Right-to-know requests join Scarborough animal control talks

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SCARBOROUGH — An ad-hoc committee considering conservation and animal control issues has three meetings scheduled in the next 10 days.

The committee is drafting a report to the Town Council that could influence Animal Control Ordinance revisions to be enacted by April 1.

Its meetings at Town Hall on Jan. 6, 9 and 13 begin at 6:30 p.m. and are scheduled for two hours.

Committee member Katy Foley on Tuesday said she remains concerned the committee will not have time to process information. She said she is also frustrated that the meetings will not be televised or available on the Web.

Foley organized the campaign that set aside a town-wide leash law in a Dec. 3 referendum.

As the committee of seven discusses recommendations it may make to councilors by Jan. 21, several local and federal freedom of information requests have been filed seeking more information about the July 15, 2013, death of a piping plover at Pine Point, and the ensuing communications with federal officials.

Town Manager Tom Hall is still awaiting a copy of the incident report used as the basis for a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service notice of violation presented to the town in September. The agency proposed a $12,000 fine after concluding a lack of town oversight contributed to the death of the bird.

Piping plovers, under state and federal standards, are considered endangered or threatened. Hall negotiated a settlement reducing the fine to $500, but the consent agreement can be reopened by the agency if it feels the town’s animal control ordinances are not strict enough.

Hall said his request for the report from the Maine Warden Service has been forwarded to the U.S. Department of Interior Office of the Solicitor General, which wrote the notice of violation.

A federal Freedom of Information Act request for the incident report was filed Dec. 20 by The Forecaster with MaryLou DeFilippo, FOIA coordinator for the Fish & Wildlife Service. DeFilippo on Monday said the request was forwarded to the agency’s law enforcement division, which will act on the request within 20 working days once “any issues relating to fees and scope” are resolved.

Hall last week said he doubts what is probably a one-page document will be very revealing.

“I don’t think there will be any smoking gun,” he said.

Former Democratic state Rep. Sean Flaherty filed a FOIA request with Hall on Dec. 19, seeking copies of emails with Council Chairman Richard Sullivan Jr. about problems with dogs on the beach.

The request also seeks photos Sullivan said he received, and all emails regarding the Dec. 3 referendum that Sullivan sent or received after the referendum. Included in the request are emails from Fish & Wildlife officials and members of Maine Audubon.

Flaherty said he believes Sullivan was ignoring what constituents wanted, and that he will give information generated by his FOIA to the ad-hoc committee.

“I want to know what we have been asked to do, quite frankly,” Flaherty said Monday.

Hall said Dec. 24 that Flaherty’s FOIA request was returned with a request for more specifics. He did not expect the information to be compiled this week.

Foley and Flaherty both said birds can be protected on town beaches without requiring dogs to be on leashes at all times from April 1 to Aug. 31, as has been suggested by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

“I feel there are other creative solutions to be discussed,” Foley said.

The existing ordinance allows dogs to be off leash on beaches from sunrise to 9 a.m. from June 15 to Sept. 15, and at all times during the rest of the year.

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

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.