September 18, 2013

Scarborough delays decision on beach rules for dogs

Councilors move a vote to Oct. 2 as they weigh how to protect threatened birds.

By Leslie Bridgers
Staff Writer

SCARBOROUGH — Town councilors decided Wednesday night they want to know more about a potential fine against the town for the death of a piping plover before deciding whether to ban unleashed dogs from beaches to better protect the birds.

click image to enlarge

In this July 2013 file photo, Elvis and Jakey frolic in the surf at Pine Point in Scarborough. The Scarborough Town Council postponed a vote Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013 to ban unleashed dogs from the town's beaches during the spring and summer.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

An adult plover stands close to a nesting plover chick. The Scarborough Town Council wants to know more about a fine for the death of a piping plover before they decide whether to ban unleashed dogs from Scarborough beaches.

Photo by Amanda Reed/Maine Audubon

The council was scheduled to hold a public hearing and then vote Wednesday on whether to tighten regulations for dogs on beaches.

The town now bans dogs from its beaches from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from June 15 to Sept. 15. Dogs are allowed off-leash before 9 a.m. and on leashes after 5 p.m. during that period.

There are no restrictions on dogs for the rest of the year.

The proposed amendment would ban dogs during the day from April 1 to Sept. 15 and, during that time, require leashes before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m.

Almost 100 people attended Wednesday's meeting and nearly 20, most opposed to tightening the ordinance, spoke about the issue during the public comment period.

The council later voted, 5-2, with Richard Sullivan and Katherine St. Clair opposed, to postpone the public hearing and deciding vote until Oct. 2.

The council began talking about tightening the ordinance soon after an off-leash dog killed a piping plover chick on Pine Point Beach on the morning of July 15.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated the incident and informed town officials last week that it would seek to fine the town $12,000 for violating the Endangered Species Act.

In its notice of violation, the federal agency outlined the warnings it had given Scarborough since 2001 that its ordinance regulating dogs on beaches did not adequately protect the threatened piping plovers.

Some residents who spoke Wednesday encouraged the council, which has expressed support for the amendment, to take more time to consider the issue before making a decision.

The decision to postpone the vote signaled "a big change" to Robin McLaughlin, a new resident of Scarborough who said she's "living the dream," being able to walk her dog on Higgins Beach outside her new home.

"I've met so many nice people," she told the councilors. "That all goes away when we're on a leash."

Elaine Richer questioned when the "piping plover became king of the beach and the dog, public enemy No. 1," and said she wasn't sure what the delay in the decision indicated.

"I don't know if it's going to be a plus or minus for us," she said, referring to dog owners.

Eddie Woodin, a dog owner who supports tightening the regulations, said he is confident that the ordinance will be changed. "The council was for this," he said.

Michelle Smith, spokeswoman for Maine Audubon, which favors a stricter ordinance, said the organization wants the council to carefully consider all of the information it has.

"If they need the extra two weeks to do that, hopefully that will clarify some issues for them," she said.

A couple of councilors said at the end of the meeting that the issue required a lot of consideration because it is so complex.

"Ultimately, nobody's going to be happy," said Councilor Jessica Holbrook. "That, I can promise you."

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

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