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Truckers plan to park it

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ELLIS COUNTY - What’s a sure-fire way to stop a local economy?

Drivers of diesel trucks and other rigs plan to "park it" on a nationwide strike next week until their demands for lower gas prices and an ease of federal regulations are met.

Truckers, who deliver food and goods to grocery stores and distribution warehouses, have not given a set date for the end of the strike, but concerns over safety, wages and rising diesel fuel costs are just some of the things that are on the agenda.

Some families are preparing for the worst by stocking up on local grocery items.

Dennis Breeden, manager of independently owned J.T. Trucking Express Inc., said a letter-writing campaign to Congressman Joe Barton, R-Ennis, and others have been at the top of their agenda.

"We are encouraging everyone to please contact their local congressman and state senators so they are aware of the problems we face," Breeden said. "Our industry has several issues that are driving operators out of business. [such as] two business’ have already shut down here because they couldn’t make it, one was very much like mine — hauling food-grade loads, wood products, food containers, automotive parts etc. and had been in business for 20 years."

Breeden and other truck companies are striking due to low wages, increasing taxes and equipment costs.

The recent 2007 Environmental Protection Agency mandate on new trucks raised the costs by $7,500 a truck, according to estimates from Congressional budget writers. Oil prices have not only caused huge increases in fuel but also tires and anything made of plastic or rubber.

A local truck driver’s annual fuel bill was $720,000 in 2004. Last year, the bill rose to $2 million.

Rates and surcharges have not kept up with inflation. Another looming problem truckers cite is safety. Truck owners interviewed at local truck stops said trying to keep their trucks on the road raises truck payments and living expenses. Currently, with oil at $109 a barrel, diesel is selling retail at $4 a gallon.

The first thing the truckers said they will cut back on is maintenance on their trucks.

Despite congressional mandates, many drivers are running over their allotted time to drive on interstates. Ellis County has two interstates - 35E and 45 - and multiple truck stops.

Farmers, airlines, banks and railroads all receive taxpayer subsidies or price protection from the federal government, yet those industries, according to truckers, would operate without truckers transporting goods.

"We’ll be passing out fliers at a show this weekend," Breeden said. "Anyone who can just send one person would be helpful. I want this to be very peaceful and professional. I’m asking for a police escort and no blocking highways. Last week, a group in Macon, Ga., was shut down which was covered by [Fox News]. Some of the same groups are planning a massive convoy to Atlanta. A group of flatbed truckers in northern Ohio are also planning to shut down next week. Everything is better in numbers. The more people you have to show support the better we can be heard."

Currently, local truckers said they, too plan to halt their transports in view of the recent nationwide strike.


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