2014-03-14 / Front Page

Town turns to science

Effort to protect piping plovers will rely heavily on research data
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Science, rather than pure emotion, is driving a new proposal on how to protect the piping plover while providing beach access to unleashed dogs in the spring and summer months.

Town Councilor Bill Donovan shared the proposal with his peers during a workshop by the Town Council last week. The group also went through a series of more than 20 recommendations from the Ad Hoc Animal Control Advisory Committee, many of which the council decided to pass on to a soon-to-be-formed ongoing Animal Control Committee.

The committee will, once formed, focus on the preparation of educational materials, develop the monitoring program and coordination of volunteers, establish consistent signage, work with the piping plover coordinator and agency partners and perhaps examine the possibility of dog park areas on town-owned property.

Town Manager Tom Hall will work on forming that committee and begin drafting language for ordinance amendments. That work, he expected, would be ready for the council’s review at its Wednesday, April 2 meeting. The draft ordinance amendments will not go for review by the council’s ordinance committee, but rather be addressed by the council as a whole.

As part of the proposal Donovan presented, no dogs would be allowed in protected beach areas from April 1 to the Tuesday after Labor Day. Those areas differ based on the beach and are derived from scientific data available regarding when and where the piping plovers have nested and raised their young over the years.

On Higgins Beach, the protected area would be from Champion Street to the Spurwink River. While all of Western Beach is deemed a protected area, no portion of Ferry Beach is designated as such.

Dogs are permitted on leash north of Hurd Park, which is the protected area of Pine Point Beach.

Dogs would be allowed, however, in the nonprotected areas of town beaches. From April 1 to May 14, dogs are allowed off-leash between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. until dusk. Dogs must be on a 12-foot leash between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Dogs would be allowed offleash from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. from May 15 to the Tuesday after Labor Day and onleash from 5 p.m. to dusk. Dogs would be prohibited on non-protected sections of beaches from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

When dogs are off-leash on Scarborough beaches, they are expected to remain in sight of their owners and be under voice control and come when called.

When piping plover chicks are present on Western or Ferry beaches, dogs must remain on-leash unless they are north of the Ferry Beach boat launch. If chicks are detected on Pine Point Beach, dogs must remain on leash from Snowberry Park to the Spurwink River. If piping plovers chicks on Higgins Beach move south of Champion Street, no dogs may be off-leash.

“We are going to have a good monitoring program, I think, to ensure the safety of the chicks,” Donovan said.

The proposal was well received by Councilor Ed Blaise.

“I think it is a good proposal and I think we should seriously consider this,” Blaise said.

He said it is not going to be an easy process and will take some adjustment, but after a summer season, the council will know if the approach worked or not.

“I think this is a reasonable and fair compromise and better than what we did the first time,” Councilor James Benedict said.

“We can’t satisfy 100 percent of the people on either side on the issue, but this will come as close as we are going to get,” he continued.

Although she would like to see something more cut and dried, Council Vice Chairman Jessica Holbrook said the proposal was something she could accept.

“Do I love it? No. Can I live with it? Yes,” she said.

Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina was also a little lukewarm to the idea.

“It is not 100 percent of what I would want, but that is the nature of compromise,” Caterina said, adding, “We will be following it to see how it works. It can be tweaked if need be, but I am in favor of it.”

Council Chairman Richard Sullivan Jr. said the proposal is “greatly different than last year and what the ad-hoc committee proposed.”

“If people don’t see this as a compromise, I don’t know what else can be done,” he said.

The more than 20 recommendations from the Ad hoc Animal Control Advisory Committee included increasing education and enforcement of the animal control and piping plover ordinances; expanding a piping plover coordinator position; improving signage on beach access points and evaluating the beach raking program, fireworks enforcement and trash disposal at the beaches. Recommendations also included exploring the possibility of designating the beach by Pine Point Co-Op as a year-round dog beach, introducing a dog tag program and establish standards for “responsible dog ownership.”

It was standards for dog ownership that tripped the council up a bit. Holbrook said as it is proposed now, the standards would apply to all town properties and not just the beaches. Her concern, she said, was the standards would apply to dogs used for service or hunting.

With all the other educational outreach, Blaise questioned if requiring Scarborough residents to sign the standards for responsible dog ownership when they were applying for annual dog licenses was the right approach.

“I question why we are doing this at all,” he said. “This would only pertain to Scarborough-owned dogs registered in Scarborough. We have hundreds of dogs from other communities and other states that don’t have to go through this process, so what are we really accomplishing.”

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