SACO — Scarborough residents are lending their voices to a debate in nearby Saco about when dogs should be kept on leashes at the beach.

Saco city councilors are considering an ordinance that would mandate leashes at all times from April 1 through Sept. 30. Currently, dogs must be on leashes at the beach only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during July and August.

The suggested ordinance change was proposed to match requirements of a beach management plan the city signed this summer with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The beach agreement ensures protection of endangered and at-risk wildlife, including piping plovers, a tiny shore bird that is a federal threatened species and state endangered species.

That management plan needs to be in place in order for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to agree to a replenishment project, city officials said. That project would use sand from dredging of the Saco River to replenish a stretch of eroded coastline in the Camp Ellis area.

Scarborough passed a similar leash ordinance in 2013, after a plover was killed by an unleashed dog on Pine Point Beach, but then altered those restrictions after a resident, Katy Foley, led a successful petition drive.

Foley, now a Scarborough councilor, was among those who spoke at a public hearing Monday night, advising the city not to be too restrictive. She told councilors that Saco shouldn’t feel that it has to have such a restrictive beach law in order for the U.S. Army Corps to move forward with the beach nourishment plan.

“They should put that sand where your town needs it, it’s the right thing to do, not because they’re holding something over your heads,” she said.

Foley’s sister, Suzanne Foley-Ferguson, said she helped write Scarborough’s piping plover ordinance. She said she believes in protecting plovers, but there needs to be some balance. She also told Saco city officials not to feel pressured by federal officials.

Councilor Nathan Johnston said he thought city officials might benefit from exploring Scarborough’s ordinance, which prohibits dogs from being on beaches between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. from May 15 to Labor Day, but does allow unleashed dogs on beaches from sunrise to 9 a.m. and leashed dogs on beaches after 5 p.m. From the day after Labor Day to the May 14, dogs on beaches must be leashed from 1-3 p.m.

“I felt from the very beginning that we were strong-armed into this,” Johnston said. “If felt as though we had no other choice, and it sounds like we have another choice.”

Councilor Micah Smart said he thought dredging was important, but would “love to continue the conversation and explore other options” than the current ordinance change proposal on the table.

Councilor Alan Minthorn said he could see both sides of the issue. He said the city has had its first dredging opportunity in 15 years, and shouldn’t do anything to slow down the process. He said the city should move forward with the proposed ordinance change and then it could revisit the ordinance after the dredging and subsequent beach nourishment occurred.

Saco residents who spoke at Monday’s hearing were mixed.

Mark Gross said he favored the proposed ordinance change. He said not all dogs are controllable by voice, and the proposal protected both the environment and people.

Cushing Samp enjoys taking her small dog, Phineas, to the beach and walking him without a leash.

“It engenders such a sense of community,” she said.

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