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Author: Hansen Hasenberg

Tough road ahead: Truckers feel brunt of gas prices

Just this past week, AAA announced that the national average for a gallon of regular gas was $5.004, a record high. While the soaring prices at the pump affect everybody who drives, they especially impact the trucking industry. Truckers use diesel, which is at an average of $5.765 a gallon nationally as of June 11, according to AAA.

Diesel costs more than regular gasoline due to the differences in federal excise taxes between the two. The tax on diesel is 24.3 cents per gallon, which is six cents more per gallon than the tax on gasoline. As of January 1, 2022, the average of total state taxes and fees for on-highway diesel fuel was 32.66 cents per gallon according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

According to Alix Miller, Ph.D., the president and CEO of the Florida Trucking Association, fuel is the trucking industry’s second largest expense, only behind labor.

“These recent spikes in diesel fuel prices have a real and significant impact on our industry,” Miller said. “Record-high prices have real, direct and direct implications on trucking and the consumer.”

Diesel powers trucks that deliver consumer goods, manufacturing products, agricultural products and so much more. With supply chain issues already facing Americans, the high price of diesel threatens to exacerbate the problem.

While consumers certainly feel the after-effects of diesel price increases, the trucking companies, 97% of which are small businesses, are hit even harder. Miller says that trucking companies do use fuel surcharges to alleviate some of the costs, but they only cover 60-70% of price increases.

The small trucking businesses have less negotiating power than bigger companies for things like freight contracts and purchasing fuel.

While not technically a company that has any truckers, Panhandle Trucking and Logistics in Crestview has been working in the industry since 2012. According to Leah Jarriel, co-owner of Panhandle Trucking and Logistics, her business is a truck broker. In other words, they help facilitate the transfer of goods by acting as a sort of go-between between truckers and customers who need something moved.

Panhandle Trucking and Logistics works with 20 or more regular customers and helps facilitate 250 loads a year. According to Jarriel, they deal with owner/operators and full-scale trucking companies.
Jarriel says that the gas prices impact both sides that she and her business deal with.

“It has been very volatile,” Jarriel said. “Carriers have to know what their costs will be so that they can give a quote to a customer.”

Without truckers and carriers being able to give a quote due to fluctuating prices, the truckers, the customers, and the brokers are all left in a sort of limbo.

“If I give a quote today for freight in six weeks,” Jarriel said, “how do I know what the rates are going to be then?”

Jarriel considers this whole inflation situation surrounding gas prices to be a “trickle down problem.” Gas prices go up, trucker fees go up, the quote for carrying a load goes up, and then those costs at the customer and later, consumer levels, also go up. This leaves everyone having to decide whether it is worth the cost, especially owner/operator truckers.

One of those truckers who is feeling the brunt of inflation at the pump is Paul Coleman. Along with his son, Coleman owns a trucking company called PM Coleman Hauling LLC out of Walnut Hill in Escambia County. PM Coleman Hauling LLC began in June 2021.

“Things are bad, some companies are shutting down,” Coleman said. “These prices have cut into our profit bad.”

According to Coleman, his company is an owner/operator hot shot trucking business, and they travel across the country. Hot Shot trucking, according to truckstop.com, is when truckers haul smaller, more time-sensitive less than truckload (LTL) loads within a specific timeframe and usually to a single customer or location.

Coleman has driven big trucks on and off for 25 years, drives to places across the Southeast, Northeast, Midwest, and out west, but he tries to avoid California because of the high gas prices.

When Coleman spoke by phone on June 10, he was in Smithfield, North Carolina on a hauling trip. He said that diesel cost nearly $6.00 there during the phone call. According to Gasbuddy.com, a website that tells people gas pricing information from across the United States, diesel cost $5.69 in Smithfield on June 10.

According to Coleman, he usually needs 1200 gallons a month for his business. At $6.00 a gallon, that would amount to $7200.

With the added costs of things like food, hotel stays, and other business expenses, truckers have to adjust and haul more. Coleman says that truckers are trying to haul two to three things or more with each load to turn enough of a profit.

“Right now, if you don’t get a good load, then it isn’t worth the trip,” Coleman said. “It really hurts small businesses like us.”

Coleman also says that the trucking industry is hurting due to “team drivers.” These team drivers have “swamped” the industry in recent years, according to Coleman, and do the same loads for cheaper prices than businesses like Coleman’s. They are called “team drivers” because they have a crew who swaps out who is driving, which also saves time.

“If things don’t change, I’ll have to shut down,” Coleman said. “I honestly don’t know what to do.”

Coleman hopes that all those involved in the trucking business, from truck stops to brokers to the truckers themselves, can come together and figure out better prices for all.

“Lots of people wonder why shelves at Walmart and other stores are empty, now you know,” Coleman said. “If it keeps going this way, people are going to see their shelves a lot emptier.”

Free debate camp to be held at NWFL State College

All their events, tournaments and camps are no-cost to students, schools, or families. It started four years ago in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties and has expanded across the state ever since.
James Fishback is director and founder of Incubate Debate.

“We want to bring debate to students, but more than that, we want to boost every student’s confidence and skills in critical thinking,” Fishback said.

Fishback says the goal of Incubate Debate is to help foster the next generation of citizens, helping them build skills and confidence to learn about, discuss, and debate important issues shaping their communities and country.

During the camp, students will participate in roundtable discussions on topics of domestic and foreign policy. Students also participate in research and speaking workshops and hone their skills in rigorous practice rounds.

According to Fishback, these skills are not only helpful in a debate, but throughout these students’ lives.

“To be honest, the reason we do all this, all the skills that students develop in debate, they will need when entering college, trade school or the workforce,” Fishback said. “It makes them more competitive, no matter what field they go into.”

On the third day of the camp, Incubate Debate will be hosting a county showcase, in which students use the skills they have learned to debate their peers. Sunday, June 12 also includes an award ceremony to celebrate the students’ hard work with their parents and teachers. The showcase and award ceremony will take place from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

In addition to the events and activities planned for the students, local leaders also participate. This camp will see Okaloosa County Commissioner Nathan Boyles speak to the students and judge their showcase.

“I am really excited to participate in this event,” Boyles said. “Public speaking is an important foundational skill for all people, not just politicians.”

The last Northwest Florida event put on by Incubate Debate was held at Laurel Hill High School. It featured State Senator Doug Broxson, Okaloosa School Board Chairman Tim Bryant, Okaloosa County Commissioner Paul Mixon, and Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux. Boyles was originally going to partake in the Laurel Hill event but could not after a scheduling conflict.

Despite taking place in and featuring leaders from Okaloosa County, the camp is open to students from Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties as well.

“We want to help out as many students as we can,” Fishback said. “Especially those who aren’t always included in debate.”

Those interested in signing up should do so by June 9, but Fishback says that Incubate Debate is flexible when it comes to signups. Right now, there around 30 students already signed up for the upcoming camp. For more information, email james@incubatedebate.org.

FDOT, partners look to build next generation of workers with Construction Career Days

This year’s Construction Career Days marks the second in person version of this event in Northwest Florida. The first year of the event was 2019.

The event brings together students with contractors, Florida Department of Transportation workers, construction and engineering firms, and other representatives from the transportation and construction industries. In all, there are around 50 government agencies, consulting firms and contractors participating.

“We want to let people know their options,” Heather Baril said, “to put them in touch directly with companies.”

Baril is Milton operations engineer for Florida Department of Transportation District three and co-chair of the Northwest Florida Construction Career Days.

She says that there are Construction Career Days like this one across the state. According to the website for Construction Career Days, there are five regions in the Sunshine State: Northwest Florida, Northeast Florida, Central Florida, South Florida and Tampa Bay.

According to the state website for Construction Career Days, the Construction Career Days began in 1999 to create a nationwide educational outreach program that would cultivate interest in high school students for a variety of skilled construction careers. Funding for the event comes from company sponsors the Federal Highway Administration and other organizations related to these job fields.

The importance of Construction Career Days, according to Heather Baril, is the fact that the state has seen tremendous growth and has significant needs in career fields like engineering, construction and surveying.

In a video promoting the 2019 event, a narrator cited the importance of the event as the state has increased in population, a 14.6% increase from the 2010 census to the 2020 census, which has only exacerbated the need for good infrastructure like roads and bridges. The increased population also means that more homes need to be built.

Events like the Surfside building collapse and the threat of climate change also show the urgent need for newer or updated infrastructure in the state.

According to a March 2021 article from WUSF Public Media, a 2018 Department of Transportation study found that a two-foot sea rise, expected by mid-century, would imperil a little more than five percent — 250-plus miles — of the state’s most high-traffic highways. These coastal highways are crucial to industries like tourism, which rakes in billions annually. According to an infographic from VISIT FLORIDA, out of state visitors in 2019 added $96.5 billion to the state’s economy.

VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s official tourism marketing and travel planning organization, says on their website that “tax revenues generated by tourism-related spending represent a primary source of state government funding that helps to build roads, support schools, pay for health care and other vital programs and preserve nature settings.”

The need for these careers in Florida notwithstanding, the event acts as opportunity for high school students to explore possible pathways in a fun and exciting way.

“The biggest highlight, I think for attendees, is that they get to operate heavy machinery and equipment,” Baril said.

As participants in the event, students go around to different activities, booths and learning labs that showcase what the different job fields do, from asphalt and paving to drainage to bridge inspection.

There are 20 different learning labs, 15 exhibits and 25 pieces of equipment that the students get hands on experience with.

The students can take a ride in a bucket truck, use a manlift and operate an excavator, just to name a few types of heavy equipment.

“That’s an exciting part, you don’t get to sit on an excavator every day,” Kathy Harris said. “It’s what sticks out in people’s memory.” Harris is the media liaison for the event.

In addition to all the exciting experiences, $20,000 worth of scholarships will be handed out to participating students. To raise money for scholarships, Construction Career Days’ organizers hold golf tournaments and sport shooting.

Students in attendance who are over 18 years old can fill out applications the day of the event. In all, the Construction Career Days gives students the opportunity to see themselves filling an important role in our state.

“This is not your typical career fair,” Baril said.

Crestview Fire Department creates technical rescue team

Technical rescue is the use of specialized equipment and skills for several types of rescue including vehicle and machinery, confined space rescue, rope rescue, trench rescue and structural collapse rescue.

Nicholas Stowell says that several members of the fire department did the training for all five classes, which is about 168 total hours. Stowell is an engineer with the Crestview Fire Department.

“We did all five classes in Panama City back to back,” Stowell said. “It is rare to have all five classes be right in row and we were lucky to be able to do it all in one go.”

Engineer Nicholas Stowell (in the harness) trained with other Crestview Fire Department members to help bring a technical rescue team to North Okaloosa.

Three of the technical rescue team members are fully trained according to Stowell and one or two are a class short of being completely certified. Technical rescue teams, like the one in Crestview, are a part of Florida Urban Search and Rescue or FLUSAR and are under purview of the state fire marshal.

According to the Florida Fire Chief’s Association, there are 39 technical rescue teams across the state. Each one is in one of two classifications. The differences between the two types are the minimum staffing requirements, the level of training required and the operational period each team is in the field. Type one contains eight members consisting of a team leader, safety officer and six rescue specialists. All are at the level of a technician. Type two consists of six members, one leader and safety officer and four rescue specialists. At least two of those members are trained at the technician level. Crestview’s technical rescue team is type 2.

For the Crestview Fire Department, a technical rescue team fills an important role in broadening their services for citizens.

Crestview Fire Department has a new team to help respond to disasters and other emergency situations. The technical rescue team has special training for scenarios like a structural building collapse.

Stowell says that Crestview and north Okaloosa County can be isolated if bridges go out during a really bad storm. He believes that the technical rescue team is the best way to get assets out during disasters.

“In a growing city like Crestview, building collapses can happen with all the construction going on,” Stowell said. “Knowing we have an asset in north Okaloosa county is a big thing.”

“The team has not completely been formed as of the moment, but the rescue team is currently in the process of training members to procure certifications,” Captain Corey J. Winkler said in an email to the Crestview News Bulletin. “And Crestview Fire Department is working to obtain the necessary resources to adequately outfit a rescue team so they can function efficiently.”

According to Stowell, the team will have 10 members once it is complete. They already have some of the equipment the team will use, including rope equipment on one of the firetrucks.

“We are operating on a five year plan,” Stowell said. “Before we do anything, we need to get everybody trained.”

Crestview Sister City Program prepares for French visitors coming in April

But the citizens of Crestview have joined in to help when in April, Crestview will welcome 28 French visitors to town for two weeks of fun, learning and cultural exploration.

Of the 28 visitors, 18 are students between the ages of 14 and 17. The other ten are eight adults with two children. A total of 22 Crestview families will host them during their stay.

The visit is being done through Crestview’s sister city program in conjunction with its sister city in France, Noirmoutier. The French students have been planning the trip for over two years but have been delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Crestview students have also been waiting, as they will partake in a similar cultural exchange in May, when they will visit Noirmoutier.

Brian Hughes, the Cultural Services Specialist for the city of Crestview, says that both the visitors and the hosts have been preparing for April.
“The French have been taking English classes and the students in Crestview have been taking French,” Hughes said. “Our students are also learning to cook crepes and other French food.”

In preparation for the French students’arrival, there has been quite a bit of planning by host families and those associated with Crestview’s Sister City program. The host families held a meeting on March 7 to discuss the plans for the visitors. The French conducted their own meeting two days before to discuss the planned trip.

While here, the French students and adults will partake in a range of planned activities. The Crestview High School Sister City Ambassadors have planned activities “including a welcome lunch by Mayor JB Whitten, a beach outing, a tour of the Air Force Armament Museum, a wildlife encounter at the Seacrest Wolf Preserve, an Easter egg hunt and movie night, shopping at Silver Sands Outlet Center, and a Farewell Gala.”

The Ambassadors are the student organization of the Crestview Area Sister City Program, which for 25 years has partnered with Noirmoutier’s local organizing committee.
While there has been a lot of preparation, a bit of culture shock is to be expected.
“I think there’s a difference between the English that we learn and the English that you talk in real life,” Noirmoutrin student Hugo Bugeon said. “It will be super interesting to go to the U.S.A. I’m so excited. I cannot wait!”

The French visitors arrive April 8.
Hughes, who has hosted families himself, is looking forward to the connections that will be made by both the Americans and the French.
“The Sister City Program creates these real, person to person relationships,” Hughes said. “We are really happy to have them here.”

Shoal River Middle wins county championship in boys’ basketball

“Its one of the most athletic teams I have ever coached,” Phillips said.

Phillips has been around Crestview athletics for most of his life. This is his first year as varsity head coach.

The Mustangs came into the championship game with just one blemish on their record, a 48-45 loss to Ruckel. The loss came at the midpoint of the season. According to the coaches, that loss galvanized the team, and they played the rest of the season “on another level.”

“We learned a lot from that game,” Phillips said. “It helped us to get better.”

On top of getting better on the court, Phillips and assistant coach Robert Maddens stressed the importance of being a “student-athlete.”

This season, the team averaged a 3.0 GPA. Something, the coaches say is unheard of for Shoal River athletics.

“I challenged the guys to reach that 3.0 GPA for the team,” Phillips said.

To achieve the GPA goal, the team had study halls before school every day.

Improvement in the classroom and on the field of play became the focal point for the team going into the season.

“You didn’t have to force them to practice,” said Maddens, who also teaches social studies. “They wanted to get better.”

The Mustangs are all smiles after their big win in Destin. Submitted photo

Shoal River finished the regular season at 14-1 and took on Destin Middle and Ruckel in the playoffs. The games were both played at Destin Middle School.

The Mustangs won their first round matchup versus Destin with a resounding 59-26 victory.

Shoal River then beat Ruckel 49-30.

This was Shoal River Middle School’s second championship this year. The other was football.

Most of the players on the team are in eighth grade and will be heading to Crestview High School next year.

“I expect great success for these young men when they go to high school,” Phillips said.

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