Scarborough panel on short leash to study dog, beach issues

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SCARBOROUGH — Despite pleas for more time and concerns about a predetermined conclusion, town councilors Wednesday created a seven-member ad-hoc committee to discuss conservation and animal control on town beaches.

Councilor Kate St. Clair was the only vote against forming the committee; council Chairman Richard Sullivan Jr. was absent.

The committee of seven includes Councilor Bill Donovan and Katy Foley, who led the repeal effort that overwhelmingly defeated a town-wide leash law Dec. 3 by a 2,880 to 1,059 vote.

Joining Donovan and Foley are residents Noah Perlut, Glennis Chabot, Margot Hodgkins, Lucy Lacasse and Daniel Ravin.

Town Manager Tom Hall, who nominated the committee members, said the panel is well-balanced, although he did not ask members how they voted in the referendum.

The committee has until Jan. 21, 2014, to report on possible courses of action for the council to protect endangered species at town beaches and provide access for dogs. Members will be asked to research data, and consider enforcement and education strategies.

“I expect the committee is going to be impressive in the way it works,” Donovan said. “I am very confident we will make a lot of progress in great speed.”

His optimism was not shared by Foley, who said the committee work will force her to cancel a vacation trip.

“Collaborative work is really great work and sustaining work, but it takes time,” Foley said. “I don’t see how we can have something ready for you by Jan. 21.”

Before voting against the committee formation, St. Clair moved to extend the reporting deadline date to Feb. 19.

“I think we are asking for an enormous amount of information in a short amount of time,” she said before her motion failed.

The committee has been asked to work quickly, because April 1, 2014, is the expected deadline date for the council to amend the Animal Control Ordinance in the face of a $12,000 fine levied by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service because of the death of a piping plover on Pine Point Beach last July 15.

The fine was proposed in September after the agency to concluded town ordinances were not strong enough to protect endangered species.

At a minimum, the agency prefers an ordinance revision banning dogs from being off leash on town beaches from April 1 through Aug. 31.

Last month, the town paid $500 to the agency as part of a consent agreement negotiated by Hall that reduced the fine. The town agreed to enact stricter regulations and to hire a “piping plover coordinator” to monitor habitats and lead public education efforts.

The five-year agreement allows the agency to reopen its complaint and seek the full fine if it determines the town is not upholding its end of the deal.

The committee’s short deadline and idea the council needs to amend the ordinance at all remained unpopular with speakers Wednesday, including former state Rep. Sean Flaherty and Foley’s sister, former Councilor Suzanne Foley-Ferguson.

“This cannot get solved in one or two meetings or one or two months,” Flaherty said. “We do not know what the repercussion will be if we do not act before April 1.”

Foley-Ferguson chided councilors for ignoring private offers to pay the full federal fine and retain local control of town beaches.

“In repeating a process we said no to, you are not representing us,” she said.

For King Street resident Pammela Rovner, the referendum lesson was a simple one she does not see councilors heeding.

“It is not hard to understand the word ‘no,'” she 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.