A Christmas miracle?
For a few brief minutes yesterday evening, the unthinkable seemed possible: the Scarborough Town Council appeared to be on the verge of listening to the common-sense pleas of the Town’s citizens. Were we to have our own little Christmas miracle? Yes, they actually considered extending the wildly unrealistic deadline they had suggested for the new “Ad Hoc Animal Control Advisory Committee” to complete its work – 21 business days amid three holidays to craft a reasonable response to a complex, highly charged issue. But, no, the esteemed Council members reverted to their true form and nixed the proposed extension. Apparently 21 days is plenty of time to ram through a predetermined outcome while still preserving the appearance of fair public input. Councilor Donovan thought 21 days was sufficient.
Councilor St. Clair made a plea that the public name names when questioning Councilors’ statements and positions. I think she’s right. Voting against the one-month extension of the deadline were Councilors Benedict, Blaise and Donovan. That resulted in a 3-3 tie, so the extension amendment was defeated. Council Chair Sullivan was not present at last night’s meeting. The last time he was not present – when a 3-3 tie caused the Council not to reconsider their dubious all-leashes, all-the-time amendment – then-Council chair Ahlquist reported that Mr. Sullivan was moose hunting.
More of the same
The Council’s discussion and action Wednesday evening confirmed once again their starting point for any possible modifications of the animal control ordinance – the US Fish and Wildlife Service is in charge of our beaches. Since a few piping plover families have popped in to spend the summer season on our beaches, the Council has essentially turned over setting access policies for our beaches to a Federal agency. This is in spite of three important factors:
- No Council member has seen the Maine Warden Service report on the alleged death of a piping plover chick on July 15. Yes, the Town basically entered a guilty plea without seeing the evidence. How irresponsible is that?
- The legal basis for the USFWS’s Notice of Violation to the Town is questionable. Dueling high-priced lawyers disagree on this point, but that’s often the case.
- The Council refuses to consider the option of simply paying the possibly reinstated $12,000 fine and move on with defining how Scarborough residents want to balance beach access rules with threatened species protection.
(One quick reminder that cannot be repeated often enough – having dogs on leashes is not the USFWS’s preferred method of “protecting” piping plovers from dogs. They would much prefer no dogs at all on beaches all summer. Period. Do not take the word of a jaundiced observer (me) on this… look at what happened at Western Beach this past summer. In order to get the US Army Corps of Engineers to “renourish” the beach, USFWS prevailed upon the Prouts Neck Association to ban all dogs from the beach from April 1 to September 30. There’s a definite pattern here – USFWS goes town by town, and even beach by beach, and extracts the strongest concessions they can with the minimum amount of effort and public outcry. Unfortunately, USFWS has found an all too willing accomplice in the Scarborough Town Council.)
In their own words…
The crowd of about 25 dog supporters was remarkably quiet, restrained and well-behaved considering the Council’s continuing determination to ignore the will of the people.
Councilor Blaise, however, drew major guffaws with his statement that he hadn’t seen any other solutions regarding the plover issue.
He also made the statement of the night: “I’m not going to fight the government.” That crisp sentiment, which appears to be shared by at least three other Councilors, is at the very heart of the problem. Councilor Blaise and others are willing – no, anxious – to cede control of access to Scarborough’s beaches to a Federal agency. Many of us are not.