Scarborough council postpones hearing on dogs on beaches

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SCARBOROUGH — If every dog must have his day, that day was not Wednesday in Scarborough as town councilors postponed public hearings on changes to the Animal Control and Piping Plover ordinances to Sept. 18.

Council second readings and votes on the ordinance revisions are expected on that date as well. A public hearing on revisions to the General Assistance Ordinance was also postponed to Sept. 18.

The hearing postponement of possible limits on canine access to public beaches occurred because the required hearing notice did not appear in a daily newspaper at least seven days before the hearing, according to Town Clerk Tody Justice.

Justice said she thought she had submitted the ad notice last week, and only learned Wednesday morning it had not made print.

The revised Animal Control Ordinance requiring dogs to be leashed when allowed on town beaches from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. between April 1 and Sept. 15 still drew public comment.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species Biologist Mark McCollough tried to clarify his department’s stance on the current ordinance and how it might affect fall dredging of the Scarborough River by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. McCollough, who works in the agency’s field office in Orono, said he and field supervisor Laury Zicari have long wanted the town to eliminate allowing “voice control” for dogs during the nesting seasons for piping plovers and other threatened bird species.

“Our experience is voice control of dogs simply doesn’t work and is hard to define,” McCollough said.

But he added the lack of an amended ordinance requiring dogs to be kept on leashes would not halt the dredging project or creation of a beach management plan on re-nourished Ferry Beach.

Councilors and Town Manager Tom Hall were concerned a failure to amend the ordinance would halt the project, based on a lengthy Aug. 20 letter from Zicari to Edward O’Donnell of the Army Corps of Engineers.

“In no way did the letter say we would halt (the project),” McCollough said.

Sand dredged from the river channel will be used to replenish Western Beach, owned by the Prout’s Neck Neighborhood Association. Over time, the sand is expected to erode and end up on town-owned Ferry Beach, McCollough said.

This may make Ferry Beach a desired nesting spot for the piping plover, or at least lead piping plover offspring to Ferry Beach, McCollough said.

Consultations between U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials and the Army Corps of Engineers sought a beach management agreement to protect the birds. But McCollough said the agencies can consult again in the spring and devise language to limit the corps’ liability in the event a piping plover or other endangered or threatened species is killed by a dog.

McCollough declined to comment on a pending investigation regarding town liability in the July 15 death of a piping plover chick on Pine Point Beach.

The chick was killed near the water line by a dog off its leash around 7 a.m., according to Hall and Maine Game Warden Tim Spahr. From sunrise to 9 a.m. between June 15 and Sept. 15, dogs are currently allowed to be on town beaches under voice control.

No charges have been filed against the dog’s owner, but the town could face up to a $25,000 fine for poor oversight because of the current ordinance. Hall said Wednesday he had not heard anything new about the investigation, which was last in the hands of the inspector general of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

McCollough said the piping plover death was the second caused by a dog since 2003, but those occurrences were not enough to convince residents Sue Foley-Ferguson and Art DiMauro that ordinance changes were needed.

“We are being bullied to change our ordinance,” Foley-Ferguson said.

DiMauro pressed McCollough to substantiate if tighter restrictions on dogs at other beaches actually protects nesting birds, but came away without an answer.

The lack of clarity on estimates of nesting pairs of piping plovers, when the birds arrive annually and which beaches are used for nesting vexed councilors Kate St. Clair and Jim Benedict.

McCollough and Laura Zitski of Maine Audubon said while no piping plovers have ever been seen nesting on Ferry Beach, Maine Audubon combines Western and Ferry Beaches for counting purposes.

It has been at least two years since piping plovers were seen on Western Beach, McCollough said.

“This puts us in a real crunch,” Benedict said about drafting ordinance revisions.

While piping plovers arrive on Maine beaches later in the spring than other Atlantic coast states, McCollough said a trend of warmer spring weather could push future arrival dates into March.

This necessitates amending the ordinance date to April 1, but McCollough said piping plovers are generally gone by Aug. 31. He said the proposed Sept. 15 end date for prohibiting voice control would also protect other threatened species found on town beaches.

“I just feel like every time I turn around, we are including another bird or extending it to this. I want a straight direct guideline for exactly what birds we need to cover,” St. Clair said.

In other business, councilors approved the new zoning map for the Crossroads Planned Development District on 450 acres owned by Scarborough Downs between Payne Road, Haigis Parkway and U.S. Route 1.

The zoning ordinance was approved by councilors on Aug. 21, and amended to make casino gambling a permitted use if approved by a local referendum and contingent on a council-approved revenue sharing plan.

Justice said no petition seeking to put a gambling measure on the Nov. 5 ballot had been requested from her office by Thursday. Organizers would have until Sept. 10 to return petitions seeking a referendum question for the November elections.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or 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.