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Scarborough animal-control panel suggests wide-ranging beach restrictions

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Scarborough animal-control panel suggests wide-ranging beach restrictions

SCARBOROUGH — Town Councilors will meet in a 6 p.m. workshop Wednesday, Feb. 19, to discuss the final report submitted by the seven-member ad hoc committee on animal control and species preservation issues.

The report compiled by Town Manager Tom Hall, who served as committee facilitator, will be part of the council packets distributed Friday, as will any dissenting opinions submitted by committee members Katy Foley, Daniel Ravin, Noah Perlut, Glennis Chabot, Lucy LaCasse, Margot Hodgkins, and Councilor Bill Donovan.

Although on Monday night, at the end of the final committee meeting, Hall said “I think simpler is better,” the framework of recommendations for the town and its beaches does not augur simplicity.

The current animal control ordinance allows unleashed dogs on town beaches throughout the day from Sept. 16 to June 14, and from sunrise to 9 a.m. between June 15 and Sept. 15.

Recommended revisions will alter the dates and specific provisions in the event endangered piping plovers do not nest on town beaches.

The suggestions include requiring dogs to be on leashes no longer than 8 feet from April 1 to May 14; banning them from beaches from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from May 15 through Labor Day, and requiring leashes 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. from the day after Labor Day to March 31.

However, if no plover nesting is detected between April 1 and July 14, the committee is suggesting dogs be allowed off leash and under voice control from dawn until 9 a.m.

The committee also suggested the "Co-op Beach" extending from near the Pine Point Pier to the mouth of the Scarborough River be designated a "year-round dog beach;" that an ongoing committee be established to deal with animal control and species protection issues; that better signs be installed at all beach access points, and the town look into issuing tags and permits to better identify the owners of unruly dogs.

The tag system is patterned after one used in Boulder, Colo.

"It is an owner's or guardian's responsibility for what that dog does,” Ravin said at the Feb. 6 meeting.

The tags would be issued with dog licenses. A reported violation of the voice control restrictions could lead to revocation of the tag.

Monday night's meeting was the last of nine spread over six weeks and generally lasting at least two hours each. Although nerves were sometimes frayed and Foley and Donovan remain opposed to the need to strengthen the animal control ordinance, Hall congratulated the committee he selected for the breadth and speed of its work.

The committee, which first met Dec. 26, was granted an extension by Town Councilors from an original Jan. 21 deadline, and also passed additional motions including a suggested amendment to the ordinance allowing horses on the beach. Those dates would be revised to Oct. 1 through April 1.

Other recommendations include adding parasailing and kite surfing to banned beach activities, asking the state to include private beach sections north and east of Scarborough Beach State Park as essential habitat for the piping plovers, and expanding the setback distance from piper "exclosures" to 200 feet.

The exclosures are areas around piping plover nests, but the mobility of fledgling birds and difficulty in enforcing ordinances will remain a challenge in balancing the rights of residents to use beaches against the federal requirements to protect the birds.

Donovan has said his research shows the town cannot have what federal authorities consider a "permissive" ordinance. The perceived lack of proper regulation by the town led to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposing a $12,000 fine after a piping plover was killed by an unleashed dog on Pine Point Beach on July 15, 2013.

A notice of violation filed by the agency blamed the dog for killing the bird, and said it was the second take in a decade. However, the agency has refused to release the incident report it used as a basis for the proposed fine, saying the investigation is still open.

Last September, Hall negotiated a consent agreement reducing the fine to $500, but with clauses including strengthening the animal control ordinance and employing a "piping plover coordinator" for the next five years. Failure to comply allows the agency to reopen the case and seek the original proposed fine.

Foley, who led the repeal of a town-wide leash law passed Oct. 2 by the Town Council, was still preparing her dissenting opinion Wednesday, but summarized her view of the committee work and need for more regulation in a statement.

"The folks on the committee worked very hard, but in the end the bias toward only considering the plight of the plover was clear from the first meeting," Foley said.

She continues to oppose restricting dogs and said they are not the biggest threat to the birds.

"If we want to manage our beaches as the wonderful resource for all that they are, than we should strive for balance in our ordinance," Foley said. "No one wants dogs to run wild all day, all summer long but some off leash time in the morning will ensure that we won't need to build unnecessary and expensive dog parks."

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