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Carriage Horse Committee – February 14

Still defining temperature and humidity thresholds
Final draft of ordinance likely to draw strong criticism

Warwick Jones

Committee members hoped today to complete their task of shaping an ordinance governing carriage horses. It was not to be but completion is likely at the next meeting. Two months have elapsed since the last meeting of the Committee. A meeting in January was planned to allow two veterinarians, one of the public’s choosing and the other of the horse carriage operators’, to make presentations. Either because of reluctance or timing, there were no presentations.

Temperature and humidity thresholds
In our view and seemingly the view of the Chair, the most contentious issue is the temperature and humidity under which the horses work. The first draft of the ordinance, perhaps of a year’s vintage, had horses off the road when the temperature reached 98 degrees or when the Temperature Humidity Index (THI) reached 180. (The THI is the simple addition of temperature and relative humidity). Members of the public opposed both the thresholds as too high and that of the THI, meaningless. Our search of the records indicate that the THI threshold was not reached in Charleston (Cannon Park) any time last year. The summer was normal, and therefore still very hot.

The Committee claimed that its veterinarian witness, Dr Merriam, endorsed these thresholds late last year. He did so in our view, but half-heartedly. The public cited its own experts, equally qualified, who called for lower thresholds. There was little compromise except that Dr Merriam had opined that the use of the THI was limited. He recommended a Heat Index devised by National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration. (NOAA) This met the Committee’s approval but created 2 other issues – what should the threshold reading be, and how could it be measured in a timely manner for the carriage industry in Charleston?

Heat Index lowered to 125
The draft ordinance before the Committee today suggested a 130 threshold for the Heat Index, a figure requested originally by Committee member Tom Doyle. Committee member John Malark, who is a veterinarian and retained by the Carriage companies, said that he had discussion with some folk who were familiar with the HI and they suggested 125 would be better. All members agreed to the lower figure including Committee member Doyle. It may still be too high for the public because according to NOAA, this level still is between in a “danger" and "extreme danger" zone” for humans and animals. CHART05.jpg

To see how HI is calculated Press here

Timeliness is another problem, though hardly large
The other problem remains to be resolved. Heat Index determinations are made for downtown Charleston but they are not frequent, perhaps only every hour. Because of the delays, horses could be on the street when the index is above 125 and off the street when the index is below 125. A tour operator also suggested that such a problem could relate to temperature readings as well, though they are more frequent and more readily available.

How big a problem is the potential delay? It seemed large in the eyes of Tom Doyle, the Committee member who represents the carriage operators. But is it really? Last year, the carriage industry closed down only 3 times in the afternoon in summer when the temperature exceeded 98 degrees. The total time lost was probably less than 6 hours. If the delay in obtaining a measurement was an hour, is this going to add such a heavy burden on the operators considering the little down time they really suffer?

The Chair asked staff and members to consider the problems of measurement and to ascertain the facts relating to the ability to gather HI information from the NOAA or other convenient sources.

High temperatures over asphalt roads not considered
In discussing the issue of temperature and humidity, the Committee ignored the request of the public to take into account the high temperatures over the asphalt roads. In summer the temperature can be many degrees higher that the ambient temperature. Measurement of the latter, whether it is by NOAA, the Undergroundweather Station in Cannon Park, or some other group elsewhere on the Peninsula, does not truly reflect the working conditions of the horses.

Carriage load limit defined but only broadly
Other issues dealt with and seemingly resolved to the Committee’s satisfaction related to carriage load and the definition of “work”. The Committee accepted the rule of thumb used by the Army, hopefully in the past, that the maximum load should be 3 times a horse’ weight. If horses weighed 2000lbs, s suggested by the Chair, the maximum load woild be 6000 lbs. But as the City attorney said, nobody is going to weigh the carriage and passengers. Such a regulation is unenforceable. Committee member Tom Doyle told the Committee that the “lightweight” carriages used by operators were 1400 lbs and the traditional carriages were 2400 lbs. Assuming that the 16 passengers and the driver weighed an average 200 lbs each, the load would still fall below 6000 lbs. And considering the average weight was likely much lower, the load would be much less than 6000 lb. So the Committee decided to leave the original definition of a maximum load in the ordinance but to also include or 6000lbs.

But the Committee didn't adequately deal with the fact that some horses weigh much less than 2000 lbs. Committe member Doyle said that if the operators used donkeys, which weighed less than 1000 lbs, they would use two animals. In our view, if an ordinance is to be properly defined, it should attempt to address all uses. Some language should be added to place absolute load limits for small animals and not rely on the word of a carriage operator.

“Work” definition still contentious
The definition of “work” still is contentious. The Chair suggested that the Carriage Operators of North America (CONA) definition be used in the ordinance - a horse is considered working when it is out of the stable and at its carriage stand, a place where it regularly picks up passengers or place of hire Work ends when the horse leaves its stand or place of hire to go to the stable.. Committee member Doyle, said this was too confining. The CONA definition related to the industry in places where horses traveled long distances to work each day, he said. In Charleston, the barns were adjacent to the carriage stands. And besides there was the complication of horses being used for weddings and other “transport” related activities, he added. The Committee acquiesced to the member’s objection

We won’t fully attempt to address Council member Doyle’s complaint except to say that we think the CONA definition is appropriate. But we will add that the definition of “work” can never really be properly addressed while the ordinance the Committee is shaping is confined to tour operations. The Committee no doubt realizes this. It was appointed by the Tourism Commission and is charged with an ordinance relating to horse welfare when horses are used in tours. It has no power to regulate in relation to general transport. This is an issue that will need to be addressed by the City’s Traffic and Transport Department and in conjunction with the Tourism Commission. Presently, carriage horses used for “transport” have no specific regulations or ordinance. It makes sense that an ordinance relating to carriage horses should be applicable for both “transport” and “tourism”.

Henneke scale will be used, but meaningfully?
There were a number of other amendments proposed and generally accepted. Most related to clarification or fleshing out the wording to avoid ambiguities. There was discussion about inspection by the City and veterinarians, and procedures for ensuring well being. But there was no discussion of the threshold for the application of the Hennek Scale. In general terms, the Scale measures the physical appearance of a horse, and in turn, its physical condition. The index goes from 1 to 10 with an optimum level of 5. A measurement of 1 would represent a boney, perhaps underfed, perhaps old, horse. A 10 would represent a horse unexercised and obese. The proposed ordinance states that horse must fall between 3 and 7 on the Scale. Members of the public wanted something more confining.

Committee member Doyle does not like the public’s views
Committee member Doyle again treated Committee members and the public to a harangue about the views the latter had expressed. He was cut short at the previous meeting by the Chairman but yesterday’s effort was mercifully briefer. He seemed to castigate the public, or at least those members that turn up to the Committee hearings and blamed them for the long time it had taken to shape an ordinance. He said there had been a lot of misinformation spread and lots of smoke. And when it cleared, there was not much fire. He added that no evidence of mistreatment of animals had been presented and the carriage companies had received only glowing reports. He was concerned that the community might ignore the efforts of the Committee and presumably side with the members of the public who had criticized some of the Committees decisions. He asked whether a “finding of facts” could accompany (or was it replace?) the proposed Ordinance to the Tourism Commission and City Council.

The City attorney said no.. The Committee has not been charged with investigating incidents so no such “finding” was appropriate. But Committee member Turner Maybank thought that appendices would be more appropriate,

Public cannot be blamed for the time taken
Our take, and we said so, is that the public could not be blamed for the length of time in shaping the ordinance. The Committee determined the speed of progress, not the public. And indeed it was good that the public was involved. Wasn’t public input part of the purpose? The public had issues with the original ordinance and brought attention to factors that would not have been considered by the Committee otherwise.

The Public has legitimate differences with the Committee
Yes, there were differences between many members of the public and the Committee, but the differences were legitimate. And yes, most likely they would be raised before the Tourism Commission and the City Council. But isn’t this normal in local government. And if these opinions are based on testimonies of other experts is it misinformation? And if these opinions are also those expressed in the findings of an earlier Committee charged with defining an ordinance, shouldn’t they be relevant?

There is “smoke” and “fire”
And although no evidence may have been presented to the Committee about mistreatment of horse, or the condition of horses, Committee member Doyle can surely not deny the existence of a website, rastamule.com. We don’t know who owns the site but it was designed for the people connected to the horse carriage industry in Charleston. A few months ago, it had number of allegations about conditions in stables and carriage incidents. Interestingly, access to the website is now limited. Also interesting is that much of the material previously accessible was written by Committee member Doyle’s son. It looked like “smoke and fire” to us.

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