SCARBOROUGH — The Town Council on Wednesday approved new restrictions for dogs on beaches, putting to end months of contentious debate about tougher leash laws after a federally protected piping plover was killed by a dog last summer.
“This has been one of the most divisive issues this town has seen,” resident Kate Foley said to a crowd of about 100 residents.
Since a piping plover was killed by an unleashed dog on Pine Point Beach last July, the debate over regulating dogs on the beach has led to a townwide vote, lengthy public hearings and various proposals about how to balance the protection of piping plovers with residents’ desire to have their dogs on the beach.
An advisory committee and town councilors said they tried to craft a compromise that appeases both dog owners and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which initially threatened to fine the town $12,000 for the plover’s death because it violated the Endangered Species Act. That fine was reduced to $500 under an agreement between local and federal officials.
“We’re trying the best we can to address everyone’s concerns,” chairman Richard Sullivan said.
The council voted 5-1 to approve the new restrictions, with Councilor James Benedict opposed. Councilor Kate St. Clair was absent.
Under the changes approved Wednesday, from April 1 through Labor Day, dogs are either banned or required to be on leash on sections of Higgins, Ferry, Western and Pine Point beaches where piping plovers have historically been known to nest.
Dogs are banned from May 15 to Labor Day on all beaches from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. From the day after Labor Day until May 14, dogs would have to be leashed on beaches from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
The council voted to shorten by one hour the off-season time period when dogs are required to be on leash and shifted that period to the afternoon.
Councilors said it was a compromise that addresses concerns of people who want to use the beach without worrying about off-leash dogs running up to them.
Before the vote, councilors got an earful from dog owners who were unhappy with requiring dogs to be on leash at all during the off season. Several residents accused the council of having an agenda other than protecting piping plovers.
Resident Katherine Rogers said requiring dogs to be on leash during the off-season is “preposterous” because there is no one on the beach except people walking dogs.
Councilor Edward Blaise, however, said the council has heard from residents who don’t want to be “harassed” by dogs running up to them.
Those residents have not spoken out at council meetings and public hearings.
Sullivan, the council chairman, said the ordinance changes approved Wednesday provide “reasonable and appropriate protection” while allowing time for dogs to use the beach.
“These amendments provide opportunity year-round for dogs to be off-leash on the beaches,” he said.
The council voted 4-3 in October to approve a settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that saved the town from paying the $12,000 fine. Instead, the town must pay a $500 fine and create a position for piping plover coordinator.
Meagan Racey, a spokesman for the fish and wildlife service, said the staff has been made available to Scarborough officials as the town evaluates its options.
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org