2017-05-25 / News

Towns to work out permits to let horses on beaches

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

Horses are not allowed to be on the beach from now until October in Scarborough, but a little more than four months from now when they are, riders may be expected to abide by a different set of rules.

The Scarborough Town Council Finance Committee is looking into the Horse Beach Permit Ordinance, which has been on the books since 2009, to see if there is a better way to regulate horse riding at Pine Point Beach, the only beach where they are allowed.

Ordinance Committee Chairman Bill Donovan and Assistant Town Manager Larissa Crockett are expected to work on revision language before the committee’s next meeting on Thursday, June 1.

As it stands now, for riders to bring their horses to the beach between Oct. 1 and March 31, they have to get a permit from either the Scarborough town clerk or Old Orchard Beach town clerk and display their requisite identification tag properly. Permits cost $20 and are good for the entire six-month horse riding season. Horses are only permitted to enter the beach from Hurd Park (the town parking lot on Avenue 5) or the Milliken Street parking lot in Old Orchard Beach and are allowed in the intertidal zone – the area between the mean high tide mark and mean low tide mark. Riders are required to pick up any droppings their horse may leave on the beach. It is the lack of proper cleanup that Bay Street resident Susan Hamill said is her issue with horses on the beach.

“It is a great place to bring your horse – the beach, especially in the winter. Where else can they go? (The ordinance) is so flagrantly and totally disrespected and (people) really have no interest in cleaning up after their horses that we’ve got to do something, whether that is more enforcement or to change the ordinance,” Hamill said at an ordinance committee earlier this month.

Feces on the beach, she has said in the past, is a health issue especially when it gets into the water that fisherman are working in or in the summer families are swimming in.

The three-person committee, which also includes Will Rowan and Kate St. Clair, is leaning toward keeping the aforementioned restrictions, but also require horses to have a Bun-Bag, a small bag to catch any feces before it lands on the beach.

“I think it is a good next step,” Rowan said.

St. Clair, a former horse rider who said riding a horse on a beach is an “amazing experience” said the issue needs to be resolved so it doesn’t become too much of a health issue.

“We have a responsibility to our residents to keep our beaches clean. This is the first conservative step to take. If it doesn’t work, we will have to be more forceful,” she said.

However the committee decides to proceed, Donovan said since Scarborough issues many more permits than Old Orchard Beach does, it makes sense for Scarborough to make the change regarding any horse permit changes.

“Scarborough should really drive the train. Most of the permits are coming from us,” he said.

Old Orchard Beach Town Clerk Kim McLaughlin said last season, her office issued 18 permits. Scarborough on the other hand issued 103 permits.

Scarborough Town Clerk Tody Justice said Scarborough used to issue far more permits, but with the lack of horses being housed at Scarborough Downs, the demand has waned.

“It used to be the guys from the Downs would take their sulky down and run on the beach,” Justice said.

The current ordinance carries with it a $50 to $100 fine for the first offense, $100 to $250 fine for the second offense and an up to $500 fine for the third and subsequent offenses. The committee may tweak those penalties. Rowan said he would be open to increasing the fines or banning a rider for a year on the second offense.

While the requirement of a Bun-Bag meets the approval of the committee, Crockett was a little hesitant it is the right approach, especially after consulting with horse owners over the last few weeks in preparation of the ordinance committee review. If the ordinance were to pass, Scarborough would be the first community Crockett is aware of that has such stringent regulations.

“Horses need to be trained to use the bags. It is not something you can just strap on your horse and away they go,” she said. “I would caution doing that. I think it’s nice to blaze the trail. If we want to be the first community to require one of those bags, by all means. Sometimes it is nice to be number one, but I would caution, there might be some push back from the horse community about horses that simpley aren’t trained to use the bags."

Prior to joining up with Scarborough, Old Orchard Beach handed out horse permits on its own and required the bag. McLaughlin said last week that she could not recall any complaints about the requirement either from horse riders or the general public. When the two towns teamed up for joint permitting in 2009, that requirement was dropped.

“They did not want to amend their ordinance,” McLaughlin said of Scarborough, “so in order to be a joint permit, we had to remove that requirement.”

St. Clair said she would not support any changes to the ordinance short of a Bun-Bag requirement.

I’ve looked into this and we have talked about this for months. We hold other animals and other people to certain standards and I think we have to continue to protect (our beach) as best we can,” she said.

Because Old Orchard Beach/Pine Point Beach is one continuous beach, any changes made would also have to be approved by the Old Orchard Beach Town Council.

“You have to mirror each other for it to work because it is one permit,” McLaughlin said.

The two towns, she added, could also decide to once again handle the permitting on their own.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarbroughleader.com

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