NEWBURY — Dog owners take note: If proper disposal of animal waste continues to be a problem on Plum Island, your pets will no longer be welcome on the town beaches.
Frustrated by reports of dog waste baggies piling up at Center Island and even — according to several accounts — “people hurling bags of poop out their car windows and into the marsh” along Plum Island Boulevard, the Board of Selectmen agreed enough is enough.
They hope installing signs to remind visitors to the area that dog walking on the beach is a privilege that comes with certain responsibilities will be enough to get people to clean up after their animals, and to encourage other dog walkers they see on the beach to do the same.
The topic was part of a larger discussion on the problem of littering on the island. The Board of Health recently asked selectmen for a vote of confidence for its proposal to raise the fine for littering from $100 to $300. Town counsel has advised that any change to the fine would require approval of a bylaw amendment at Town Meeting, but selectmen still agreed to discuss whether to give their support to the proposal.
Selectmen chairman Geoff Walker favored a graduated fine starting with $100 for a first offense, leading to $300 for three violations. Colleague Alicia Greco wondered what other towns charged for littering violations and was “very hesitant” to increase fines without providing people with the tools they need to do the right thing, such as trash barrels and animal waste receptacles on site.
In August, the health board ordered the removal of a dumpster at the site because it felt the continuous trash overflow had become a health issue. The nonprofit Plum Island Foundation (PIF) had provided and maintained the dumpster. Selectman Chuck Bear acknowledges that problems with people throwing away all sorts of items at Center Island — including, in one case, an entire sofa — was “as blatant an abuse of a dumpster as I have ever seen.”
He asked for more information from police as to how many fines were being issued at the current level. Deputy Chief John Lucey Jr. estimated three to four littering citations were issued monthly but said the real problem now is animal waste on and around the beaches.
Resident Jim Moran argued in favor of instituting fines and protocols that “have a teeth to them.” He recommended a $500 fine, saying, “This is a serious issue and we need to take it seriously.” But Bear noted that any fine over $300 would require special state legislation.
Plum Island resident Patrice Allen urged selectmen to appeal to people’s “better angels” by asking for their help in keeping the beaches “pristine.” She worried that increasing fines would only further irritate people who were already acting out of anger over what they feel is a lack of key town services to the island.
“Hurling dog waste out of your window does not make you a protester; it makes you a slob,” said Selectman JR Colby, who favored the fee increase. Referring to the large number of visitors to the island each summer, Walker said it was likely not the people who own homes there who were doing the littering.
Prior to around six years ago, necessities for the public beach — such as Porta-Potties, lifeguards, beach cleaning and regular trash pickup — were funded through the town’s operating budget. Repeated rejections of tax overrides, however, led to budget cuts resulting in a lack of taxpayer dollars for these services. Instead, local business owners stepped up to hire portable public bathrooms, a construction company owned by a PI resident managed weekly beach cleanup, and — until this August — the PIF had contributed annually for the dumpster.
Selectmen are in the process of seating a committee to take a broad look at the multifaceted problems on the island and make recommendations prior to next spring’s Annual Town Meeting. They hope to appoint and charge the committee at a meeting on Jan. 1.