West Tisbury special town meeting will focus on dogs

Lamberts Cove beach is a popular spot for people and pets. — File photo by Susan Safford

West Tisbury selectmen approved a 10-article warrant Wednesday, May 23 for a special town meeting to be held on June 5. Among other things, voters will be asked to fund two new positions to enforce the new dog regulations at Lambert’s Cove Beach during the summer months.

Voters will decide whether to fund a new assistant animal control officer (ACO) who will be posted at Lambert’s Cove Beach in the morning to make sure dogs are kept under control and pet owners clean up after their canine pals.

They will also decide whether to allocate funding for a new parking lot attendant at Lambert’s Cove Beach to keep dogs out during the evening hours when the town employees have left for the day.

The special town meeting begins at 7 pm on Tuesday, June 5 at the West Tisbury Elementary School.

A total of $6,513 will be needed to pay the wages for the new animal control officer (ACO) at the beach. One article asks voters to transfer $936 from free cash and another article would authorize the town to raise and appropriate $5,577 to fund the position.

Voters will also decide whether to allocate $9,162 for the new parking lot attendant at the beach to make sure no dogs are allowed during the evening hours.

Selectmen proposed the two new positions after voters approved a partial ban on dogs at Lambert’s Cove Beach from June 15 to September 15. At a special town meeting in November, voters agreed to ban dogs outright from the beach in the summer in a close vote.

The ban was proposed by the Parks and Recreation Department after years of complaints about out of control dogs and excessive dog droppings at the beach.

A group called Friends of Lambert’s Cove Beach then successfully petitioned to place an article on the warrant of the annual town meeting in April to repeal the ban. In the end voters struck a compromise and agreed to only allow dogs during the summer between 7 am and 10 am.

But selectmen still had concerns about who would enforce the new dog policies at the beach since the animal control officer does not have the time and the police department lacks the resources to keep an officer at the beach.

At a meeting on May 2, selectmen unanimously voted to schedule the special town meeting to allocate the funding for the two new positions and also allow voters to decide on stricter regulations relating to the restraint of dogs and the removal of dog feces at town parks and beaches.

At that meeting members of the Friends of Lambert’s Cove Beach offered to post volunteers at the beach to greet visitors, make sure dogs were kept under control and also keep the beach clean of debris and dog waste.

Selectmen said they appreciated the offer, but questioned if it was legal for a volunteer group to enforce town policies. They instead suggested that the group raise money and then make a donation to the town to help fund the assistant ACO and additional beach attendant.

An article at the special town meeting will ask voters to authorize the town to: “accept the provisions of Massachusetts General Law that empowers the town to enact bylaws relative to the regulation of dogs.”

Another article would then amend the dog bylaw adopted at the annual town meeting in 1975 by striking language that simply states that “all dogs owned or kept within the limit of the town shall be restrained from running at large or shall be kept within the immediate control of their owners.”

It would instead replace it with the more stringent language: “no persons who owns or keeps a dog shall allow the animal under his care to run free when not restricted to the premises of said owner or keeper.”

It continues: “When off premises of the owner or keeper, all dogs shall be leashed or restricted. The animal control officer, or any member of the police department, may apprehend all dogs which are not so restrained and controlled.”

Another article asks voters to authorize a new bylaw imposing a fine to anyone who violates the regulations for any property managed by the parks and recreation committee. Violators would be fined $50 for their first offense, $100 for the second, and $250 for the third and subsequent offenses.

In non-dog related business, voters will consider an article to allocate $7,000 for a new town basketball program. Also voters will consider an article to spend up to $45,991 for resurfacing the shared West Tisbury library and Howes House parking area.

The article would transfer $20,000 from the remaining town hall renovation project voted at the 2008 annual town meeting, and $1,701 from the library parking lot lighting article voted at the 2010 annual town meeting and up to $24,289 in free cash to be used to resurface the parking lot.

At their regular meeting on Wednesday, May 16, selectmen approved the special town meeting warrant with minimal discussion. Selectman Richard Knabel, serving as acting chairman in the absence of Cynthia Mitchell, read a series of letters relating to the issue of dogs on the beach.

One letter was from James Aven of the Friends of Lambert’s Cove Beach who repeated the group’s offer to provide volunteer monitors at the beach.

“Until recently, the loudest complaint was the cleanliness issue prompting us to raise funds for the hiring of a beach attendant which would patrol for trash removal, dog related of otherwise… additionally we have organized a volunteer greeter program to encourage morning walkers to abide by all beach rules,” Mr. Aven wrote, adding:

“After the [selectmen’s] meeting on May 2, 2012, I left without a sense of direction from town officials. Our supporters came to the meeting with constructive proposals made in the spirit of compromise and community participation.”

Selectman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter took exception to Mr. Aven’s letter, noting that selectmen had taken decisive action by scheduling the special meeting to create two new positions to enforce the new dog policies

The other letter was from Nancy Huntington, who expressed opposition to allowing dogs on Lambert’s Cove Beach during the summer at all. “Even the well-meaning attempts to monitor or police the beach would not prevent dogs from urinating or defecating everywhere,” she wrote, adding:

“Allowing dogs on the beach during the summer, when there is intensive use of it by humans, is akin to letting them romp and defecate in playground sandboxes. West Tisbury has many, many trails, through the State Forest or conservation land, where dogs can run and play.”

Mr. Manter also responded to Ms. Huntington’s letter, pointing out that voters at town meeting agreed to allow dogs on the beach in the morning, and selectmen essentially had no control over the issue.