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Yarmouth council delays action on dams, leash law

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Yarmouth council delays action on dams, leash law

YARMOUTH — The Town Council may not have much to discuss at its Jan. 16 meeting after deciding Monday at a workshop to delay votes and discussions on several agenda items.

The council agreed to table until March a vote on an amendment to the town's dog leash law, and a vote on the potential removal of the Bridge Street dam from the Royal River.

The draft amendment, recommended by the the Citizens Advisory Committee and the Parks and Lands Committee, would require pet owners to carry a leash at all times while walking dogs on public lands and trails, and to keep dogs on a leash when within 100 yards of parking lots, street crossings and trail heads.

Police Chief Mike Morrill asked the council to delay a vote until March and to use the time to consider a more restrictive amendment.

Having different laws for different parts of trails would be difficult for police to enforce, Morrill said, and the proposed amendment would do little to protect residents from out-of-control dogs. He cited a Nov. 14 incident in which an off-leash dog bit a jogger below his eye, requiring him to be vaccinated for rabies. 

"I err on the side of being more safety-conscious," Morrill said.

Councilor Leslie Hyde said an amendment that forced pet owners to keep their dogs on a leash at all times on public trails would be "punitive."

"What really concerns me is punishing the good dog owners for the handful of bad dog owners," she said.

Dam decision delayed again

The council also announced Monday that it would honor the written request of a group of harbor business owners to delay until March a vote on the removal of the Bridge Street dam from the Royal River, so an engineering firm hired by the group can have time to complete a study of the possible economic and environmental impacts.

The Yarmouth Harbor Marina Group commissioned the study "as a second opinion to Stantec," Yankee Marina and Boatyard President Deborah Delp said in an email.

Stantec conducted a study two years ago that said removal of the Bridge Street dam was not likely to have a major impact on harbor conditions.

The business owners fear that dam removal will cause an increase of silt in the harbor, hurting the multimillion dollar boating and fishing industries and compounding the need for dredging.

Local environmentalists, led by Maine Rivers Executive Director Landis Hudson, have been trying for more than five years to remove the Bridge Street and East Elm Street dams in hopes of improving fish passage and ecological conditions.

"I am looking forward to getting more information from this engineering firm that the marina owners have hired," Hudson said Monday.

Council Chairman Steve Woods noted that even if the council does vote to remove the Bridge Street dam, the town would still have to find funding for the project and receive approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Protection.

W. Main St. property sale?

In other business, the council slowed its discussion of the potential sale of real estate on West Main Street and declined to schedule a public hearing on the matter.

The buildings at 121 W. Main St. are among several properties that the town identified last year as candidates for liquidation (the Cousins Island Fire Station is another). An appraiser valued the property at $400,000. 

The town has leased the West Main Street buildings, which once served as kindergarten classrooms, to the Terrence J. DeWan & Associates landscape architecture firm for nearly 20 years. DeWan has expressed interest in buying the land, but balked at the town's $400,000 asking price.

On Monday, however, the council couldn't agree on whether it wants to sell the property at all.

Councilor Pat Thompson said the land could double in value if the expansion of railroad tracks through downtown ever comes to fruition, since there has been talk of a $9 million project to better accommodate the Amtrak Downeaster.

"I’m not convinced there’s a fiscal crisis that necessitates Yarmouth sell off all of its properties," Thompson said.

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or btwist@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.