SCARBOROUGH — The Town Council voted Wednesday night to approve a settlement with the federal government that ends a dispute over the killing of a piping plover chick by an unleashed dog on Pine Point Beach.
While the 4-3 vote means the town won’t have to pay a $12,000 fine to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a majority of the council approved a separate amendment to the town’s animal control ordinance that will require dogs to be leashed year round on all town-owned property and beaches.
Dogs will be allowed to run unleashed only in designated areas, such as dog parks. The town has no dog parks now, but several councilors said it’s time to talk about establishing areas where dogs can run off-leash.
“Even in the dead of winter, a dog on a beach will have to be leashed,” said Town Manager Tom Hall after the council meeting. “What the council did tonight is far beyond what Fish and Wildlife was seeking.”
The controversy began in the early morning of July 15 on Pine Point Beach, where an unleashed dog killed a piping plover – a type of bird that has federal protection as an endangered species.
The Fish and Wildlife Service investigated and informed town officials that Scarborough would be fined $12,000 for violating the Endangered Species Act. The federal agency had warned the town several times previously that its ordinance allowing dogs to run unleashed on beaches from sunrise to 9 a.m. was unenforceable.
Hall was authorized by the council to negotiate a settlement agreement, which was approved Wednesday night by a 4-3 vote.
The agreement requires the town to create the position of piping plover coordinator. It also reduces the original fine from $12,000 to $500. The settlement absolves the town of any guilt in the bird’s death.
About 50 people, mostly dog owners, turned out in force for Wednesday night’s public hearing on the matter. They said the town was being “bullied” into accepting the federal government’s terms and in the process threatening the rights of dog owners.
“It’s not just a dog issue,” said Scott Townsend of Scarborough. “Once the federal government gets involved, we lose more and more of our rights.”
Councilor Katherine St. Clair proposed an amendment to the animal control ordinance to require dogs to be leashed on town properties, including streets and sidewalks, at all times. Her proposal, which was approved by a 4-3 vote, allows dogs to be unleashed in areas designated by the town.
“By doing this, it is going to force all the sides to come to the table and talk about creating designated areas,” she said.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: