Mille Lacs County commissioners are divided on whether the county should install horse drawn vehicle-crossing signs in parts of the county following a 85-signature petition the board received that requested such signs be put up.
The signatures included non-Amish and Amish names, and comes after a significant number of Amish have settled in the Milaca-Bock area starting about a year ago.
The county commissioners on Aug. 5 voted 2-2 on a motion by commissioner to install the signs. Because of the tie vote the motion failed. Commissioners Genny Reynolds and Roger Tellinghuisen supported the measure. Commissioners Phil Peterson and Dave Oslin voted no and Tim Wilhelm abstained.
The Amish traditionally get around in horse-drawn buggies and the idea of placing signs on certain roadways is to alert motorists to the chance of a horse-drawn buggy being on a roadway, especially at crossings.
Mille Lacs County Public Works Director Bruce Cochran looked at possible locations where such signs would be placed if the county board approved the action and he came up with nine sites. He estimated the cost of each buggy-crossing sign to be $185, for a total cost of $1,665.
Cochran spoke against the buggy-crossing sign idea when he addressed the commissioners at their Aug. 5 meeting. When motorists see warning signs about things that might cross or could be on a road, the signs become like “white noise” and the motorists tend to become “numb” to them, Cochran said.
Most people in the area where the Amish are located know there are horse drawn vehicles in the vicinity. It would only be some outsiders who wouldn’t know, Cochran said. “I don’t know if the signs would have a whole lot of value,” he said.
Cochran gave the board horse-drawn vehicle sign guidelines that Todd County public works director Loren Fellbaum had presented to the Todd County board in April 2012, because of Amish settling in that county.
The state guidelines explain that horse-drawn vehicle signs should be used to alert road users to locoations where unexpected entries of horse drawn vehicles might occur. They are also only to be used at locations where the road user’s sight distance is restricted or the activity would be unexpected.
It continues that the use of warning signs shall be based on an engineering study/judgment and “should be kept to a minimum as the unnecessary use of warning signs tend to breed disrespect for all signs.”
Reynolds responded that when she sees these signs, she drives a little more carefully and watches for the buggies.
Tellinghuisen said he tends to agree with Cochran on the locations he suggested for the signs if the board approved installing them. Tellinghuisen added that the locations are in his commissioner district and he could see some value in them being installed. His area includes south of Bock where a number of Amish have moved in.
Cochran’s suggested locations for the buggy signs would involve county state aid highways (CSAH) 12, 11, 1, 2, 4, 10, and 8, as well as the east county line, and Highway 169.
Most users of horses or horse-drawn vehicles in Mille Lacs County fall into a geographical area bounded by CSAH 11 on the north, Highway 169 on the west, Country Road 146/CSAH 12 on the south, and the east county line road, Cochran told the board.
He added that the most affected townships are Borgholm and Bogus Brook. But horse-drawn vehicles have also been appearing in Milaca and Princeton, with the area of the horse-drawn vehicles being “dynamic, and subject to change, Cochran said.
Cochran said he sought advice from Todd and other counties because Mille Lacs, until recent time, has had “very little exposure to horse drawn vehicles other than occasional recreation” types.
Cochran said there are two “colonies” or “populations” of Amish that have moved into Mille Lacs County and that he sees Highway 23 being the dividing line between the two groups. “However, the physical separation between the two is minimal, and without knowledge of the existence of the two colonies, most observers would come to the conclusion there is only one colony in Mille Lacs County,” Cochran’s memo to the county board stated.
After the county board’s motion to install the signs failed, Wilhelm talked about how state law requires slow moving vehicles to have a slow-moving vehicle sign on their back. The signs are triangular and orange.
Asked after the meeting why he abstained from voting on the motion, Wilhelm said he wants to pursue speaking with people first about the importance of having slow moving vehicle signs when required.
He said that the only Amish buggy that he noticed not having a slow moving vehicle sign was parked one day outside K-Bob Cafe in Princeton.
Tellinghuisen was asked after the meeting for more of his thoughts on the subject. He said he liked that the suggested locations for buggy signs would be more at intersections. Having such signs along long open stretches of road “would be a distraction,” he said.
Trying out the use of the horse-drawn vehicle signs would not be costly because it would be less than $2,000, Tellinghuisen added. He did say that he can see where motorists can become numb to signs, such as when they see a deer-crossing sign and never see deer crossing in that spot.
Cochran had mentioned during his address to the county board that the state is not using deer-crossing signs anymore.
Tellinghuisen was asked if the slow-moving vehicle signs would be enough to alert motorists to the Amish buggies on the roads. He indicated he is not convinced that is enough. If the horse-drawn buggy is moving in the opposite direction of the motorist, the motorist’s closest image is the horse’s face and that is not very wide, not as easily seen as the back of the buggy, he said.