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Dog owners growl at first reading of tighter Scarborough leash law

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Dog owners growl at first reading of tighter Scarborough leash law

SCARBOROUGH — The first reading of long-awaited amendments to the ordinance on leash laws for dogs on town beaches was met with vocal public protest inside and outside Wednesday night's Town Council meeting.

In addition to considering five measures related to changing animal control ordinances, the council approved a first reading of the town budget for fiscal year 2015.

Revisions of beach and town-wide animal control ordinances began last September, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed fining the town $12,000 for insufficient regulations protecting endangered plovers nesting on town beaches after one was allegedly killed by a dog last July.

After a referendum in December on a town-wide ban on off-leash dogs was struck down by a nearly 3-1 margin, an ad-hoc committee began crafting an ordinance to satisfy dog owners and adequately protect endangered plovers.

The first measure considered by the council Wednesday was a resolution to designate "protected beach areas" for piping plovers on each of the town beaches, except for Scarborough Beach, each with unique dog leash requirements. 

The council ultimately decided to change the resolution to an ordinance amendment, after some members of the public protested that a resolution does not require two readings, or a public hearing. The resolution was eventually tabled unanimously to May 7.

Many also questioned the resolution's requirement that protected areas be flexible, to adjust wherever a plover chick happens to "migrate," and whether leaving enforcement to outside groups, like Maine Audubon or FWS, is in the town's best interest.

"If continued beach access is linked to the sighting of plovers outside of their new protected areas, let me tell you, it is not going to take a rocket scientist to realize how quickly the Audubon society is going to have sightings all over beaches," resident Liam Somers said.

After tabling the resolution, the council considered amendments to the animal control ordinance concerning dogs on beaches, which will have a public hearing and second reading.

The new animal control ordinance would, from April 1 to Labor Day, restrict dogs to the protected areas of each beach, as defined in the resolution. From May 15 to Labor Day, no dogs would be allowed on any beach from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and dogs would be allowed on leash from 5 p.m. to dusk. From the day after Labor Day to May 14, dogs would be required on leash from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

All other times would allow dogs to be off leash under voice and sight control.

The amendments also require that, in order to receive a dog license, owners must sign off on certain affirmations of a "responsible dog owner," which boil down to making sure the owner promises to have control of the dog's behavior at all times. 

The first reading of the amendments was approved 6-0, with Councilor Katherine St. Clair stepping out just before the vote. 

Nearly two dozen protesters, including two dressed as dogs, lined Route 1 outside Town Hall before the meeting Wednesday, holding signs expressing their disapproval of the proposed new changes.

Most were members of the opposition group Dog Owners of Greater Scarborough, who have organized since August to retain maximum off-leash time for dogs on town beaches. 

"The new ordinance that they're proposing is, more or less, what was overturned before," resident Stephen Hanly said during the protest. "It's basically turning the beaches into sanctuary beaches, where the (plovers) rule everything."

Hanly and several other members of the DOGS group predicted the town would likely face a second referendum if the new measures are approved.

Most public comment continued to support a return to the original animal control ordinance, but with better education and enforcement.

"I think you’re making things so complicated and losing people's respect and making life difficult, not only for yourselves, but your community," Piper Shores resident Ann Hammond told councilors. "I’ve never heard so much noise made about so little."

Although some councilors considered also tabling the ordinance, the majority eventually agreed that they would like to move on to a public hearing and potentially make changes from there. 

"The first reading is not an acceptance, it's not a refusal, it's simply saying you’re here, and you heard it," Councilor James Benedict said. "You don’t have to swallow it."

Frustration from the council was palpable.

"We sat through countless hours of meetings ... trying to work out a better compromised deal," Chairman Richard Sullivan said. "I thought we were pretty close, but I guess we’ll have to continue on and see where it ends up."

A second resolution to establish an ad-hoc committee for canine education and enforcement of animal control ordinances was approved unanimously. 

The other two proposed amendments to existing animal control ordinances would change the dates horses are allowed on beaches, to Oct. 1-March 31, and added kite-surfing and parasailing to a list of restricted activities within 650 feet of piping plovers from April to September. 

Budget

In other business, the council passed the first reading of the proposed $84.4 million town budget, 6-1, with Benedict opposed. The vote was largely procedural, so that the budget can go to a public hearing and possibly be amended.

Public hearings on the budget and the changes in the animal control ordinances will be held April 16. 

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