SCARBOROUGH — A proposal to reconsider a controversial new townwide, year-round leash law failed Wednesday night as the Town Council deadlocked, paving the way for a possible citizens’ petition to decide the matter at the polls in December.
The council voted 3-3 to reconsider the law, which requires all dogs to be leashed at all times on all town properties, including beaches, parks, streets and sidewalks. Without majority support, the reconsideration failed.
Earlier Wednesday, Katy Foley, a Scarborough resident, turned in a petition with 2,753 voters’ signatures – gathered with help from about 100 volunteers – calling for a referendum on the new law.
The town clerk has 10 days to certify that at least 2,379 signatures are valid – 25 percent of the Scarborough voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election.
Foley was nearly speechless and close to tears after the council’s vote on Wednesday.
If the council had altered the action it took on Oct. 2 in any way, her two-week petition drive would have been moot.
“Let the voters decide,” Foley said. “Share Scarborough. That’s our motto.”
Foley described the escalating dog controversy as a “people problem” and said she hopes the council ultimately establishes a representative committee to work out a solution that’s fair to dog owners and others.
The council approved the new ordinance two weeks ago in response to the killing of a federally protected piping plover chick by an unleashed dog on Pine Point Beach in July.
The surprise action that went well beyond a more limited proposal that had been negotiated with federal wildlife officials.
They had demanded that Scarborough tighten its leash laws on beaches, especially during summer months when the birds are present.
Several councilors expressed disappointment Wednesday night about the divisiveness and hard feelings that have erupted on the council and in the community, especially in the last two weeks.
“I still feel in my gut that (the new leash law) was the right thing to do,” said Councilor Katherine St. Clair. She presented the new law two weeks ago and voted against reconsideration Wednesday, along with councilors James Benedict and Edward Blaise.
Councilor Judy Roy said she was “very disheartened” by the council’s action, having opposed the townwide leash law from the start.
She voted for reconsideration, along with councilors Jessica Holbrook and Ronald Ahlquist, chairman.
Councilor Richard Sullivan, who proposed the new leash law, was absent from Wednesday’s meeting because he was away on a moose hunt, Ahlquist said.
Town officials have delayed enforcing the new animal control ordinance until the petition process runs its course. Under the previous ordinance, dogs were banned from beaches from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., June 15 through Sept. 15. During the same period, unleashed dogs were allowed on beaches from sunrise to 9 a.m., while only leashed dogs were allowed on beaches from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m.
Under the new law, dogs would be allowed to run unleashed only in designated public areas, such as dog parks.
However, the town has no dog parks, and many people rely on beaches for recreation with their pets.
Scarborough is a town of 18,919 residents with 2,250 licensed dogs, according to Tody Justice, the town clerk. Statewide, there are an estimated 300,000 dogs, but only about half are licensed, according to Liam Hughes, the state’s director of animal welfare.
Foley was among 16 residents who addressed the council before Wednesday’s vote.
All but two spoke against the new law and the lack of public involvement in developing it. Many in the packed council chamber wore red, signifying solidarity in the petition drive.
“It’s time for the council to step aside and let the people vote,” said Liam Somers, a resident who helped to gather signatures. He said the petition is “a mandate to be heard.”
Sharman Kivatsky spoke in favor of the new law, saying that she represents people who want to enjoy the town’s beaches without being “accosted by a free-roaming dog.”
Kivatsky, who lives near three beaches, said it’s an assault when a dog jumps on a person and “puts its nose where it doesn’t belong.”
The council voted 5-2 on Oct. 2 to approve a consent agreement that aims to save the town from paying a $12,000 fine to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The townwide leash law was approved by a 4-3 vote as an amendment to the agreement.
Under the agreement, the town must pay a $500 fine; develop public education and municipal staff training programs about plovers; and create and fund a position for a part-time piping plover coordinator for at least five years starting next spring.
The coordinator will work 20 hours a week, from April 1 through Aug. 31, to monitor the plover population and dog activity and to recruit and coordinate volunteer observers.
Several residents at Wednesday’s meeting questioned the rationale behind the settlement, including Martin Tripp, who said he opposed the consent agreement as a concerned taxpayer.
Tripp noted that hiring a plover coordinator, building dog parks and putting up new signs for the new leash law will cost a lot more than $12,000.
“I’d pay the $12,000 fine and promise I’d do better,” Tripp said.
Kelley Bouchard can be reached at 791-6328 or: