Scarborough council seeks time to weigh dog, beach rules

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SCARBOROUGH — The Town Council accepted a proposed animal control ordinance Wednesday night, without further action.

Councilors said they want to digest information and recommendations from the ad hoc committee that developed the proposal, and consider opposing opinions.

Council Chairman Richard Sullivan Jr. on Thursday said he would meet Friday with Town Manager Tom Hall to schedule a workshop on the ordinance.

Sullivan also said he was impressed by a recommendation to create a tag system for dogs that would better allow police to identify animals not properly controlled by owners.

The report by committee members Noah Perlut, Lucy LaCasse, Glennis Chabot, Daniel Ravin, Kay Foley and Councilor Bill Donovan contains a wide range of suggestions designed to better protect piping plovers that nest on town beaches. The birds are considered endangered or threatened by state and federal governments.

The recommendations also seek to accommodate dog owners accustomed to having their dogs off leash between sunrise and 9 a.m. from June 15 to Sept. 15, and at any time from Sept. 16-June 14. They would release town beaches from more restrictive leash laws on or after July 15 if there is no evidence of plovers nesting or if it has been at least 40 days since plover chicks have hatched.

But the committee does recommend requiring dogs to be leashed on beaches after April 1 and not allowed on beaches from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. after May 14 through the day after Labor Day.

In the off-season lasting to March 31, the committee recommended dogs be banned from beaches from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

The report also contains minority opinions from Foley, who led the effort to repeal a town-wide leash law enacted by councilors last October.

The amended ordinance required dogs to be leashed while on all town beaches and parks, except in designated areas, and was defeated by a 2,880 to 1,059 referendum vote in December.

Foley said she supports requiring dogs to be leashed from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. from April 1 to June 15. The April 1 date has been recommended by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as the earliest date when plovers may begin migrating to the area.

Foley said the expanded leash time is a “major compromise” from dog owners, who would be giving up almost 1,900 hours of leash-free beach time.

But she said her research shows dogs are the least of the predatory problems plovers face, and favors focusing on better enforcement and education, instead of a restriction.

Foley suggest dog owners, when they obtain annual licenses, be required to sign waivers absolving the town of responsibility if their dog kills a plover or disrupts the bird’s habitat.

The USFWS had proposed fining the town $12,000 for insufficient regulations protecting the birds after a plover was killed by a dog around 7 a.m. on July 15, 2013.

The agency has refused to release the incident report it used to create the notice of violation served to Hall in September. Hall negotiated a consent agreement reducing the fine to $500, as long as the town created a stricter animal control ordinance and hired a “piping plover coordinator” for the next five years. The agency is allowed to reopen the agreement and seek the original fine if it feels conditions are not met.

A second minority opinion was filed by Chabot, LaCasse and Donovan, suggesting some areas on Ferry and Higgins beaches be set aside as “protected areas” where no dogs are allowed from April 1 to the day after Labor Day, while other beach areas that cannot sustain plovers remain open to dogs.

The lack of simplicity in the recommendations and position of the federal government continued to concern residents who spoke at the council meeting.

Pine Point resident Pammela Rovner lampooned the varied date changes, as well as recommendations to restrict more beach activities, such as parasailing and kite flying, during plover season.

“You can’t fly a kite even if you have been told ‘to go fly a kite,'” Rovner said.

Mast Road resident Julie Hannon summarized points from a letter she sent councilors Monday, saying the rights of dog owners were in danger of being trampled at the federal and local levels.

“I do not believe the Town of Scarborough, the State of Maine, or the Federal Government has the right – even if the voters had ratified the ordinance – to impose such a far reaching, restrictive ordinance in the Town of Scarborough,” Hannon wrote.

Holmes Road resident Liam Somers, a critic of attempts to amend the animal control ordinance to satisfy federal demands, asked Donovan to recuse himself from voting to accept the report because Donovan helped author it, but also offered praise to councilors for their discussions Wednesday night.

“I thought you were very well informed and measured in your approach,” he said.

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.