Tractors' steel wheels do damage By Chip Smedley, Staff Writer email@example.com
A reader raised an issue that has been rolling around the county for many years: Amish vehicles and their impact on asphalt roads.
In Colerain Township, residents have expressed concern about damage from Amish-driven steel-wheeled tractors.
One township resident said the beef shouldn't be construed as anti-Amish.
"I've lived in the county all my life," said the caller, who requested anonymity. "I have Amish friends, and I believe people have the right to their own religious beliefs. But I don't think those beliefs give anyone the right to negatively affect other people's lives."
The resident said the steel-wheeled tractors also present a safety hazard, adding, "One of them recently crashed in the rain because the driver couldn't stop it on the wet road."
The uninitiated might ask, "Why steel wheels?"
According to the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College and the Welcome to Lancaster organization, some Amish bishops have determined farm tractors may be used only if they are refitted with steel wheels. That way they cannot be relied on for on-road transportation and lead to acceptance of the automobile.
The tractors may not be used in fields for fear they would eliminate jobs. Their use is limited to the barn or for transporting equipment to a field.
"They are marking the road," Colerain Township Supervisor Scott Shoemaker said. "I call it 'dimpling.' "
The situation has grown worse in the past 20 years as more Amish families move into the southern end of the county and an increasing number of Amish farmers use tractors, he said.
Supervisors have been advised there is little to be done, Shoemaker added. Amish farmers are entitled to use the roads; steel wheels break no laws.
"We've chased this rabbit before," state Rep. Bryan Cutler said. He noted that steel-wheeled tractors are, in fact, regulated by PennDOT.
He provided a copy of Section 4525 of the State Vehicle Code, which covers "Vehicles not equipped with pneumatic tires," a must-read for anyone who enjoys bureaucrat-speak.
The code states it is illegal to operate any vehicle on state roads without pneumatic tires unless the alternative is regulated by PennDOT. That opens the steel wheel door: What follows is a list of specifications for steel wheel sizes and cleat configurations allowed on state roads.
Cutler said he thinks nonslip shoes on horses pulling buggies and wagons cause greater damage to the roads than these tractors. But "PennDOT doesn't regulate nonmotorized vehicles. And I think if they did, it would open a Pandora's box," he said.
Once you open that box, the state could get into the business of regulating bicycles, scooters and wagons. Cutler wondered where it would stop.
Another issue is that Amish do not pay the fuel tax earmarked for road improvements. They pay income, property, county, state, sales, estate, corporate and school taxes. But as long as the family makes a living off the farm, they qualify for fuel-tax exemption, Cutler said.
But, Cutler added, "I see a lot of guys at the gas stations filling up cans to run their generators, and they're paying the fuel tax."
Research by Cutler's staff found one county in Indiana that passed a law requiring Amish to pay a fee to register their buggies. The money goes to local municipalities for road repairs.
"There are a lot of administrative issues with the law," Cutler said. "For example, buggies don't have a VIN [vehicle registration number], so the plates can be moved from buggy to buggy and no one would know."
Besides, he pointed out that Lancaster County couldn't pass such a law because PennDOT stipulates municipalities may not pass laws addressing issues covered by the state. And steel wheels are already state-regulated.
Supervisor Shoemaker pointed out that if any piece of farm equipment tears up a roadway, the township can issue citations to equipment owners, and it has done so.
Shoemaker, who's lived in the township 65 years and is a farmer as well, said, "It's just one of those things. It's a part of living down here, and we deal with it. We all try to live together and work together."n
Last week's report on trash along Route 30 generated responses from readers who asked how volunteers can get involved in litter awareness and pickup programs.
Turns out the national Keep America Beautiful program and its relatives -- Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful and Keep Lancaster County Beautiful -- offer that information.
Kids' activity booklets can be obtained at keeppabeautiful.org through its educational resources link.
Keep America Beautiful also partners with Scholastic magazine to provide recycling, litter and green living information at scholastic.com/kab.
Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority has its own educational materials that it provides to schools and civic groups, according to spokeswoman Katherine Sandoe.
Sandoe said students can ask their schools to set up "Litter Free School Zones"; information on that is also available at keeppabeautiful.org.
The authority also will help schools set up recycling programs. The contact for that is Recycling Manager Barb Baker at 735-0160 (or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Last week PennDOT, which coordinates the state Adopt a Highway program, announced it is seeking volunteers for this year's Great American Cleanup of Pennsylvania, which runs through May 31. Listings of events, resources and other information are online at gacofpa.org.
PennDOT noted that during last year's cleanup more than 141,000 volunteers collected 6.7 million pounds of trash from roads, trails and shorelines in the state.
PennDOT provides gloves, trash bags and safety vests to volunteers; participating landfills offer free trash disposal to volunteers during six scheduled events between April 20 and May 6.
All this made The Watchdog wonder if anyone remembers an iconic anti-litter ad from the early 1970s. It featured a Native American crying as he paddled his canoe across a trash-strewn lake.
A resident in the first block of North Plum Street in the city asked about the status of 14 N. Plum St, where arson claimed the life of Olga Sanchez-Reyes and injured two children Dec. 5, 2010. No arrests have been made in the case.
The city condemned the property the day after the fire, and now the owner is rehabilitating the structure.
Randy Patterson, the city's director of economic development and neighborhood revitalization, explained via email that in the rehab agreement the owner indicated all work would be completed by March 30. (The work began last October when the property was acquired from the authority.)
"If the work is not completed, we would expect the current owner to appear before the Redevelopment Authority Board on April 16 to provide an update and, if necessary, request an extension of time," Patterson said.
"The owner is required to complete the renovations within 12 months" of acquisition, he added. "Normally the Board will grant extensions at least to the end of the 12-month period as long as progress is being made."
Patterson said the owner will be trying to sell the property.
The Watchdog contacted city police spokesman Lt. Todd Umstead for an update on the Sanchez-Reyes case. He said it remains an "open investigation."
A county bicyclist noted PennDOT fixed problem bumps on the north and south ends of the Richard Scott Bridge connecting Prince Street with the Manheim and Fruitville pikes -- but only in the vehicle lanes, not the bike lanes.
(To refresh memories: A driver complained about bumps caused by the sinking of the asphalt road surface leading onto the concrete bridge surface.)
PennDOT spokesman Greg Penny said the entire bridge -- vehicle and bicycle lanes -- was patched Friday, March 8. He added that the patching was done with cold-patch material, a temporary fix that can pop out in a heavy storm or in heavy traffic.
Permanent patches will be applied when asphalt plants reopen in April and start producing hot asphalt.
A city resident wanted to know how to report illegal parking.
The nonemergency police number for such reporting is 664-1180. The nonemergency fire and ambulance number in the city is 664-1190.n