Maine

Let’s be Proactive to Protect Public Access at Higgins Beach for Everyone, For Good.

Victory | November 04 2015

Beach Access

The Maine Chapter engaged to help protect public access to Higgins Beach in Scarborough, Maine.

Pursuant to the February 17, 2015, victory protecting public access at Higgins Beach in Scarborough, Maine, the Chapter offered to sit on an informal committee led by Councilwoman St.Clair.  The Committee was oriented to bring concerned parties from all sides of the situation together to address the perceived behavioral issues that continue to bring restricted public access proposals to the Town Council, year after year.  

This was a proactive opportunity to come to the table with beachfront property owners, surfers, dog walkers and other Higgins Beach users to squash the repeated attempts at limiting public access by finding commonsense solutions we can all agree with and rally behind. 

However, many property owners wishing to limit public access came to the meetings with less than forthright intentions and after reaching a unanimous agreement to try permanent beach etiquette signage to encourage courteous behavior in the neighborhood on July 16, they surreptitiously pushed their own agendas to get two ordinance proposals to pass onto the council.  This is the type of etiquette we'd like to see stopped, not normal beach behavior, like changing in and out of wetsuits AT THE BEACH.

The ordinances aimed to:
  • Limit hours of legal one-hour parking on Bayview Ave at Higgins Beach from 6AM to 7AM
  • Create an anti-changing law in Scarborough

With the help of Scarborough residents in a joint alliance called Higgins For All, we were able to collect 1,842 signatures on a petition calling upon the Council to reject these proposed ordinanecs, without amendment or exception. We presented the signatures during public comments at the September 2, 2015 hearing. 

1ST READING OUTCOMES:

The not so bad news first: the changing ordinance that would have prevented changing in and out of wetsuits at the beach adjacent parking at Higgins Beach was tabled.  This means that the ordinance can still be brought up for discussion at a later date but is not being considered right now. 

The bad news: now we need to fight an amendment to the proposed ordinance that would have reduced parking by a critical hour in the morning. The amendment maintains parking beginning at 6 AM but would reduce the current one hour parking to 30 minutes in the summertime. Councilman Donovan did not mince any words in suggesting that he wanted this to pass to send a strong message to surfers that these parking spots were not intended for use by surfers.

For a recap of the first reading and photos, visit our Facebook page (and like the page, please!).

On September 3, 2015 the Surfrider Foundation issued a letter to Scarborough Councilman Donovan, calling upon him to recuse himself from any and all further deliberation or decisions on the current Higgins Beach ordinance matters on hand, due to an inherent conflict of interest, pursuant to 30-A M.R.S.A §2605 (1)(4)(6)(1987), and further drawing attention to the fact the Councilman failed to provide a disclosure of interest in this matter to his fellow Councilors, pursuant to Scarborough Town Charter §1009.1.

2ND HEARING OUTCOMES

At the September 16, 2015 hearing, Councilor Donovan recused himself from deliberations on this matter until such time as his financial interest resolves, with the closing on the sale of his beachfront property at Higgins.  This falls short of expectations, based upon a clear and present bias established by a long history of hateful and discriminatory remarks against all surfers, including comments made during the September 2 hearing (see town recording beginning at 1:41:42).

In addition, the September 2 vote on the original ordinances was voidable, due to the Councilor's failure to disclose his pecuniary interests in the resolve of this matter prior to the vote, and his subsequent recusal.  Therefore, the public hearing held on September 16 was a violation of law. 

To see a photo album with a full recap of this hearing and comments made in favor of enhancing public access, check out our Chapter's Facebook page.

On September 18, 2015 the Surfrider Foundation issued a request to the Scarborough Town Council, pursuant to M.R.S.A 30-A§2605 (1)(4)(6)(1987) and Maine Municipal Association’s code of Ethics relating to prejudicial bias, that Councilor Donovan recuse himself or, at the discretion of the Council, be recused indefinitely from deliberations on the resolution of matters relating to Higgins Beach. We're awaiting a reply from the Council and have alerted the media. The Council has acknowledged receipt but not responded to this request.

THIRD HEARING OUTCOMES

The good news out of the October 7 hearing is that Councilor St. Clair's proposal to change the 30-minute parking back to 1-hour was accepted.

The bad news is that the hearing served as the 1st reading for the addition of parking meters on Bayview Avenue.

FINAL HEARING

The 2nd reading on the ordinance to install parking meters on Bayview Avenue at Higgins Beach was held on Wednesday, November 4 at 7PM (details).

We joined four others in speaking against the meters, while one spoke in favor. Unfortunately, the Council failed to address the root issues and instead, approved the amendment to the current parking regulation to allow metered parking, with Councilor St.Clair absent and Councilor Hayes, the only one remaining to oppose. The resolution to expend the funds to buy the paystation passed with the same margin.

We count this as a victory because we prevailed on maintaining the parking on Bayview starting at 6AM, and on defeated the proposal to move the current 1-hour parking to thirty minutes. The biggest threats to access were thwarted, which is a win. 

However, the whole community really lost here because the Council failed to make any progress, whatsoever, toward enhancing the Higgins Beach community. The paystation is a bandaid - and an expensive one, at that.

The paystation is estimated to cost $17,000, and the Council will need to secure voter approval after the fact of meter purchase to fund the continuing annual cost of $18,500, in order to pay a reserve officer to monitor the parking meters for these 11 parking spaces!

Voters won't have much of a choice than to fund the monitoring, after the town expends $17,000 to buy the meter.

And this fiscal irresponsibility comes after seventh-grade sports were stricken from the town budget, to the tune of $10,000.

Councilor St.Clair was absent at this final hearing, due to a recent surgery, but has long been a staunch advocate of commonsense solutions for Higgins Beach, and we appreciate all the energy she has exerted toward trying to find working, real solutions.

Councilor Peter Hayes was the only councilor to oppose this bandaid meter measure during the November 4 hearing, and to suggest that funds from the beach revenue account might be better spent elsewhere, such as protecting the coastal environment, rather than cracking down on one-hour parking violations for 11 parking spots. We applaud his valiant efforts during this hearing and campaign.

THANK YOU to everyone who wrote, called, testified, came to hearings and planning meetings, collected petition signatures and mustered up good energy for this campaign. We will need your help again down the road, in just a matter of time, when the meter fails to address the community needs and we're right back in the mix of this campaign, again. In the meantime, you can help by continuing to be a good steward of the beach and an advocate for common courtesy. Take the initiative to ensure your gear is not blocking the walkways, that you're not opening your car doors into traffic, that you're changing at the washhouse if you can and when you have time, and that you're encouraging others to be kind and courteous, too.

NEXT STEPS

If you are a Scarborough resident with concern for how town monies are being expended by your Council, we urge you to email your concerns to the council: scarboroughtowncouncil@googlegroups.com and please cc us to we can keep a good record of support:  maine@surfrider.org!

Stay tuned for possible further actions.

THANK YOU!

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The Chapter had aimed to establish standards of beach use etiquette that jive with the community while working to build a strong community relationship based on respect, a solid understanding of the universal right of public access, and what it means to live in a beach community.  

The big picture campaign goal is for the result of our participation on this committee to strengthen and unify the Higgins Beach community and mitigate further attacks on public access.

A great way to help support our work is to renew your Surfrider Foundation Maine Chapter membership today to support this and other important efforts across Maine, aimed at protecting the ocean, waves and beaches we all love.

Together, we can protect public access at Higgins Beach for ALL people! 

Questions? Email: maine@surfrider.org.

THANK YOU!

Beach Access

Our beaches mean so much to us. They are where we live, where we work, and where we come to play. Our beaches are the entryway to our ocean and we believe that beaches should be accessible to everyone. This is why our network of staff experts, volunteers, and members are determined to keep our beaches accessible for all to enjoy.

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