Truckers plan to give Skaneateles a Dickens of a time
by Matt Michael / The Post-Standard Monday November 17, 2008, 9:40 PM
SKANEATELES, NY -- Even Scrooge couldn't have thought this one up.On Nov. 28 -- the day after Thanksgiving and opening day for Dickens Christmas celebration in Skaneateles -- the village of Skaneateles could turn into a parking lot for about 400 trucks and tractor-trailers.Truckers and Citizens United, a national group that represents 15,000 drivers and trucking employees, is planning a convoy and rally that will start at Exit 41 on the New York State Thruway and end in downtown Skaneateles.Charlie Claburn, the organization's Northeast regional director, said the convoy will protest Gov. David Paterson's push to restrict truck traffic on certain rural state roads."When did we start living in a country where they have to tell us which way to go to get somewhere?" Claburn said.Claburn said the trucks will leave Exit 41 about 10 a.m. and rumble from routes 414 to 318 to 20 in Auburn and then Skaneateles.At noon on the same day, the annual Dickens Christmas will kick off at the Sherwood Inn, on Genesee Street (Route 20), with a proclamation by an actor playing Charles Dickens, the author of "A Christmas Carol." Dickens Christmas features Dickens characters performing interactive street theater in the village.The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally the biggest day of the year for the shops along Genesee Street, said Sue Dove, executive director of the Skaneateles Chamber of Commerce."(The trucks) will just detract from the whole ambience of stepping back in time to a gentler, more peaceful way of life," Dove said. "If they do come, we will go forward and we hope things will be in place to make it safe for everyone."In September, Truckers and Citizens United planned to send more than 200 trucks to Washington, D.C., to protest high gas prices. About 20 truckers showed, and organizers blamed the low turnout on the high fuel prices.Claburn said he expects 400 mostly New York truck drivers to attend the protest Nov. 28.In May, Paterson visited Skaneateles to announce that the state Department of Transportation would implement policies to prevent big rigs from taking shortcuts through towns and villages.When residents yelled that they had been waiting decades for such a solution, Paterson said, "You've been waiting 20 years? Well, there's a new sheriff in town."Under the latest plan that DOT officials unveiled earlier this month, trucks could travel on seven roads -- including routes 41, 41A, 90 and 38 in Onondaga, Cayuga and Cortland counties -- only if the roads provide the sole route for the trucks to perform their pickups or deliveries. In all other cases, trucks would be required to use major highways, such as Interstate 81 or the Thruway.Charles Carrier, speaking for the state DOT, said the plan is the result of months of dialogue with the trucking industry, municipal and business leaders and residents who attended a public hearing in Syracuse in September. By the end of this month, Carrier said, the proposal will be forwarded to the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform, which helps state agencies write rules and regulations.Then there's a 45-day public comment period. If there is not strong opposition to the plan, it could become law early next year, Carrier said.Citizens and Truckers United scheduled the protest to bring attention to the plan and to ask residents to oppose it.Claburn said there are more than 500,000 trucking jobs in the state, and most of the truckers are with small fleets. He said it will cost these workers millions of dollars in fuel, tolls and operating costs to avoid rural roads.Claburn said the trucking group is protesting in Skaneateles because village officials and residents have been vocal about keeping trucks off the local roads. He acknowledges the trucks will "really tie things up" in Skaneateles, but he said he's asking residents to be patient and consider the truckers' side.Claburn said he'd like to meet Nov. 28 with Skaneateles Mayor Robert Green to talk about a compromise that would keep trucks on rural roads, but away from schools and downtowns.The mayor said he doesn't know how the protest will change residents' minds."It could have the reverse effect for what they're trying to accomplish," Green said.Skaneateles Police Chief Lloyd Perkins said he has heard the rumors about the convoy, and he has had conversations with the state police about it. He said his main concern is that emergency vehicles be able to get in and out of the village.Perkins said the police won't try to stop the convoy as long as it's peaceful.
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