New beach crisis creates flap

Going to the dogs

Poupon de Grasse

Pirates Cove driftwood sculpture, a work in progress, is backdrop for droppings. (photo by Longa Lenz)

The Rye Selectman’s office has just released a study with powerful ramifications for Rye’s beaches. The study, which resulted from citizen concern over the gradual disappearance of sand from our shorelines, took over two years to complete and involved extensive research.

In late 2005, the Selectmen commissioned a secret research project by the renowned English firm of Poostalker and Yikes. Subject of the study: Beach erosion, and beach erosion specifically caused by overzealous dog owners cleaning up after their pets.

The results have just been released, and they are alarming. Unless action is taken to curb this wasteful use of sand, homeowners on Central Road will enjoy the distinction of owning ocean front property by the year 2077, and this is not considering any effects of global warming which could only intensify the situation. Rye Reflections was granted early access to the Poostalker data, and a private audience with the Board of Selectmen as they discussed the ramifications of the findings in an informal meeting.

The study was begun in early March of 2006, and continued until June of this year. Hundreds of bags of dog waste were extensively studied and the grains of sand which were inadvertently picked up along with the waste were painstakingly counted.The number per specimen  ranged from a low of 46 to a high of 812. As the study continued, an odd pattern became noticeable.

A gender connection to the waste problem became apparent. Doggie bags which originated with female dog walkers averaged 99 grains of sand per bag. Male walkers harvested an average of 512 grains of sand along with their pet’s leavings.

Other peculiarities also emerged from the study. There was a direct but inverse connection between the breed of dog and the amount of sand picked up with its waste. Large dogs such as St. Bernards, retrievers, and shepherds generally had small amounts of extraneous sand in their pick up bags, while poodles, spaniels, and other smaller breeds usually had large amounts of sand included in their waste bags. Poostalker, in its report to the Selectmen, had no explanation for this mysterious phenomenon.

Chairman Joe Mills was stunned by the report’s information. Standing before a "Rye Reflection’s" reporter, his face taut with worry, Mills pledged further research into the problem until a solution is found. “Rye’s beaches are not going to the dogs,” he stated without equivocation, “We will find a fair and just answer to this problem.”

When pressed, Mills admitted that several solutions are already under consideration.

Foremost among them: a public education program which would seek to teach beach goers the proper way to pick up after their dog, a way which would have a minimum influence on the amount of sand scooped up with the waste.

As envisioned by the Selectmen, the public education course would be held on the first four Saturdays in July of each year, with volunteer experts demonstrating proper scooping procedures. Following the demonstrations, dog owners would need to pass a test. If successful, attendees would then be granted certificates of scoopability which would allow them and their dogs beach access for the entire following year.  

Another much more expensive solution, which would necessitate the issuing of a town bond, would involve collecting all the dog waste at strategic locations near the beaches, then mixing the collection with water and pumping it to a treatment facility in Madbury where the doggie waste would be separated from the sand, and the clean sand then returned, via a huge conveyor belt, to the beaches.

This solution would require the building of a considerable infrastructure, the taking of land by eminent domain, and the buildup of a considerable workforce to construct and maintain the necessary equipment and facilities.

Mills estimated the cost of such a solution to be in the low billions. “It’s expensive, sure,” said Mills, “but the costs could  be offset by charging out-of-town dog owners a fee to walk their dogs.”

A third solution, which is under active consideration, is to do nothing. Another Selectman, who requested anonymity, argued this position forcefully. “Why not just leave the waste where it falls?” was this Selectman’s tack. "It will cut down on the popularity of our beaches with out-of-towners, reduce the town expenses for lifeguards, dramatically minimize parking problems, and leave secluded beaches for the enjoyment of locals who can develop their motor skills by keeping their eyes on where they are going and doing a little hopping around to avoid stepping in the wrong places.”

Priscilla Jenness pushed for a simple solution. “Since male dog owners represent almost 70 percent of the problem,” she stated, “why not bar all of them from our beaches and allow only female dog walkers? Also, since the study shows that small dogs are contributing an inordinate amount of sand seepage to the problem, the obvious course is to allow only large dogs. As soon as we restrict our beaches to females walking large dogs, our problem will go away.”

When Rye Reflections questioned her as to whether this was not a sexist solution, she answered with a shrug. “Look at the lines that women have to endure at the rest rooms of public facilities,” she said.  "No bleeding hearts step forward to fix this discrimination. Let’s be sensible and find a low-cost conclusion to this problem.”

By the end of the evening, it was apparent that the sand loss study could easily lead to another major flap in the town of Rye. Rye Reflections urges you to express your opinion on this issue by clicking on the feedback mailbox on the front page of our magazine. Thank you.

Go to Letters in Sepyember,2008

In a parallel universe, August, 2008