SCARBOROUGH — A framework of recommendations emerged after a 2 1/2-hour meeting Wednesday night of the ad-hoc animal control committee.
The group of Katy Foley, Town Councilor Bill Donovan, Noah Perlut, Margot Hodgkins, Glennis Chabot, Lucy LaCasse and Daniel Ravin plans to meet again at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 6, and 7 p.m. on Monday Feb. 10. They have a Feb. 12 deadline for creating recommendations on animal control and habitat preservation for the Town Council.
Tom Manager Tom Hall, the committee facilitator, presented a list of tentative recommendations at the outset of Wednesday’s meeting. It includes allowing dogs on an 8-foot or shorter leash on town beaches from dawn to dusk, April 1 to May 14; from dawn to 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. until dusk from May 15 to the day after Labor Day; and off leash except from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. from the day after Labor Day day through March 31.
The committee may also recommend councilors allow dogs to be off leash on town beaches after July 15 if there is no sign piping plovers have nested, or 40 days after the last chick has hatched.
The existing ordinance allows dogs to be off leash on town beaches from Sept. 16 to June 14. Between June 15 and Sept. 14, dogs are allowed off-leash from dawn to 9 a.m., are banned from town beaches between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and then allowed on leashes from 5 p.m. to dusk.
An ordinance revision enacted by councilors last October required dogs on all public properties, including beaches, to be leashed. It was never enforced and overturned by a voter referendum.
The committee may also recommend designating the beach near the Pine Point Co-op as a year-round beach for dog access, extending restricted areas near piping plover nests to 200 feet, and establishing an ongoing animal control committee to report to councilors.
The committee moved on to consider other threats to the piping plover, considered endangered and threatened by state and federal standards, including a series of motions from Foley to redefine “voice control” standards, to ask state legislators to look into removing Ferry Beach from the “essential habitat” areas for piping plovers because no nesting pair has been spotted there in the last decade, and to add private beaches on either side of Scarborough State Beach to the essential habitat list.
With Police Chief Robert Moulton invited to speak, the committee also got a better view of the difficulties of enforcing existing ordinances.
Even if the town could incur the expense of added foot patrols, Mouton said, the expanse of Pine Point Beach makes enforcement a challenge.
“I can’t tell you we are going to be there at the right time or places,” Moulton said.
The committee will recommend support for the police and increased education efforts.
Community Services staffer Bill Reichl, who is now the piping plover coordinator, said the town collects trash daily on beaches during the season, but relies on the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to place the barrels once it is known plovers are nesting.
Birds seeking food near the barrels are also predators that threaten plover chicks, and the committee recommended requiring barrels to be at least 200 feet from nesting area limits, instead of 150 feet. The areas are marked off once nesting pairs are discovered.
Once a report, and any dissenting opinions on its content, is presented to councilors, they may amend the existing ordinance. It is also possible the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will reopen its investigation of the July 15, 2013, death of a piping plover on Pine Point Beach and try to reinstate a $12,000 fine against the town for a lack of oversight in protecting the birds.
The fine was reduced to $500 in a consent agreement negotiated by Hall last September, but is contingent on enacting a stronger animal control ordinance that eliminates allowing dogs to be off-leash on town beaches when plovers are present. The agency recommended April 1 to Aug. 31 as dates.
In a notice of violation seeking the fine, the agency said the bird was killed by an unleashed dog. Hall has said the killing occurred near the water around 7 a.m.
Last week, the USFWS rejected a Freedom of Information Act request from The Forecaster for the incident report used as the basis of the notice of violation, saying the investigation is still considered open.