Dogs will be prohibited from Lambert’s Cove Beach next summer, following a close and hotly debated vote at a special town meeting on Tuesday, November 15.
After nearly an hour of discussion, the divided gathering voted 66-61 to ban dogs at the beach from June 15 to September 15, ending a tradition of pet owners sharing the popular public beach with their pals in the summer months.
The question was placed on the warrant by the parks and recreation committee, in response to what committee members described as years of complaints from residents about smelly dog droppings and out-of-control canines at the beach.
“I don’t go to the beach anymore,” said Scotchman’s Bridge Lane resident Karen Overtoom. “The smell is so overpowering during the walk to get to the beach, so I don’t go. You have to decide if it’s for the people or for the dogs.”
“Their fecies and urine do not go together with children and people lying there in the sand,” said Nelia Decker. “Families come there with their children, and so many dog owners come there in the morning and befoul that area.”
The article changed dates when Seth’s Pond and Lambert’s Cove Beach are open to the public. Under the new policy, people are prohibited at the two areas from 9 pm to 7 am from June 15 to September 15.
The article also banned dogs at the two areas and imposed a $50 fine for those found in violation. This was by far the most heavily debated part of the article, with many pet owners calling it heavy handed and unfair.
“It seems like a bit of overkill,” said State Road resident Christopher Brooks. “I consider it a privilege to take our dog to Lambert’s Cove Beach, and we are very respectful of the rules … we pick up after our dog and will continue to do so.”
Mr. Brooks later made an amendment to allow dogs at the beach from sunrise until 10 am, but it was defeated in a standing vote.
Mr. Brooks also floated the idea of increasing the fee for dog permits from $5 to $50. The increased fee would allow the town to hire someone to ensure the dog droppings are collected and that canines are under control.
Mr. Brooks’ suggestion led to a legal opinion from town counsel Ronald Rappaport, who said town-owned properties are insulated from liability if they are used by the public for recreational purposes without a charge.
Mr. Rappaport advised against increasing the fees for dog permits, because charging a more substantial fee for dog permits would eliminate the benefit of that exemption.
In addition to increasing the fees, there were other ideas offered to address the dog problem without explicitly banning them.
The ideas included having a special path to the beach for dog owners only, creating a special doggie-friendly area at the beach, or designating specific days when dogs were allowed.
Cheryl Lowe, co-chairman of the parks committee, said her committee has discussed the issue extensively in recent years. Although pet owners have given assurances they would police themselves, there has been little progress, she said.
“The biggest problem is the dog waste. We do provide bags for the dogs … but anyone who goes down there in the middle of the summer will see poop in the middle of the trail and the bags hanging from the trees,” she said.
“It’s a big problem and we don’t know how to keep it from being a health problem,” she added.
Ms. Lowe said dogs have also become a safety problem at the beach. There have been reports of dogs knocking people down and one report of a dog bite. She also noted that some people who go to the beach are simply afraid of dogs.
“The most surprising thing is the number of people we heard from who say they just don’t go to the beach anymore because of the dog problem,” she said.
Toward the end of the debate, dog lovers made a final plea to defeat the article, arguing that pet owners can and will do a better job of keeping the beach clean.
“To lose a privilege we have had all these years, one that is really a tremendous joy for numerous people, would be very sad to me, and I would hate to see that go,” said Vivian Stein.
David Stein argued the problem can be traced to non-Islanders. “It’s the people who visit the Island who feel their dogs can do whatever they want because they are on vacation,” he said. “I would argue those who live here year-round should not be penalized by those who do what they want and feel this is just a place they visit, and not their home.”
Police Chief Dan Rossi said he supported allowing dogs at the beach as long as their owners do a better job picking up after them. He said he is doubtful police will have the time or resources to issue tickets to those found in violation.
Nicole Galland suggested the vote be put off until the annual town meeting in the spring. “It seems to me there are enough questions — like how it will be enforced — to decide this in November,” she said. “Since this is something that won’t be enacted until next summer, and especially since we have a regular town meeting in April, can we shelve this and have a task force address this?”
Ms. Galland moved to postpone the article indefinitely, which brought a new round of debate. The motion was defeated in a tight vote by a final tally of 66-63, drawing groans from some in the crowd.
Moderator Pat Gregory then called the question for the main article to ban dogs at the beach in the summer, which passed in another squeaker by three votes. After the article passed, many people headed for the door.
In other business
The rest of the town meeting was tame by comparison, as voters approved all other articles by wide margins, including one that asked the town to accept the gift of the Mill Pond dam and an adjacent buffer zone from the Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club.
The article also appropriated $7,000 to pay costs associated with the transfer.
Voters also agreed to amend the town personnel bylaw to allow on-call police officers to be compensated $75 per shift and allow them to be credited for actual time worked in one hour increments at the officer’s overtime rate.
They also approved an article to add the position of police lieutenant to the town force; another article to transfer $3,652 in unexpended funds for the purchase of a boat, motor, trailer, and other equipment for the shellfish committee.
An article to raise $10,000 to evaluate a project sponsored by the Cape and Vineyard Energy Cooperative to build a solar photovoltaic array at the town landfill to provide power to town buildings also passed easily.
Voters also agreed to spend $1,000 in conservation funds to purchase “No ATV” signs to be placed at the Margaret K. Littlefield Greenlands, a 380-acre parcel of town-owned land between Old County Road and the State Forest.