Trucks parked in a gravel pit during a past Highway 61 construction project. File photo Rhonda Silence
Rhonda Silence

Truck drivers speak out about safety at Grand Marais City Council meeting

Eleven truckers turned up for public comment at the Grand Marais City Council meeting on Wednesday, October 27, sharing their concerns about a possible city ordinance outlawing jake braking through the city. The truckers stressed that these engine brakes are critical safety equipment on their trucks.

Trucker Dean Berglund talked about two trucks that crashed in Grand Marais in years past and told the city council that neither of those trucks had jake brakes, which could possibly have prevented those accidents. Berglund said most truckers use their jake brakes sparingly. However, he said he would not operate his semi without them, especially because now homes and a school have been built along the road designated as the truck route.

Kent Anderson, a trucker who works at Hedstrom Lumber, added to Berglund’s comments, acknowledging that some semis are loud, but also stressed the need for engine brakes because of the topography of the roads into Grand Marais.

Another semi operator, Anders Zimmer said his truck is likely the cause of some of the jake brake noise complaints. He said he is working to reduce the noise of his truck, but he has older equipment. Zimmer said he has been trucking for two years now and noted that not everyone can afford to purchase a newer, quieter semi for $150,000 when they are just getting their business started.

And Nathan Carlson, who appeared before the city council during public comment at the last meeting returned to again stress the need for public safety.

Later in the meeting, the council turned to city Attorney Chris Hood, who said jake braking is covered under state ordinances. He questioned the need for a different, or more restrictive ordinance. Hood questioned how the city—and the sheriff’s office would enforce a more restrictive ordinance.

Sheriff Pat Eliasen was at the meeting and he agreed that there are Minnesota Pollution Control Agency guidelines for noise pollution. He pointed to charts showing the thresholds for allowable noise and explained what his office would have to do to catch a semi using too-loud Jake brakes. He noted that it wasn’t feasible to assign deputies to sit along the road with decibel monitors, waiting for a truck to pass.

That said, Sheriff Eliasen said he and his deputies do stop truckers when they notice a truck going too fast and using jake brakes too often. However, he said his primary concern in the matter is safety.

County Attorney Molly Hicken was present via Zoom and she said she and the sheriff had reviewed the ordinance and discussed enforcement. She said there could be changes if the city wanted to pursue them. Hicken said her office could reach out to other cities to see how it is handled there. However, she said she recognized that the local truck drivers are the authorities on the need for engine braking—and she said other cities do not have the geography of Grand Marais.

During the discussion, Councilor Tracy Benson questioned whether some of the recent complaints stemmed from the highway construction projects underway.

Berglund spoke up from the audience stating that there were 37 semis working on the Grand Marais Highway 61 project over the past two summers. Trucker Bobby Deschampe noted that 5,100 loads were transported for the Grand Portage Highway 61 work.

Councilors questioned whether there was still a need for a changed ordinance on jake braking now that there are fewer trucks on the road.

Councilor Anton Moody said the matter only came up after he heard from citizens and he reached out to the sheriff’s office about how enforcement works. He said he wondered if no engine braking was an option, but after hearing from the truckers, he realizes the importance of this equipment.

Mayor Jay DeCoux said it was important to hear from truck drivers on this issue and to learn that they try not to use their Jake brakes unless necessary.

The council appeared to reach a consensus on leaving the city ordinance as is, with the understanding that truck drivers will do their part to use jake brakes only when necessary.

Hear the thoughts of the four truck drivers who spoke during the meeting and the response from the Grand Marais City Council in this report from Rhonda Silence.