SCARBOROUGH — Unleashed dogs would be banned from town beaches during the spring and summer months if the Town Council endorses changes to its animal control and piping plover ordinances.
The council will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Town Hall to decide whether it should settle a dispute with the federal government that began during the early morning hours of July 15 after an unleashed dog killed an endangered piping plover chick on Pine Point Beach.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated the incident and informed town officials that Scarborough would be fined $12,000 for violating the Endangered Species Act even though the dog was supposedly under voice command. The current town ordinance allows unleashed dogs under voice control on beaches between sunrise and 9 a.m. from April to mid-September, which is the piping plover nesting season. The town has been warned repeatedly by the federal agency that such an ordinance is unenforceable.
But under a proposed consent agreement – the highlights of which were posted Monday on the town’s website – the federal government would reduce the fine to $500, provided the Town Council enacts ordinance changes that would require dogs on beaches to be leashed from sunrise to 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. between April 1 and Aug. 31. Dogs would still not be allowed on town beaches – leashed or unleashed – between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The changes are likely to face stiff opposition from dog owners, who turned out in force at a meeting in September to voice their concerns. A public hearing will precede Wednesday night’s vote.
Town Manager Tom Hall negotiated the consent agreement, but he is not sure how the council will vote.
“My goal was to reduce the fine to zero, but they were unwilling to do that,” Hall said. “This (vote) is very much up in the air.”
Under the proposed agreement, the town would also be required to hire a piping plover coordinator and would expand training for summer police officers and trash pickup personnel who work on Scarborough beaches.
Hall said the coordinator position might have to be funded by the town or it could be filled by a volunteer. He said the Prouts Neck Country Club has agreed to hire a piping plover coordinator for Western Beach, a privately owned beach next to the town-owned Ferry Beach area. The town might be able to share the position with the country club.
In addition, the consent agreement would contain a re-opener clause that would allow the federal government to seek punitive action against the town if a future Town Council repeals the ordinance, allowing unleashed dogs on town beaches in summer.
Michelle Smith, spokeswoman for the Maine Audubon Society, commended the town for making an effort to come to terms with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
But she added, “Our ideal is to have no dogs on the beaches during piping plover (nesting) season,” Smith said.
The agreement absolves the town of any guilt resulting from the piping plover’s death.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: