changed to give horse owners an extra year to train their horses to wear the waste bags, following many complaints from residents.

But Donovan cautioned that horse owners must still comply with rules that require riders to clean up after their horses and not rely on the next tide to sweep the manure out to sea.

Horses are allowed on Pine Point Beach in Scarborough and Old Orchard Beach between Oct. 1 and March 31, with a $20 permit from either town. The towns aligned their ordinances to allow horseback riders, racehorses with sulkies and others use the inter-tidal zone, which is between the high-tide line and the mean low-water line.

Donovan said the Ordinance Committee decided it would be an appropriate measure to require the waste bags after the town logged complaints about horse manure being left on the beach. 

According to Town Clerk Tody Justice, horses were required to wear the containment systems on Old Orchard Beach before the two municipalities adopted reciprocal licensing in 2009. Scarborough did not require horses to wear the containment bags. 

Justice said Scarborough issued 102 permits last year, and the municipalities share the fees.

Old Orchard Beach was also scheduled to amend its ordinance, but tabled the matter after receiving complaints about the new requirement. 

During the Oct. 4 meeting, 10 people asked the council to reconsider the ordinance. The riders said they did not learn about the change until after it passed.

The horse owners reminded councilors that horse manure is organic and the Environmental Protection Agency does not consider it to be harmful to the environment. The equestrians said they ride at low tide, and it is customary to let the animal waste be swept out to sea with the next high tide. 

The riders also told the council their horses would have to be trained to wear the manure bags, and most of their saddles would not accommodate the devices. 

In a later interview, Stephanie Keene, an instructor and owner of Hearts and Horses Therapeutic Riding Center in Buxton, estimated about 98 percent of riders use English saddles, which don’t have hooks to attach the containment system.

Keene said new saddles could cost horse owners $350-$5,000 – in addition to between $65 and $200 for the containment systems. No one Keene knows has a horse trained to accept the system, she said. 

“There is no way I could safely attach it to the horse and go for a ride,” Keene said. She lightheartedly added that she and her horse would be found in Boston after the horse bolted. 

Keene said she started her business in 1993 on Broadturn Road in Scarborough and has been riding on local beaches since she was a child. She said most people are excited to see the horses on the beach, often stopping to take photos; she has only ever had one person complain.

She said owners routinely remove manure above the water line and in parking lots, adding that people should be more worried about human and dog waste on beaches. 

Donovan said both the original and amended ordinances require riders to clean up after their horses. He said while horse owners had the perception that they could leave the horse manure on the beach for it to be swept out by the next tide, the manure was sitting on the beach “for hours at a time.”

“We try to be as respectful to the community as possible, trying to stay as close to the sea, so (the manure) is a non-issue,” Keene responded.

Although Donovan said he isn’t completely familiar with the organic components of manure, he does understand that it contains substantially less toxicity than other feces.

But he still didn’t vote for the amendment because he had concerns about public health. 

“I voted based on the fact that I feel people should be free to walk the beaches with the expectation that they be free of horse manure,” Donovan said.

Cindy Flaherty, of Flaherty’s Family Farm at 123 Payne Road, said as far as she knows “no horse permit-holders were contacted” while the ordinance change was being discussed.

Flaherty also said none of the containment systems are sold locally or even in Maine. She ordered one, only to discover it would not work with her English saddle. 

Donovan said he plans to propose an amendment to delay the containment-system requirement until Oct. 1, 2018, to give horse owners time to obtain the systems and train their horses, and will ask for the amendment to be put on the council’s Oct. 18 agenda.

He said the amendment would have to go through the normal process of first reading, public hearing and second reading. The public hearing could be combined with the second reading, so the change could be approved at the Nov. 1 meeting.

  Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or msochan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

Owners walk their horses at Pine Point Beach in Scarborough after a ride to Old Orchard Beach. Scarborough has passed an ordinance amendment that now requires horses using the beach to wear manure containment systems.