SCARBOROUGH — Town councilors want to form a committee to come up with a way to protect piping plovers on the town’s beaches while appeasing dog owners.
Although voters decided Tuesday to repeal an ordinance banning unleashed dogs from all town property, the matter is far from over.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has warned Scarborough that it may levy a $12,000 fine if the town doesn’t tighten its rules for unleashed dogs on beaches.
Those rules – allowing dogs to be off-leash in the mornings during the summer and at all times during the rest of the year – were restored by Tuesday’s townwide vote.
At a workshop Wednesday, councilors made it clear that they want to appease the Fish and Wildlife Service, which sent the town a notice of violation of the Endangered Species Act after an unleashed dog killed a piping plover on Pine Point Beach in July.
In a settlement it reached with the town in October, the federal agency agreed to reduce the fine to $500 if the town banned unleashed dogs from its beaches from April through August.
The council instead voted to prohibit unleashed dogs from all public property, the ordinance that was overturned Tuesday, 2,880-1,059.
Some councilors said Wednesday that they want to revisit the previous proposal, to ban unleashed dogs from beaches in the spring and summer, to protect the plovers and avoid a fine or potential lawsuit by the federal government.
Town Manager Tom Hall reminded them that the group that petitioned to hold a referendum opposed that plan as well.
Councilors agreed to direct Hall and the council’s leaders to draft an ordinance that would describe the job of an ad hoc committee, and the groups that should be represented, such as the police department and Dog Owners of Greater Scarborough, the political action committee that campaigned to overturn the ban.
He said an ordinance would be ready for the council to vote on on Dec. 18. He said the vote could also include the names of specific members, so the council could approve them that night and the committee could start working right away.
Hall suggested the council work toward adopting any recommendations from the committee before April 1, when Scarborough’s current ordinance would be out of compliance with the Fish and Wildlife Service.
In its response Wednesday to the election results, the federal agency said it may choose to collect the entire $12,000 fine but “would much prefer the Town Council further amend the ordinance to protect piping plovers and prevent another dog from killing a piping plover as happened last summer.”
Councilors felt the committee should first come up with a recommendation for protecting plovers, then look at designating areas of town for off-leash dogs.
Councilors have talked about creating dog parks as an alternative to beaches.
During a public comment period after the workshop, several dog owners said they like the idea of an ad hoc committee, but some, like Elaine Richer of East Grand Avenue, were still opposed the Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal.
“There’s got to be other ways to protect the plover other than with an eight-foot leash,” Richer said.
Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: