Damage done by horsehoes on freshly paved rural highways has prompted a bill in the state Legislature.
State Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, is leading the push for the legislation after hearing local officials had mulled creating their own laws, which would impact area Amish populations.
“I would rather do something that is consistent statewide,” she said Feb. 1 in a phone interview.
The bill would allow counties or municipalities to adopt ordinances prohibiting studded horseshoes on roads where they’ll do damage from April through October — the road construction season.
Under her bill, the first offense would only be punishable by a warning, which is intended to educate buggy drivers on the law. However, the second violation would result in a $25 fine, and subsequent violations would cost $50 each.
When researching the bill, Bernier said she met with Amish elders in the Augusta area to see what would fit their lifestyles while cutting down on damage to the roads. She learned the horseshoes that damage roads in spring are the ones used in winter to improve traction on snow and ice. The bill would basically require them to file the studs down to a quarter-inch in spring, change horseshoes or use alternate routes where pavement is durable enough not to be damaged.
The desire for the horseshoe law was spurred by highway damage reported in rural Eau Claire County and Thorp.
Eau Claire County Highway Commissioner Jon Johnson sent a letter and photos to the state Assembly’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee for its Jan. 25 hearing on Bernier’s bill.
“In the attached pictures, you can see the damage that is happening due to excessive traction methods being used by animal-drawn vehicles,” Johnson wrote.
About 70 percent of the recently laid asphalt surface on Highway CF showed damage from horseshoes, and Johnson wrote that replacing that asphalt costs $185,000 per mile.
Thorp City Administrator Randall Reeg also wrote to the Assembly committee, attesting to horseshoe damage done to highways 73 and X shortly after they underwent resurfacing.
He encouraged support of the bill but noted he would’ve written it differently.
“I personally would have liked to see the provisions in this bill taken even further, but understand the need to be sensitive to the needs of the Amish and Mennonite communities, and fully acknowledge the economic impact they have in our county in particular,” Reeg wrote.
Stricter measures had been discussed in Eau Claire County.
County Supervisor David Mortimer heard that a committee discussed a local ordinance with larger fines for horseshoe damage to roads.
“We thankfully headed that off,” he said. “For an Amish family with a lot of kids, living near the poverty line, doing a lot of agriculture, the fine was just way too extreme.”
The idea of a county ordinance did not get very far because a formal proposal was never brought to the County Board for discussion or consideration.
Mortimer prefers Bernier’s approach instead of a punitive fine system.
“It is definitely a problem,” he said of the highway damage, “but maybe better addressed by outreach and education.”
In her Jan. 25 testimony to the Assembly committee, Bernier said the bill allows for education of damage horseshoes can do to roads, “without the heavy hand of government coming down on them.”
Bernier introduced her bill in November in the Assembly, and state Sen. Terry Moulton, R-town of Seymour, brought a companion bill to the Senate in the same month. Both versions have been in committee since then, but the Assembly version did get a public hearing on Jan. 25.
Buggy light bill
Another bill would have horse-drawn buggies replace or augment rear red lights with a pair of flashing, amber-colored lights to make them visible to motorists at night and during bad weather.
That bill was approved by the state Assembly through unanimous consent on Jan. 16 and awaits scheduling in the Senate.
A legislator from Wood County pushed for the change in response to fatal crashes in recent years that involved drunken drivers hitting horse-drawn buggies, even though they were equipped with red lights.
Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, testified in October that strobing yellow or amber lights are commonly understood as caution lights used on slow-moving vehicles, already used by tow trucks, first responders and others.
“Additionally, it is a well-known phenomenon in the law enforcement community that impaired/intoxicated motorists can become fixated/drawn to a solid, red light as a means to help them better see the road,” Spiros told the Senate Committee on Transportation and Veterans Affairs in a memo filed with the bill.
He quoted statistics from 2012 to 2016, which showed there were 156 crashes involving animal-drawn buggies in the state in those years, which resulted in 12 fatalities.
Dowd is a reporter for the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, which is owned by APG Media of Wisconsin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.