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BUGGY TOUR OWNERS, POINT RESIDENTS TRADE ACCUSATIONS

By BRANDON HONIG - BEAUFORT GAZETTE, SOUTH CAROLINA - May 28, 2007 

There's a new gang in town, Peter White says, and its members are out for revenge.

Lurking behind trees and hiding in doorways, they await signals from lookouts that the target has been spotted: a horse towing a carriage full of tourists.

"They kind of did it in a sting operation," said White, who owns SouthurnRose Buggy Tours. "They would use their cell phones and have some of the other gang (members) in cars or on foot in other parts of The Point and notify them when a carriage is coming in to keep an eye on them ... with video cameras and flash photos."

Carriage owners have feuded for years with residents of Beaufort's affluent Point neighborhood, who object to the noise, smell and traffic created by tours through the Historic District.

To reduce the problems, "All carriages for hire must keep moving at all times and may not stop except as required by traffic regulations," according to a city ordinance.

But now four homeowners with what White described as a "vendetta" against buggy operators are harassing the drivers, setting up stakeouts and "trying to make their own law in The Point."

"I don't think (the ordinance) was written to be that you can't stop (a carriage) for 30 seconds for the horse to go to the bathroom," said Walter Gay, owner of Sea Island Carriage Co., the only other buggy tour operator in Beaufort. "It was meant to stop you from stopping in front of a house for three or four minutes to talk."

City Councilwoman Donnie Beer agreed with Gay and said, "There is a difference between stopping and staying." But Gay and White say the people hiding in the bushes in The Point aren't interested in a correct interpretation of the ordinance -- they're trying to run the carriages out of town.

"I don't understand why this small group of people is interfering with our livelihood and trying to put us out of business," White said. "It's really bothering us quite a bit, especially with all the effort and time we put into trying to be in harmony with everybody on The Point."

White has operated buggy tours in The Point since 2001, he said, and despite his efforts toward harmony, the "ongoing war" goes back just as far.

PLAYING BY THE RULES

"SouthurnRose has been coming through our neighborhood for years, and it's just gotten to the point where we don't mind them being here as long as they play by the rules," said Carl Wedler, who reported SouthurnRose to the city this month. "If they clean up their spillages like they're supposed to, we won't have a problem."

Wedler was on his bicycle when he spotted a SouthurnRose buggy and decided to follow the tour through The Point, watching for violations.

"There were numerous stops -- nine, to be exact," he said. "They were stopping to complete a story, in my opinion, or to give a longer view of a home. And when horses stop, they have a tendency to want to relieve themselves."

Or, as neighborhood association President Dewitt Helm said, "When the carriage stops, the horse starts."

Wedler noted the times and places where the carriage stopped and then filed a complaint with the police department's tour coordinator.

White's wife, Rose White, who was driving the buggy, was summoned to Municipal Court, where Judge Ned Tupper issued a $250 fine.

The next time, her fine could be as high as $500. And Peter White said his drivers are scared.

"We have drivers who are seriously considering quitting because if they have to stop for a good reason, they're afraid they might get a ticket, and they can't afford a ticket," he said. "The company won't pay for the ticket because we have informed (our drivers) that they cannot stop illegally."

White said there are at least 50 legitimate reasons a buggy operator would need to stop a carriage -- to let a car go by, to calm a frightened horse, to pick up a tourist's dropped wallet, etc. -- but he said a few Point residents just don't understand.

"These people have never driven a carriage before, so they don't know,"
he said.

But they do drive cars, and they say White's carriages are getting in the way.

"They stop in the middle of the street," said Bill Kennedy, former president of the neighborhood association. "How would you like to be riding home and somebody stops in front of you? The tour is supposed to be a riding tour, not a stopping tour."

No one in The Point admitted to taking part in any stakeout of White's buggies, which operate on state-owned roads.

"They are here for a commercial purpose, and we consider them guests in our neighborhood and it's getting to be a real nuisance," Wedler said.

"But people have got better things to do than to follow the horse-drawn carriages around all day long."

Copyright 2007 The Beaufort Gazette May not be republished in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.

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