Beaufort City Council discusses changes to horse-carriage operations

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJuly 15, 2014 

Merlin, a carriage tour horse with Sea Island Carriage Co., is shown June 7, 2014, near the water trough in the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot near Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Reports of unexpected falls by the horse have city officials worried about Merlin's safety and that of people nearby.

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

  • In other business, Beaufort City Council:

    • Discussed plans by Main Street Beaufort, USA, and city staff to put up wayfinding signs throughout the city and downtown.
    • Discussed plans for the proposed Mossy Oaks fire station. Groundbreaking is planned between Sept. 15 and Oct. 1, according to an updated schedule.
    • Discussed possible changes to the membership, authority and powers of the Building Board of Appeals.
    • Heard from city manager Scott Dadson about making codes enforcement part of fire department duties rather than contracting the work out.

Beaufort City Council is considering a number of changes to rules governing horse-carriage operations in an effort to address concerns about the horses and stem ongoing disputes between owners.

City Council discussed those recommendations from the Tourism Management Advisory Commission during its work session Tuesday.

Three of the proposed changes -- the addition of a third-party veterinarian to do spot checks of the animals, a requirement that horses wear shoes and the addition of a late-afternoon tour to the daily schedule -- would require changes to the city's ordinance and two votes by City Council. Those votes will be scheduled after the city attorney writes the proposed changes, city manager Scott Dadson said.

"I think it'd be helpful to the credibility of the (operations)," Mayor Billy Keyserling said of the recommendation to add the vet. Keyserling said the frequently hears from residents and tourists concerned about the horses' health.

Both carriage companies -- Sea Island Carriage Co. and Southurn Rose Buggy Co. -- are currently required to have their own veterinarians perform two examinations a year, which would continue under the commission's recommendation.

To even up the tour schedule -- which rotates monthly but gives one company an extra daily tour each month -- the commission wants to add a tour at 5:20 p.m. every day.

The commission has also increased the temperature that horses are allowed to work in from 90 to 91 degrees for a 30-day trial period.

A heat stress monitor, which combines temperature and humidity, is used to determine if it is too hot for horses to work. Peter White of Southurn Rose has said the 90 degree cut off is too low and costs the companies business. Tours have been shut down 16 times so far this year over temperature concerns.

"Charleston and Savannah have not been shut down," he said, adding that the cut-off in those cities is 98 degrees. "And we haven't heard anything in the newspaper about their horses dropping dead."

Councilman Mike Sutton had some reservations about making the change without a recommendation from a veterinarian. Tour vehicle coordinator and police officer Cpl. Hope Able told the commission last week she contacted three vets and none got back to her with an opinion on the temperature issue.

Council members also discussed clean up and policing of horse "spills" such as urine. They are considering enforcing a $200 fine already on the books to encourage operators to clean up properly.

"If you get reprimanded, that's one thing," commission chairman Charlie Williams said. "If you get fined, that's another."

Dadson also encouraged council members to think about how much time and energy they want city staff to spend policing the carriage operations. The tour companies have a long and contentious history, which led the city in 2011 to tighten rules and raise the franchise fee the owners pay to operate.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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