October 17, 2013

Voters may end up deciding Scarborough leash law

The Town Council deadlocks on a vote to reconsider the law, and signatures are turned in to force a voters' referendum.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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.

click image to enlarge

Petition organizer Katy Foley announces results of a signature-gathering effort for a referendum to overturn a controversial new townwide, year-round leash law in Scarborough on Wednesday.

Kelley Bouchard/Staff Writer

click image to enlarge

Jane Forner, visiting from Saratoga, New York, walks her dog Ebony with a leash on Scarborough’s Ferry Beach recently.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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.

(Continued on page 2)

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