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Carriage Horse Committee, December 6

Delays decision on ordinance
Issues still over load and temperature thresholds
Warwick Jones

The Committee today voted to accept the draft ordinance virtually as it was submitted. This was not to be seen as an endorsement of its contents, but rather to put something concrete before the two veterinarians who are to make presentations before the Committee in January. At the last meeting, a group of citizens who were concerned about some aspects of the draft ordinance, asked that a veterinarian of their choosing be allowed to make a presentation. Committee member Doyle, who represents the horse carriage trade, said that if this were allowed, he wanted the carriage trade to also choose a veterinarian to make a presentation. Both requests were approved by the Committee at the last meeting.

To use Heat Index instead of temperature Humidity Index
Of concern to the public group were the limited concessions that the Committee had made to some of their other requests, in particular to heat and humidity threshold levels above which the horses would be pulled off the streets. The draft ordinance still has a temperature threshold of 98 degrees but the Temperature Humidity Index (THI) threshold of 185 has been eliminated. Indeed, the ordinance no longer refers to any THI. It has been replaced by the Heat Index (HI) determined by National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The HI threshold written into the ordinance is 130, a level that NOAA describes as "extreme risk for humans and animals", and a level which predictably caused considerable heat amongst the members of the public. They had commented at the previous meeting as to risks accompanying such a high HI.

Why did it ignore Dr Merriam's advice over temperature?
It was asked that if the Committee accepted all the recommendations of Dr Merriam, which included scrapping the THI 185 threshold, why did it ignore his recommendation of a 95 degree temperature threshold? The response was a matter of semantics. Dr Merriam did not endorse 95 degrees, we were told. He said that the 98 degree threshold was OK but 95 degrees was better. He did say it that way, we agree. But viewers can make their own judgment as to which temperature he really did endorse.

Some members uncomfortable about heat and humidity thresholds
However, although some attendees spoke against these high thresholds, the criticism was restrained. The restraint was encouraged by the fact that 3 members of the Committee, members Long, Malark and Leffcort spoke of their discomfit with the present threshold levels and would look to the guidance of veterinarians next month before deciding.

At the Chairman's suggestion, the Committee agreed that the Henneke Chart should be used to monitor the well being of horses and that acceptable readings be between 3 and 7. It also agreed to a specific identification for each horse, and a certificate of serviceability which essentially is a thorough health check.

What is maximum load horses should pull?
Another unresolved issue was the load that the horses should pull. The draft ordinance suggests that it be no more than 3 times the horse's weight. For some reason, measuring the weight of load seemed to swell into an insuperable obstacle, unattainable because the weight of the passengers could not be reliably obtained. The draft ordinance remains unchanged with a limit of 16 persons and a driver. But some precision as to appropriate numbers is likely to be attempted with the Committee asking for the weights of all the carriages used by the companies. Presumably, an average weight a passenger will be assumed and the numbers of passengers for each carriage will be limited by the weight of the carriage.

A decision on bringing stalls to standard
Stall sizes were not discussed but the Committee did decide that existing stalls would need to be brought to the standard defined in the Ordinance if the cost of repairs and restoration exceeds 50% of the market value. This looks open to some abuse, in our view. So you spread repairs and restoration over some years and have a much lower percentage in any year. Maybe it would be better to set a date in future by which time all stalls are were brought into compliance with the ordinance?

Void in City Ordinances
Another member of the public drew attention of the Committee to the seeming void in the City Ordinance. Horse carriage and carriage horses were regulated when providing a tour but they fell under no regulation when engaged in general transport. If a carriage picked up passengers at a hotel, say for passage to the Guillard Auditorium, the trip would not fall under the Carriage Horse ordinance. It would not be subject to the provisions of loads and rest periods. However, as long as the horse was also used for tours, barn conditions etc. would still be covered by the Carriage Horse Ordinance.

Committee member Doyle dismissed the importance of the "transport" part of the trade as being negligible. We don't take issue with Mr. Doyle, but this is no reason for it to be ignored. It may be of small importance but it leaves open an opportunity for a horse to be subject to conditions that the Carriage Horse ordinance would prohibit. And besides, it is possible that the "transport" side of the business could grow.

Staff were asked to seek information from the City and respond to the question raised by the member of public in relation to absence of ordinance protection during "transport" carriage.

Did Dr Merriam really endorse the 98 degree threshold?
As we have noted in our comments on the two previous meetings, the Committee has drawn some comfort for the endorsement of Dr. Merriam of the draft ordinance. Dr Merriam was brought to Charleston by the Committee to comment on the ordinance and did so at the meeting in October. We take issue whether he really endorsed the 98 degree temperature threshold but we agree that he said "he endorsed the ordinance". He gave the endorsement in a reply to a question by Committee member Doyle, and we agree the endorsement was unqualified.

We have to confess surprise at the endorsement. Dr Merriam gave a presentation for possibly half an hour or more and responded to questions for another half hour an hour or so. Both the presentation and answers were wide ranging and in some respects very inconclusive. Committee member Long today commented that when he reflected on the presentation, Dr. Merriam said that it was difficult to determine appropriate standards and thresholds. There were many factors that had to be taken into account. We also note that Dr Merriam spoke of the time he spent the previous day in the company of Committee member Doyle and the excellent condition of his barns. He also said that he visited no other barns. He also confessed that he had not visited Charleston before and experienced its summer weather. The weather on the days of his visit were near perfect with relatively low humidity, and temperatures in the high 70's and low 80's.

In the media business, it is called the "duchess" treatment. When you want a favorable opinion or to soften an unfavorable opinion, treat the correspondent to a good time. Engender a feeling of friendship! In consequence, the correspondent feels some loyalty and difficulty in being critical. Dr. Merriam confessed to thinking that before he came to Charleston, 17 persons were far too many for an animal to pull. But on arrival, and observing, he did not think such a load was too high. And in relation to temperature, he clearly thought that 95 degrees was a better threshold than 98 degrees but he found some difficulty in rejecting 98 degrees. Dr Merriam was called as an impartial witness and I am sure that he tried to be so. But spending the day in the company of a person who represents one side of an issue, and strongly projects his position, does not encourage impartiality.

For the record and perhaps of little relevance, the City expects to derive about $102,000 from the Carriage Horse trade by way of medallions this year. It was slightly more in 2005 and that projected for 2007 is $99,000. With a budget of near $116 million, the carriage trade is not a big contributor to City revenues.

Your Comments:

Nice to see a well maintained site... I'm not a carriage driver but I think the comment that they provide only a small proportion of the City's budget is just a little glib. It ignores the $25-$80 fee we guides pay yearly just to be guides, as well as the 50 cent tax paid for every guest on a tour. Those do add up to be pretty substantial, and I've never heard anyone suggest that any portion of the City's revenue could be done without. (Never mind the $80 Tour Guide Manual and the $50 fee to take the exam for the people who never even become qualified to be considered professional guides...)Again, nice to see such consistent coverage of the community- at-large!

Posted by: Lee Roy Brandon III at December 6, 2006 10:17 PM

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