About 70 loggers drove their semi trucks through downtown Duluth to protest weight restrictions on Interstate 35 that they say hurt their bottom line with no benefit to the public. Makes them have to drive further to get to the NewPage mill, or a lumber loading area in Superior, Wis.
U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, a Republican, rode shotgun in one of the rigs and addressed a rally afterward, MPR reported.
What's interesting to me is the solidarity of the mills and loggers on this. Some of the loggers drove from as far as 200 miles. There aren't that many loggers in the state. According to the state employment office the total's about 790 employed directly in logging. So when 70 trucks hit downtown Duluth, just about every logger in Minnesota knew someone there.
Dale Erickson, a logger in Baudette, said one of his friends drove 210 miles. And that the NewPage mill opened its gates ahead of schedule to let trucks drop off timber. Some of them, as you can see in this video from the Duluth News Tribune, were carrying full loads.
The dispute over weight restrictions is not a new one. Federal law has limited the weight of a semi on interstates to 80,000 pounds since 1982. Some of these double-trailer timber haulers are 90,000 pounds. The timber producers argue it's only a two-mile hike for most of them on I-35 (since they're coming from the west), and the weight is dispersed more broadly so the extra 10,000 pounds mean nothing except it loses them time and money on gas as they drive on side roads.
At any rate, Erickson said NewPage expressed its solidarity with the loggers. The two industries do depend on each other.
Wayne Brandt, the head of the Forest Products Association based in Duluth, said he wasn't sure if the NewPage mill threw open its gates to welcome the protesting truckers, but said: "There's hand-to-hand solidarity all the way through the system, hopefully."