Krista Corner Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
About 30 people from Alberta and Montana gathered at the Duck Inn on Tuesday to discuss efforts to open the Port of Wild Horse to 24-hour traffic. Members of both sides signed up to be part of a committee designated by Havre Mayor Bob Rice to help get the job done. The group will create a business plan that officials on both sides of the border can take to their respective governments. Local officials from both sides of the 49th Parallel pledged to help each other. Rice and Medicine Hat, Alberta, Mayor Garth Vallely have been cooperating on the project for almost three years. Vallely said: “To me there is no border.” “We’re more than good neighbors,” he added. “We’re family.” Rice and others agreed that while much progress has been made on the Canadian side, the U.S. side still has much to do. “It’s going to take a grass roots effort at this point,” Rice said. Officials said studying traffic figures as the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has done before rejecting proposals to expand port operations will do nothing. Member of the Legislative Assembly for Cypress-Medicine Hat Len Mitzel said hundreds of millions of dollars of oil and gas products are imported into Canada. He said monitoring the current traffic situation does nothing to show what the traffic could be if truckers were able to access the port 24 hours a day. “If we recognize the need, they will come,” Mitzel said. Executive director of the Economic Development Alliance in Alberta, Harold Wilson, said that from an economic development perspective, looking at the current traffic count won’t work to show the governments that the port is needed. He said if officials would look at what the future holds, they would see the businesses expanding between the U. S. and Canada need to have access to their products and services. “Business runs 24 hours,” he said. “The development of the 24-hour border will increase those economic opportunities.” The discussion included talk of involving corporations now developing oil reserves valued at $120 billion near Fort McMurray in Alberta, one of which is U.S.-based Conoco/Phillips, in the drive to create a second round-theclock port between the province and Montana.
“Pursue those with money and with political clout,” Stockman Bank president Chuck Wimmer said. “Our side of the government isn’t looking to the future. Maybe get supporters who will back us.” Federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Monte Solberg said he is happy to push the 24-hour opening of the port along in any way he could. He said he’d already spoken with a Canadian official who could authorize such a project. “(The minister) had a real openness for this, but we must make a business case for this,” Solberg said. The business case should be easy, with the oil development now under way, he said. “We need to bring equipment and workers into Canada,” he said. Russ Holowochuck, vice president and general manager of Canadian Fertilizer, a subsidiary of the U.S. parent company CF Industries, said that 1.5 million tons of fertilizer are shipped through the border every year with 66 percent going to U.S. destinations. “That’s 6,000 trucks a year, ” he said. “A lot of traffic that would normally come through Havre gets routed through (Port of) Coutts because the border closes.” Solberg said the port is a possibility if the group would follow some recommendations. “Number one is to get organized and strengthen the existing ties,” he said. “Build a bigger coalition.” Solberg said to get the coalition together, everyone from Fort McMurray to Billings and the surrounding areas need to understand how this will benefit them. “There is strength in numbers,” he added. “Once we do the ground work and build coalitions, (government officials) may be on board with the whole thing.” Bear Paw Development Corp. planning director Craig Erickson said the local economy may depend on the crossIng. “Other than water, I can’t think of anything more important that you have to have than access to your markets and services,” he said. “Gov. Schweitzer wants economic development outside of the cowboy boot,” which is the area of high economic growth in western and southern Montana.
Erickson said the area is losing population and now is the time to put infrastructure in place to allow growth and economic development. He pointed out the history of Montana’s economic development in the time of James J. Hill. He said Hill was granted the right of way for the railroad because he went forward with an opportunity he saw in the area. He added, though, that he thinks the group needs to do more than just “build it and they will come.” “We need to build it and promote the fact we are here and have lots of opportunities,” Erickson said. Bear Paw Development’s board of directors unanimously passed a motion to support the city and county in the development of this project. State Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre, said he’s pleased to have been appointed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer to the Montana-Canadian Provinces Relations Advisory Council. “We put forth a resolution to urge Congress to support a 24-hour port of entry at Wild Horse,” he said, adding that the committee will hold a hearing in January. He invited Canadian officials to present their side at the hearing. Modern Aire owner and Hill County representative on the 4 for 2 Association Dennis Morgan said Havre is a good, solid place for business. “We’re just on the cusp of taking off economically,” he said after he presented a letter of support from the 4 for 2 Association. Sate Rep. Bob Bergren, D-Havre, said he is 100 percent in support of the effort. “We need coalition building and we need more team building,” he told the group. “Maybe we could get together a Billings delegation along with the mayors of smaller communities.” Bow Island, Alberta, Mayor and chair of the Paliser of Economic Partnership in Alberta Alan Highland said the fight for the 24-hour border crossing is not a new one. He said while he was still involved in provincial politics he began pushing for it with his Montana counterparts. That, he said, was back when Gov. Stan Stephens was still in office. The effort he said lost momentum after a change in the Legislature. “We didn’t push it,” he said. He added that if he had, there might be a 24-hour crossing today