Monthly Archives: March 2014

Dredging Up The Dirt

dredge bannerSCARBOROUGH FISHERMEN MAY BE GROUNDED BY PIPING PLOVERS

Hard to believe, but true: the Sacred Bird, aka the piping plover, is holding up the Scarborough River dredging project. First, a brief review of the salient facts:

  •  The dredging project is running behind schedule. Contributing factors have been a late start due to contract approval issues, brutal weather and equipment problems. (There is also a hint of a suggestion that the contractor hasn’t been working hard or long enough on the project. Having seen them at work at all hours of the day, seven days a week, and in all sorts of inhumane weather, I personally discount that suggestion.)
  •  The project contract and Maine DEP permit require that the work be completed by March 31.
  • Why March 31? You already know the answer to that question… That’s the date that USFWS and MDIFW specify as the beginning of piping plover season.
  • Since the project will not be completed by the hard deadline of March 31, the US Army Corps of Engineers is evaluating how best to schedule the completion of the project – either this fall or after the beginning of 2015 (while the Sacred Bird is catching its breath in the Bahamas).

dogblog-cost per bird

Pampering Piper Plovers – At What Cost?

I am not an engineer. In fact, high school physics was touch and go for me. But I do have a pretty good sense that there will be a significant additional cost involved with stopping the project on March 31 and restarting it again later in the year with a new contractor, versus simply extending the deadline of the current contractor by a few weeks.

To start a completely new project with a new contractor to finish the dredge in October or January will involve significant additional start-up and breakdown costs that would not be incurred by simply letting the current contractor finish the job in April. Among these additional costs would be going through another contract awarding process, transporting another barge and piping to the site, setting the new equipment up (it took the current contractor at least a couple of weeks to put all the pieces together in January), coordinating the work that has been done with the remaining work, breaking down the barge and equipment and shipping it back to its home base.

So while there won’t be any change in the total amount of sand dredged in the project, there will be significant front- and back-end costs associated with adding a second phase to the project. What might that cost be? $25,000? $50,000? More? I don’t the answer to that question. I certainly hope that someone is at least asking that question. Until a knowledgeable party provides a reasonable estimate of the additional costs involved in adding a second phase to the project as opposed to extending the current contractor’s deadline, here, for discussion purposes, is my estimate of the minimum additional costs involved with not extending the March 31 deadline – $25,000.

[Mr. Kim: If you are reading this, please contact me.  I would like to hear your side of the story, as well as an estimate of how much longer it will take to complete the contracted work.  TTH]

Western Beach as a Piping Plover Summer Destination: “Meh”

Let’s face it, the piping plovers have never really embraced Western Beach as prime habitat, despite the Prouts Neck cachet.  Never has it made Plover Travel & Leisure Magazine’s “Top Twenty Beaches in Maine” list.  In fact – to use some real data – Western Beach has a very spotty record as a plover destination.  According to Audubon data, there have been exactly zero nesting attempts on Western Beach during the last three years. Not one. Zilch. Nada. And a total of only three nesting attempts there in the three-year period before that. Doesn’t sound like very crucial plover habitat, does it?

Beach nourishment in process.

Beach nourishment in process.

Not sure this is the color sand the Sacred Bird prefers...

Not sure this is the color sand the Sacred Bird prefers…

Just how much sand is 115,000 cubic yards?

Just how much sand is 115,000 cubic yards?

Last day of dredging -- March 31!

Last day of dredging — March 31!

Just How Dumb “Instinctually Challenged” Are the Little Guys?

So, at the moment, Western Beach is a mess – huge, unnatural piles of sand; heavy equipment rattling around all day; the constant and loud rattling sound of the sand pumping equipment and a huge and ever-present flock of gulls attending the sand outflow pipe at the water’s edge. It’s hard to imagine a more inhospitable piece of habitat for a piping plover. While a few hundred feet away – as the natural predator flies – is a relatively quiet and nutrient-rich stretch of Pine Point Beach. Why would any plover that had a microliter of survival instinct consider nesting on Western Beach in its current state when Pine Point Beach sits placidly across the Scarborough River entrance?

dogblog-threatened speciesWhat goes around, comes around…

Those of you who have been following the goings-on involving the piping plover and Scarborough beaches since the beginning of this issue will recall that this is not the first time the harbor dredge project has been threatened by the Sacred Bird. In fact, delaying the dredge was the first club the USFWS used on the Town in their fanatical efforts to keep dogs off our beaches. At that time, some Town officials had their knickers in a frightful twist at the prospect of a delay in the dredge – they cited the inability of fishermen to get their boats in and out of the harbor if the dredge wasn’t completed this winter.
Things must have changed somehow in the last few months, since — at least based on media reports — not a peep has been heard from Councilors or the Town Manager about the possibility of extending the dredge deadline for a few weeks.  Apparently defending the livelihood of the Town’s fishermen was only important when banning off-leash dogs on the beach was part of the deal.  Interesting.  And appalling, too, that apparently no Town leader even dares to raise the possibility of standing up to USFWS/MDIFW and extending the dredge deadline.

Patting Myself on the Back and Kicking Myself in the @¢¢

Although I was early in identifying the dredge as being behind schedule, my conclusion on the result of the delay was totally off the mark.  As you will recall, in the last blog entry I predicted a major panic when it became clear that the dredge project would not be completed on time.  Wrong.  No need for panic… the March 31 deadline is sacrosanct, inviolable, untouchable.  We are, after all, talking about the Sacred Bird. He shall not be inconvenienced.

So the only handwringing has been about how best to respond to the needs of Scarborough’s fishermen and recreational boaters in a manner that minimizes the fact that their needs are clearly secondary to those of the piping plover. I made a rookie mistake – I assumed that the dredge project was being directed by reasonable people using common sense. Obviously experience has taught me nothing.

"I'm listening to reason..."
“I’m listening to reason…”

 

Just How Dumb Lacking in Common Sense Are We?

To summarize, then:

  • Western Beach has never been high on the piping plover’s nesting radar. No nesting attempts have been made there in the past three years. (Now that’s SCIENCE!)
  • Any bird with half a brain checking out Western Beach in its current disrupted state would quickly choose nearby Pine Point Beach as a preferred nesting site. (More Science!)
  • Taxpayers will foot a significant bill — $25,000 or perhaps much more — for not extending the dredge timeline. All to allow the Sacred Bird the opportunity to grace us with its presence. We may or may not be honored by his presence. (Economics!)
  • Scarborough fishermen will be put at unnecessary risk and inconvenience for the spring and summer, on the off chance that a plover plunks his or her adorable little tush down on Western Beach. (Politics!)

Please wake me when this nightmare is over.

 

 

 

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The Grand CONpromise (as in, “you’ve just been conned.”)

dogblog-little red ridingWell, first there was the charade of a “public process.”  Then the stacked committee to carry out the charade.  And what could be a more fitting ending than a grand con masquerading as a “compromise.”

Friends, the Councilors are once again testing the gullibility of the people of Scarborough.  First there was the totally one-sided report of the Ad Hoc Animal Control Advisory Committee.  Then the Council had the February 19 workshop where they made noises about maintaining off-leash time for dogs during the summer months.  Then at the March 5 workshop Councilor Donovan outlined a “compromise” that eliminates all off-leash time for dogs on large swaths of the beaches from April 1 through at least Labor Day and will very likely eliminate all off-leash time on entire beaches from mid-May through Labor Day… depending upon the presence of the Sacred Bird.   Councilor Donovan’s proposal is nothing less than the Chabot sanctuary beaches proposal dressed up with confusing complexities and self-serving contingencies.

Words matter!  A “compromise” is produced when each side on an issue gives up something.  In this case, the bird extremists/anti-dog crowd have given up absolutely nothing from the current ordinance.  There was nothing there for them to give.  Instead, those of us who have enjoyed exercising our dogs on the beautiful Scarborough beaches (many for decades) are being told that the Sacred Bird has priority and we must change accordingly.  Basically no more off-leash hours in the summer and new restrictions in the winter as well.   The dog people were the only ones who gave.  This was not a compromise!

(Some have argued that this is a “compromise” because the bird extremists weren’t successful in getting the beaches completely closed to dogs from April 1 through September 30 – their preferred solution.  So they gave up some of what they wanted.  But that’s very different from giving up some of what they already have.  In fact, the dog owners were the only ones who gave up anything.  So the Donovan proposal does not reflect a compromise, just a statement of how badly dog owners are getting screwed.)

The devil, as always, is in the details.

 dogblog--devilindetails.

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You have to love some of the finer points of the Donovan faux-compromise:

·         Bird monitoring – One of the main contingency complexities of the proposal is that non-protected (i.e., sanctuary) portions of the beaches will be closed as soon as one of the Sacred Birds plunks his or her feathery little butt down across certain lines in the sand.  And guess who will be monitoring said butt plunking?  Yes, indeed, the Mses. Chabot and LaCasse, ably assisted by a platoon of volunteers from the bird extremist army (Audubon).  Sure, they’ll be impartial and unbiased observers.  That’s like having the fox guard the chicken coop.  Or, in this case, the plover nest.

·         Real beach closure dates – So, given the very high likelihood that a chick will be “spotted” by Audubon on each of the beaches at the earliest possible opportunity, what are the realistic dates for which the ENTIRE BEACH will lose off-leash time?  Well, the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s 1994 Guidelines for Managing Recreational Activities in Piping Plover Breeding Habitat… (1994) notes that “flightless chicks may be present from mid-May until late August, although most fledge by the end of July.” (p. 4).  So, please do not be surprised when all of Higgins, all of Ferry and most of Pine Point beaches prohibit off-leash dogs from May 15 through September 1.

·         Just where is Ferry Beach? – Although it’s not noted in the written description, in his comments at the March 5 workshop, Councilor Donovan made reference to the north end of Ferry Beach, that is, beyond the boathouses and away from the parking area, as being available to off-leash dogs at all times during the summer.  Trouble is, that chunk of beach beyond the boathouses doesn’t belong to the Town.  That piece of beach along Black Rock Road belongs to – wait for it – Prout’s Neck Country Club.  You know, the same people who own Western Beach and have made it “NO DOGS ALLOWED from April 1 to September 30.”   I’m not much of a betting man, but I’ll give very good odds on “Black Rock Beach” becoming “NO DOGS” very soon.

·         Can you say “slippery slope”? – The complexity, contingencies, moving dates, moving lines, bird sighting standards/responsibility (currently undefined) and beach closure communication protocols (also currently undefined) mean that the 2014 summer season will be utterly chaotic in terms of dog access.  Here’s the prediction of a not particularly talented psychic: Around October of this year, the Council will decide that, despite heroic efforts on everyone’s part, the revised animal control ordinance was just too cumbersome.  And so for 2015, we’ll have to go to a simpler approach – no dogs from April 1 through Labor Day.  Wanna bet?

dogblog--sap timeThis is the time of year when maple trees are tapped for their sap and vast quantities of the stuff are boiled down into maple syrup.  In fact, it takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup.  That’s a lot of boiling down.  So let’s boil down the facts about the current piping plover protection hysteria…

When you get right down to it, there is only a single fallacy that has been driving the entire dog/plover controversy for the last eight months – reasonably controlled off-leash dogs and piping plovers cannot coexist on our beaches.  That’s simply not true.  Experience shows it’s not true.

“Science” did not determine that piping plovers and reasonably controlled off-leash dogs cannot coexist on our beaches – the four hand-picked anti-dog members of the AHACAC made that determination.

In fact, if “Statistics,” that highly regarded patriarch of the “Science” family had been consulted, this entire discussion should have been short-lived.  There are reams of data, much of it ginned out by the bird extremists themselves, citing the threats associated with piping plover mortality and productivity.  High on the lists of threats are weather, tides, crows, gulls, skunks, foxes, minks, and on and on.  Dogs rank extremely low on the list, yet they have been singled out as the villain in the plover recovery narrative.  (See Maine Audubon’s 2013 Piping Plover and Least Tern Newsletter to see in what low esteem Audubon holds dog owners.  Much more on this in a subsequent posting.)

Remember, in more than thirty years of record keeping, Audubon has come up with two possible incidents involving dogs, neither of which has been convincingly documented.  Compare this to the tens of thousands of off-leash hours that dog owners have enjoyed with their dogs during that same time period.  Compare it to the hundreds of chicks and eggs that have been lost to tides, weather and real predators.  The odds of a dog killing a piping plover on a Scarborough beach are right up there with me winning Megabucks.  And yet “Science” decrees that piping plovers and off-leash dogs cannot be on the same beach?  Time to boil some more sap and get down to the real truth.

Western Beach Update

At about 7am on Monday (March 10) I was checking on the progress of the dredge/”renourishment” project at Western Beach.  To do this, I confess I briefly breached the yellow tape that marks the “construction zone.”  For this minor infraction I was rewarded with two bird sightings.

First, a couple of dozen common sandpipers doing their usual dance with the remnants of the waves at the ever-moving intersection of sea and land.  (I wonder, can anyone without an advanced degree in avian science possibly distinguish between a Sacred Bird (piping plover) and a common sandpiper at 200 feet?  Especially without binoculars.)

The markings on the owl I saw weren't quite as pronounced as on this one.

The markings on the owl I saw weren’t quite as pronounced as on this one.

Second, sitting placidly atop a snow-fence post was a snowy owl.  He or she seemed utterly unconcerned by the passage of man and dog.  Actually, I think he was scoping out the area in terms of plover habitat in the next month or two.  Perhaps thinking that this would be an ideal spot to score a plover omelet.  (Now won’t that be a tough choice for Those Who Control Nature – what if a snowy owl sets up shop as a plover predator on Western Beach?  TWCN don’t mind poisoning or shooting crows that pose a threat to the Sacred Bird, but a snowy owl?  Now that would be the horns of a dilemma.)

Anyway.  Birds aside, the dredge is in full swing.  Lots of sand being pumped out of the channel and sprayed on to the beach where it will be neatly bulldozed into place.  From which it will gradually be sucked back into the channel in the great rhythm of beach life.  My only concern is whether the project will be completed on time.  The bitter cold, snow and general storminess of February made that a very challenging time to dredge.  And there are still considerable areas of the channel that need HMS Electrolux’s suctioning attention.  One can only imagine the consternation that will result from the appearance of one of the Sacred Ones on any area beach before the last piece of PVC pipe is on a flatbed trailer headed back to Maryland.  Panicky phone calls, crisis meetings, discussions of waivers from Scarborough to Falmouth (Maine Audubon) to Augusta (MDIFW) to Hadley, MA (USFWS) to Concord, MA (USACE) to Washington, DC.  And you thought the Russian incursion into Ukraine was a crisis.

More next time…

In the meantime, the “Thought for the Day” that arrived in this morning’s email: 

“So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we’ll be called a democracy.”  — Roger Baldwin

(I had never heard of Roger Baldwin.  Turns out he was one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union.)

Waiting for the next shoe (or the last laugh)

dogblog--erBREAKING NEWS:

Epidemic Overwhelms ER at Scarborough General Hospital!

Following the Town Council Workshop and Meeting of February 19, Scarborough General Hospital’s Emergency Room was overwhelmed with cases of self-inflicted second-degree pinches and puncture wounds.  “People were pinching themselves so hard and jabbing themselves with sharp objects just to make sure they weren’t dreaming,” said ER director Florence Barton.

The apparent willingness of some members of the Town Council to listen to reason on a revised animal control ordinance left many dog owners in disbelief.  “I jabbed myself with a knitting needle while I sat at home watching the recording of the Council meeting,” recounted Teresa Defarge, a Pine Point resident.  “I thought for sure I was hallucinating,” added Defarge.

“It seemed too good to be true,” noted Rudd Weatherwax a frequent dog walker on Higgins Beach with his dog, Pal.  After being treated and released for a nasty self-inflicted pinch on his forearm, Weatherwax was philosophical… and cautious.  “With this bunch, you never know,” he said.

In addition to the ER staff, the Hospital’s mental health unit was gearing up for possible action.  “We’ve seen situations with the Town Council like this before,” said Hermann Rohrschach, MD, PhD, CBM, director of Psychiatry at the Hospital.  “They seem to be heading down one path and then, BAM!, they change directions and go down a completely different one.  Emotionally, it’s very hard on the folks who are actually paying attention to what’s going on,” he added.

Based on past experiences with the Council, Rohrschach has put all Hospital mental health providers on the staff on standby alert.  “The last thing we want,” he said, “is a bunch of folks hurling themselves into the muck at Co-op Beach in an attempt to end it all.”  Rohrschach also notified Maine Medical Center’s P6 to be prepared for a spike in admissions.

Even More Enforcement Lip Service

One thing almost everyone concerned with the plovers/dogs/beaches issue agreed on was that the Town of Scarborough has done a poor job of enforcing the relevant ordinances since the last overhaul in 2004.   All the members of the AHACAC agreed that something has to be done about enforcement going forward.

So here was their golden opportunity to make some substantive recommendations of what an enforcement program might look like… you know, something along the lines of:  “a uniformed officer should visit each beach at least three times a week during the summer season on a random basis to educate, warn and issue violations.”  Or something like that with real specificity.  And real costs associated with the program.  And suggestions on how to pay for that program (increased dog license fees or beach pass fees or whatever).

 But what did we get in the AHACAC Final Report?

 “Enhanced focus on Education and Enforcement

ACTION:   Refer to staff and On-Going Committee for implementation”

In other words, nothing will change.  The next ten years of enforcement will be as ineffective as the last ten.  The only way there will be any sort of real enforcement is if the Council directs the Finance Committee to increase the Police Department budget to allow for x hours of dedicated beach patrols every week during the summer months.  Otherwise it’s just so many words blowing in the wind, much like the “in-title-only” piping plover coordinator the Town has supposedly had for the past couple of years.  Without a Council-directed increase to the Police Department budget for beach enforcement activities, the Department will be forced to prioritize resources in a manner that continues to shortchange those activities.

Well, perhaps not this much enforcement...

Well, perhaps not this much enforcement…

Town Council members, please make sure something happens this time – specify and fund the beach enforcement program!

 Musings of an Ironymonger

There is one maxim that those of us in the irony business take very seriously: “He who laughs last, laughs best.”  We know that there may well be interim laughs along the way, but it’s the final laugh that really counts.  Up until recently, I thought it was a foregone conclusion that, as of April 1, the Town Council would be having the next laugh as they gleefully implemented the “”Fish and Wildlife” ordinance.  But rumblings at the workshop and Council meeting on February 19 gave a faint glimmer of hope that reason…and the will of the people… might actually prevail.  Perhaps that was just a ploy to soften us up.  Time will tell.  In the meantime, we’ll have to adhere to the wisdom of another adage: “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”  Or, perhaps in this case, until the next referendum occurs.

And while we’re in the Irony Department, one of the most fascinating results of the post-AHACAC discussion was Lucy LaCasse’s quote in the Current after hearing the Council’s discussion of the Committee’s report: “It’s a little frustrating,” she said. “It feels like, ‘Why did we bother?’”  I forget in which of the Ad Hoc Committee meetings it occurred, but Katy Foley made an eerily similar statement.  So, at different points in the proceedings, both sides have expressed exactly the same frustration.  Now that’s irony for you.

USFWS Strikes Again!  Saco Residents, Prepare Yourselves!

Those staunch defenders of the piping plovers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are at it again!  And right down the beach in Saco!  Our good friend, Laury Zicari, has effectively put the kibosh on another US Army Corps of Engineers’ project.  And this one may even be more outrageous than our experience in Scarborough.

It seems that the Corps of Engineers has developed a plan to build a jetty at Camp Ellis to prevent people’s houses from being washed into the great Atlantic Ocean.  But, hang on here a minute… this project might adversely affect the Sacred Bird!  We can’t have that, now can we?  Too bad for you folks who are going to have your homes washed away.  Your interests get ZERO weight in the USFWS evaluation of the project.  C’est la vie!

Aerial view of Camp Ellis Beach.  (US ARmy Corps of Engineers)

Aerial view of Camp Ellis Beach. (US Army Corps of Engineers)

For the details of this incredible story, click here.

Ms. Zicari’s letter spelling out the objections to the project may be found here.

One of the many possible adverse effects of the proposed project specified by Ms. Zicari is: “Incorrect sand grain or color” might be used in the beach nourishment aspect of the project.  Who knew the Sacred Bird had such a well-developed aesthetic sense…

dogblog--two plovers

Western Beach Closed… Half-heartedly

dogblog--western bch -02-14

Even Sister Mary Catherine (my 3rd grade Sunday School teacher) probably wouldn’t be deterred by this level of beach closure warning.

With the harbor dredge and associated “beach nourishment” now in high gear, Western Beach is sort of closed.   Understandably, the dredge folks don’t want a bunch of civilians and their dogs in close proximity to the work area.  As one of the crew told me before the “keep out” signs went up at Ferry Rock, if one of those 14” PVC pipes ruptured while the pumping was happening, you could get nastily sand blasted.  Truth be told, I doubt there’s really much danger of one of the pipes rupturing, but a lot of pedestrians plying the beach while heavy machinery is operating there would be hazardous.

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dogblog--shocking fact

Until next time, enjoy the beaches responsibly!