SCARBOROUGH — The rules for unleashed dogs on town beaches appeared far from settled Wednesday, when town councilors discussed recommendations made by a committee formed to resolve the contentious issue.

Since a piping plover was killed by an unleashed dog on Pine Point Beach in July, the debate over regulating dogs on beaches has resulted in packed public hearings, a town-wide vote and, most recently, a report by the Animal Control Advisory Committee, which was charged with balancing the rights of dog owners and endangered shorebirds.

Although councilors said Wednesday they supported some of the committee’s recommendations, they still didn’t agree on the issue at the crux of the debate – when unleashed dogs should be allowed on beaches.

From June 15 to Sept. 15, dogs are only allowed off-leash before 9 a.m. During that period, they are banned from the beach from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and allowed on leashes after 5 p.m.

For the rest of the year, they can be off-leash at all times.

The committee recommended prohibiting unleashed dogs from beaches from April 1 until the Tuesday after Labor Day. It included a provision that would allow unleashed dogs before 9 a.m. after July 15, if no piping plover nests had been detected on the beach by then, or if 40 days had passed since the last chick hatched.

“I think it needs to be shorter and simpler. It’s winter hours. It’s summer hours,” Councilor Jessica Holbrook said Wednesday at a workshop to discuss the report.

Councilor Katherine St. Clair said she wouldn’t support a recommendation that doesn’t allow time every day for unleashed dogs. She suggested only putting the regulations in place if a plover nest is found.

“To close that beach for four months on the off-chance that there might be a bird, logically, that doesn’t make sense to me,” she said.

Councilor Bill Donovan, who served on the advisory committee, said he thought that was a reasonable compromise and one that could appease the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has threatened to fine the town $12,000 for the plover’s death – a violation of the Endangered Species Act.

In a settlement agreement, the federal agency agreed to reduce the fine to $500 if the town bans unleashed dogs from beaches from April 1 to Aug. 31.

The threat of the full fine has influenced councilors, but some seemed less concerned about it Wednesday.

“My duty is to the residents of Scarborough,” St. Clair said.

Town Manager Tom Hall said the Fish and Wildlife Service might be willing to ease up on the leash requirement considering the number of recommendations for protecting plovers, which include enhanced education and enforcement of dog regulations, a tag program for off-leash dogs and efforts to keep cats and other predators away from nesting areas.

If that doesn’t happen, Donovan said, “we can always gravitate toward a more restrictive position.”

The council was scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to start implementing the recommendations in the report, but instead voted to accept the committee’s findings without endorsing them and continue its discussion in another workshop.

“There isn’t a strong obvious consensus,” said Donovan.

About 50 residents attended the workshop and subsequent council meeting.

Liam Somers of Holmes Road implored the council to find a compromise for the town’s residents.

“This issue has unbelievably torn this community apart in ways I can’t even fathom,” he said.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: @lesliebridgers