Greetings from the banks of the mighty Spurwink River!
After our recent sojourn on the Mississippi (see “Vacation Note” at the end of this blog), we are about to grab an inner tube, put in at the canoe launching area on Route 77 and float down to make landfall on Harmons Island. Ahh, the joys of summer!
Speaking of Harmons Island, have you heard the latest from Higgins Beach? It seems that a group of neighborhood landowners (including a number of seasonal residents) have gotten together and launched yet another assault on public access to Higgins Beach. A new assault seems to happen every few years at Higgins. Why is this?
This time, the aggrieved landowners pushed two proposed ordinance changes through the Ordinance Committee. One would eliminate the first hour of permitted parking – 6am to 7am – in the 13 spaces along Bayview Avenue. The other would make “dressing, undressing or changing of clothes” illegal on all Scarborough beaches. The proposed changes are unnecessary, duplicative and misdirected. The real purpose appears to be another incremental reduction in public access to Higgins Beach.
To understand the proposed changes, you need to understand why the privatization folks at Higgins are pushing them. The story began in February of this year when the Aggrieved issued a report entitled “Respect Our Neighborhood.” In this report they outlined inappropriate behavior complaints including tailgating, urinating in public, loud talking, surfers changing into their wetsuits and public nudity. Higgins Beach, it seems, is quite the rowdy spot.
In looking at the list of complaints, you sharp-eyed readers will undoubtedly be thinking to yourselves, “Hey, wait a minute. Aren’t most of those things already illegal?” And you will, of course, be correct. There’s no doubt that drinking in public, urinating in public, public nudity and making excessive noise are already strictly verboten. So adding another ordinance will not prevent them. If there’s an enforcement issue, that’s another matter.
So the two “issues” the Aggrieved finally ended up with were (1) alleged excessive early morning noise associated with the Bayview Avenue parking spaces and (2) the “disgusting” practice of getting into or out of a wetsuit or bathing suit while using a towel to keep yourself decent.
And their proposed solutions…
Eliminating Parking between 6am and 7am on Bayview Avenue
The current Town ordinance prohibits parking on ALL Scarborough streets between 2am and 6am. The Aggrieved want that period extended to 7am in their neighborhood only. One newspaper report described this as a “slight” change. Well, yes, it’s slight if it doesn’t affect you.
But the fact of the matter is that eliminating parking on Bayview Avenue between 6am and 7am will have a significant impact on a number of Scarborough residents. Many of them come to Higgins at that hour to walk their dog, surf, fish or just enjoy the beach. For many of these folks who work, this is the only hour that they can go to the beach. Depriving them of that access is not a “slight” matter; it would be a major loss to their quality of life.
So about that alleged noise problem in the early morning… What causes noise between 6am and 7am now on Bayview Avenue? Well, here’s your editor’s list based on personal observation in more than five years’ worth of frequent, year-round visits to Higgins between 6am and 7am for dog walking:
In any event, the Town already has a “noise abatement” ordinance (link to Chapter 614 here) that prohibits “any loud, boisterous, unnecessary or unusual noises which shall annoy, disturb, injure or endanger the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of others.” If noise were truly the issue, there already is an ordinance in place.
And here’s the real kicker concerning the “early morning noise issue” at Higgins: During all of 2014 and so far in 2015, not a single noise complaint was filed for between 6am and 7am from Higgins Beach. That’s according to Police Department records. Which leads one to conclude that there’s really not much of a noise issue.
It seems to us that car doors closing are not really a problem in the scheme of ambient noise in the Higgins Beach area. The noise complaint is a red herring introduced as an excuse to take away an hour of parking.
As a postscript: Your editor will swear under oath that he has never witnessed tailgating between the hours of 6am and 7am at Higgins Beach. And except possibly on St. Patrick’s Day, who drinks at 6am before hitting the beach?
The offensive “dance” – Outlawing public changing
Now for the other proposed ordinance change – the prohibition of “dressing, undressing or changing of clothes.” It seems that the Aggrieved are offended by that time-honored beach practice of changing into or out of a wetsuit (or a bathing suit, for that matter) while using a towel to preserve modesty and keep all the private parts private. They call it “the dance.”
This particular maneuver occurs many times a day at countless beaches around the world. But if the Aggrieved have their way, Higgins Beach will be an exception – a sanctuary for those who prefer to see beachgoers decked out in long pants and long-sleeved shirts, perhaps wearing boaters or carrying parasols. (We understand there is even some discussion of getting Higgins designated as an Amish-friendly beach.)
Again in this case, the Town already has a perfectly good ordinance prohibiting public indecency (link to Chapter 612 here. See Section 5). The ordinance is very specific about keeping private parts private. For the vast majority of Scarborough residents, that would seem like enough guidance in the modesty department.
The proposed ordinance change – the prohibition of “dressing, undressing or changing of clothes” – raises a host of interpretation and enforcement issues. What exactly is “dressing?” If someone puts a t-shirt and shorts on over a bathing suit before leaving the beach, is that “dressing?” Do we really want to put the police in the position of attempting to enforce a vague and unnecessary ordinance… especially when there’s already a completely adequate indecency ordinance in force?
It’s up to the Town Council now
At its September 2 meeting (7pm at Town Hall), the Town Council is scheduled to address the two proposed changes. We hope they will consider the nearly 1,500 folks who have taken the time to sign the online petition to protect public access to Higgins Beach. And acknowledge that Higgins is a vibrant beach community, not a private estate. And recognize that adequate ordinances already exist to address both of the purported problems.
As always, an email to the Town Council members is the best way to make your voice heard. Higgins Beach is one of Scarborough’s treasured resources. Please help protect public access to it by jotting a quick email to the Council. The email address that reaches all the Town Council members is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for speaking out to protect public access to Higgins Beach!
In the last blog, mention was made of a vacation raft trip down the Mississippi River. We should have been more clear… it was a metaphorical journey on an imagined raft. In reality, the furthest west we made it was Lenox, Massachusetts. But we did have a chance to catch up on a bit of Mark Twain, so all in all it was a refreshing breather after a long budget season.
Happy trails to you until we meet again,
Important Disclosure: The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author. Love them or hate them, but please do not associate them with or attribute them to any other person(s) or group.