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Scarborough council enacts comprehensive leash law for dogs; repeal effort begins

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Scarborough council enacts comprehensive leash law for dogs; repeal effort begins

SCARBOROUGH — Efforts to repeal a new wide-ranging leash law began Thursday morning, about 12 hours after councilors approved the restrictions by a 5-2 vote.

The amendments to the animal control ordinance expanded proposed changes limiting the dates dogs could be off-leash on town beaches to require dogs be kept on leashes year round on all town property.

Residents who were opposed to eliminating "voice control" for dogs on town beaches on summer mornings, including former Councilor Sue Foley-Ferguson,  found the expanded restrictions stunning.

"The amended ordinance passed by the Scarborough Town Council tonight has many of us in complete shock," Foley-Ferguson said Wednesday in an email.

Her sister, Lucky Lane resident Katy Foley, went to Town Hall Thursday to craft a petition to overturn the ordinance changes, Town Clerk Tody Justice said.

A repeal petition requires signatures from registered voters equal to 25 percent of the total ballots cast in the last gubernatorial election. Signatures must be gathered in a 20-day period.

Katy Foley said Monday the petitions can be signed at Town Hall and the Dog Paws Inn at 373 Gorham Road. Visit www.dogpawsinn.com for operating hours.

If a petition is certified, it will be forwarded to councilors, who must schedule a public hearing within 30 days and an election 30 days after that. To repeal the ordinance amendments, the referendum must be approved and attract a turnout of 25 percent of town voters.

Councilors acted in part because of the July 15 death of an endangered piping plover on Pine Point Beach.

The bird was killed by an off-leash dog owned by Scarborough resident Rachel Speed, who cooperated with Maine Game Warden Tim Spahr's investigation and was not charged in the incident.

Also on the agenda was a vote on a consent agreement with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to reduce a proposed agency fine from $12,000 to $500 for the town's lack of oversight in protecting the birds.

The consent agreement was approved by a 4-3 vote, with Council Vice Chairwoman Judy Roy and Councilors Jessica Holbrook and Kate St. Clair opposed.

Conditions included in the agreement require the town to create and fund the position of a piping plover coordinator for five years; provide a "law enforcement presence" on town beaches during nesting season; and ensure updated information on the species and its habitat are distributed to people who obtain dog licenses, beach passes, and permits to ride horses on town beaches.

The agreement holds the town harmless from further fines for five years, unless the animal control ordinance is repealed, which would allow the agency to assess the $12,000 fine proposed last month.

Councilors were urged to reject the agreement because it gave away too much local authority and could be more costly than the proposed $12,000 fine.

"This settlement is just one more encroachment. We need to maintain local control and local authority,” Wynmoor Drive resident Cathy Dragoni said.

The scope of changes stunned a crowd of about 40 at the meeting; many demanded a fuller explanation of the vote, even as councilors tried to move on to other agenda items.

"This is way beyond what even the feds required and this was never discussed previously in any of the meetings. We feel blindsided to say the least," Foley-Ferguson said.

Roy said the coordinator position had been created in June 2012 as part of a beach management agreement with the federal government and was filled by an employee already working in the town Community Services Department.

St. Clair proposed the town-wide leash law, hoping it would lead to creation of town dog parks. Her motion was approved 4-3 with Roy, Holbrook and Chairman Ronald Ahlquist opposed.

Ahlquist later voted in favor of the overall ordinance changes, leaving Roy and Holbrook in the minority.

Councilors were also urged to accept offers from residents to pay the $12,000 fine initially proposed by Andrew Tittler, an acting assistant regional solicitor for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Town Manager Tom Hall said he knew of at least two offers to pay the fine, but the offers were not discussed by the council.

Hall said the consent agreement was a disappointment, but he tried to get the best deal he could for the town. He said he preferred clearer language and better protection from future liability.

"The premise that brought us together was disappointing," Hall said. "There was a terrible overreach of authority."

Hall noted town conservation and species protection efforts have been recognized by the agency and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

"It reminds me of the adage 'no good deed goes unpunished,'" he said.

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

Updated Oct. 7 for locations where repeal petition can be signed.