December 13, 2013 – Two major announcements today… The Town website has the resolution outlining the structure and objectives of the Ad Hoc Animal Control Advisory Committee that will examine the issues surrounding dogs and piping plovers on Town beaches. And the US Army Corps of Engineers has officially awarded the contract for the dredging of Scarborough harbor.
First, the ad hoc committee.
The resolution appears as pages 7-9 of the agenda for the December 18 Town Council meeting as posted on the Town website. Two things stand out:
1. The report has to be completed by January 21, 2014. Hmmm… Assuming the group meets for the first time the day after the Council meeting, they will have 21 working days – tucked in among three holidays – to complete a huge and complex task with significant data collection needs, widely divergent opinions and much emotion. How could anything go wrong with that schedule?
2. The committee members are “to be announced” at the Council meeting. Hmmm, again… The dog owners’ group asked for a committee size of 12 in order to represent a broad spectrum of interests; they got seven as directed by the Council to keep the group “manageable.” That’s a good start on compromise. Not. And all seven members of the Committee have been selected by the Town Manager and Council leadership. Again, what could possibly go wrong for the dog owners?
So, since 73% of the voters in the special election voted no in support of the dog owners’ position, we should expect 73% representation on the ad hoc committee, right? That would require that five members of a seven-person committee be no voters/dog owners. Any bets on how many committee members will be from the no voters/dog owners’ group? I’m guessing not five of the seven. Four, maybe? Keep dreaming. My guess – three. Enough so the Councilors can truthfully say that dog owners’ concerns were aired, but few enough to ensure that dog owners’ recommendations will not be adopted in the final report. That’s completely consistent with the Council’s previous record of ignoring not just the dog owners, but the voters in the special election. And it’s the only way they can carry out this holiday-time charade of “listening” to the concerns of the Town residents.
Second, the Scarborough River dredging project.
As you will recall from this past summer, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) was holding the Scarborough River dredging project hostage – unless the Town modified its animal control ordinance to comply with USFWS “guidelines,” USFWS would insist on the US Army Corps of Engineers completing a “formal consultation” for the project, a bureaucratic maneuver that could threaten the Corps’ ability to complete the dredge project this winter. And potentially leave the harbor unnavigable for the Town’s fishing community. Somewhere along the way, USFWS decided to drop this demand. Perhaps they were afraid it would look too heavy-handed. Or perhaps they decided that having the $12,000 fine for the Town’s supposed complicity in the alleged death of a piping plover was enough of a club to get their “guidelines” adopted by a Council already anxious to restrict dog access to the beaches.
In any event, the dredge is officially on. Perhaps (and this may be pure wishful thinking) the USFWS actually heard the message of Scarborough voters on December 3 and have decided they don’t want to be seen as the bad guys in this. USFWS’s modus operandi is to go town-by-town and use every opportunity they have to get as much as they can in terms of beach access restrictions without using large amounts of internal resources or creating inordinate amounts of adverse publicity for the agency. Maybe the December 3 vote caused USFWS to get the message that the Town Councilors didn’t. If they did, it is very possible that USFWS will choose not to reopen the Settlement Agreement with the Town and just wait for their next opportunity to insert themselves into our beach access policies. Unfortunately, several Councilors, for reasons of their own, have decided not to consider this possibility.
Sorry this post was so long, but both these matters are too important to gloss over.