Endangered birds not expected to impede Scarborough River dredging

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SCARBOROUGH — Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed last week that endangered piping plovers living on town beaches will likely not “be adversely affected” by the Scarborough River dredging, set to restart this fall.

The dredge was slated to begin last winter, but did not start until February because of contractor and permit problems. 

Because of endangered species like the piping plovers in the river and along nearby beaches, dredges can only take place from November through the end of March.

The constraints left crews only two months to remove a total of 115,000 cubic yards of sand from the river, a feat made more impossible by harsh winter weather, according to previous comments by Mike Walsh, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

The river is home to 35 commercial fishermen and more than 100 recreational boaters who have difficulty navigating the shallows at low tide. Prior to this project, the channel had not been dredged in almost 10 years. 

After removing around a quarter of the sand necessary to fully dredge the river, contractor North America Landscaping, Construction & Dredge Co. was forced to pack up on April 1 in preparation for the piping plover nesting season. 

Town officials expect a different contractor to resume the work this fall. 

Meagan Racey, public affairs specialist for USFWS, said the organization gives the fall dredge its blessing under their assumption that the town will continue to enforce a new animal control ordinance that puts stricter guidelines on where and when dog owners can have their dogs off-leash on town beaches. 

Racey said the plovers will be protected because the dredge will take place primarily along Ferry and Western beaches, which are in an area where dogs are prohibited during piping plover nesting season.

The town has been under heightened scrutiny from the USFWS since a piping plover was killed by a dog on Pine Point Beach last summer. That prompted the Town Council in May to revise the restrictions for dogs on town beaches.  

In a recent meeting between town officials and representatives from USFWS, Town Manager Tom Hall said the agency has not yet determined a a suitable fine for the town for the incident.

Racey said her organization is “still evaluating the overall adequacy” of the new ordinance. 

USFWS has been working to recover piping plover pairs along Maine’s coast, and has found a record 50 nesting pairs this year.

“Beach management plans with municipalities and protective ordinances have been vital in helping the population increase,” Racey said. 

In Scarborough, there are four adult pairs this summer, according to town piping plover coordinator Ryan Wynne, whose job was created to appease the USFWS.

There are no nesting piping plovers on Western and Ferry beaches, but Wynne said piping plovers from other beaches often come to Western and Ferry to forage. 

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or scarignan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.

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