Monday, November 26, 2007

Truckers protest high cost of diesel

Haulers plan a rally next Saturday in Damariscotta. A representative of Gov. John Baldacci will attend.

By JOSIE HUANG, Staff Writer November 24, 2007

Truckers across Maine are protesting soaring fuel prices with at least a couple of hundred haulers expected to converge in Damariscotta for a meeting next Saturday.

Meeting organizer Larry Sidelinger has invited federal, state and local officials to listen to truckers' stories of hardship as well as their suggested remedies, which include temporarily waiving state taxes on both diesel fuel and replacement automotive parts such as tires and brakes.

Sidelinger said the price of diesel fuel -- which presently hovers around $3.50 a gallon, about 50 cents more than regular gas -- means that many truckers are barely making a living hauling pulp, logs and lumber.

Unlike other industries that build the rising price of fuel into the services and products they sell, truckers often are locked into contracts with manufacturers. Some independent haulers have decided to stop driving rather than exert wear and tear on their rigs for little to no return, Sidelinger said.

"What this fuel is doing is just crippling business in Maine," Sidelinger said. "Small business is feeling the crunch first because our pockets are not as deep."

Sidelinger, who owns Yankee Pride Transport in Damariscotta, decided to organize a meeting for the midcoast after several hundred truckers, logging company and mill owners attended a similar gathering in Lincoln on Monday.

The Coalition for Lowering Fuel Prices in Maine was born at the earlier meeting and Sidelinger, a member, expects to see some of the same faces at the Damariscotta meeting at 9 a.m. at the American Legion's Wells-Hussey post.

A representative of Gov. John Baldacci is expected to be among those present, according to his office. Baldacci spokesman David Farmer said the governor is interested in helping haulers form cooperatives to negotiate better deals on fuel, and in working with other governors in the region to urge the federal government to tap into petroleum reserves.

The governor also wants to reach out to banks and "see if they can extend better lines of credit and be a little bit more understanding with independent haulers," Farmer said.

Farmer, though, said waiving the diesel fuel tax of nearly 29 cents a gallon is not a good idea because it would cut into state revenue used to maintain roads and bridges. Similarly, suspending sales taxes for a particular profession would hurt the larger society, especially the needy who benefit from public programs, he said.

"I'm sure there are lots of industries that would like to have taxes waived on things they need to buy," Farmer said, noting that fishermen and lobstermen also use diesel fuel.

Sidelinger said he is worried that the forestry products industry will be imperiled should more truckers decide to get off the road.

He said truckers who make $3,200 a week have to factor in a $2,500 fuel bill, on top of truck payments, insurance and maintenance fees.

"Then you still have to feed the family," Sidelinger said. "Is it worth it to break even?"

He has had less freight to transport in the last year, he said, because high fuel prices have dampened the construction industry.

That led him to reduce his fleet of trucks from 14 to six and forced him to consider stopping driving altogether, he said, although he cannot bring himself to let the last year or so overshadow a 15-year career.

"It's just pure, dumb Yankee stubbornness, if you want to know the truth," Sidelinger said. "I've worked too hard to get to where I am."

Staff Writer Josie Huang can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

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