Scarborough takes step toward restricting dog access on beaches after one kills endangered bird

A woman walks on the beach at Pine Point in Scarborough in this 2012 file photo.
A woman walks on the beach at Pine Point in Scarborough in this 2012 file photo. Buy Photo
Posted Aug. 23, 2013, at 12:40 p.m.
Maine's population of endangered  piping plovers is at an all-time low according to the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Courtesy of Maine Audubon
Maine's population of endangered piping plovers is at an all-time low according to the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Scarborough town councilors gave initial approval to ordinance revisions that would restrict beach access for dogs.

The amendments to Chapters 604 and 610 of town ordinances governing animal control and piping plovers passed by 5-0 votes during the Town Council’s Wednesday meeting. Both amendments face Sept. 4 public hearings and second council votes before they are enacted.

The changes would ban dogs between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. from April 1 through Sept. 15. Dogs on leashes would be allowed on beaches between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m., eliminating the current provision allowing “voice control” for dogs from sunrise to 9 a.m.

The proposals also advance the date for restricting dogs on the beach from the current June 15. If passed as written, the ordinance would allow dogs under voice control on town beaches only from Sept. 16 through March 31.

Judith Roy, acting as chairwoman, reminded the audience of about 100 people that the proposed animal control changes will be open to more public comment and possible amendments before a second council vote on Sept. 4.

Town Manager Tom Hall said the changes were being considered even before a July 15 incident on Pine Point Beach, where a dog off its leash killed a piping plover chick near the beach waterline.

Hall said Monday that an investigation showed the dog owner was not violating the ordinance, because the incident occurred at 7 a.m. The owner faces no fines or charges from the town or state, he said.

But the town may be held liable by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has also investigated the incident to see if town ordinances did not sufficiently protect the birds. A minimum fine of $25,000 could be levied.

Hall said the investigation findings have been submitted to the inspector general’s office of the U.S. Department of Interior.

Also in the balance is the planned $3 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging of the Scarborough River, because sand will be used to replenish Western Beach near Prout’s Neck Country Club.

With the “renourishing” of the beach, Hall said there must be reassurances wildlife will be protected.

But satisfying the demands of government agencies was not a popular justification for dog owners, who said they are being penalized because of one incident.

“We need to enforce what’s in town without putting in layers and layers on it,” Ryefield Drive resident Joanne Rosen said. She suggested enforcement of existing ordinances could be bolstered by using interns or students to monitor beaches.

East Grand Avenue resident Roland Grenier said it would be more effective to increase the number of signs at beach access points and update sign information, instead of limiting beach access.

Douglas Lund-Yates, a Fowler Farm Road resident, said restrictions crafted a decade ago as a compromise are working well. He said he enjoys walking his dog on Higgins Beach perhaps twice a day.

“The only real freedom we have is in the morning and in the winter,” he said.

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist Lindsay Tudor and Laura Zitske of Maine Audubon said protection of the plover and other endangered species might require even stricter rules or extended dates for restrictions. They noted the piping plover is not a species that generally confines itself to one spot after nesting and hatching.

“After hatching, these chicks move, and they can be anywhere. Fledglings can fly, they can be found on any of your beaches,” Tudor said.

Zitske said it is possible for piping plovers to arrive even earlier than April 1. Four nesting pairs were found on town beaches this year, and 45 pairs were discovered from Ogunquit to Georgetown.

Michelle Smith, Maine Audubon communications director, last month said the birds typically lay four eggs each season. The chick killed July 15 was the only piping plover hatched this year on Pine Point.

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