GREAT FALLS (AP)
The U.S. Postal Service is holding “passport fairs” on Hutterite colonies in north-central Montana, processing hundreds of applications a day. Colony residents regularly travel to Canada to visit family members in neighboring colonies or for farm-related business. People traveling between the United States and Canada by vehicle must have proper identification, such as a birth certificate. Passports are “strongly suggested” by the U.S. State Department and Canadian officials and will be required as soon as January 2008. The Big Stone Colony near Sand Coulee contacted the USPS about coming to the colony. The effort is an extension of the postal service’s “passport fairs,” where they spend a day in surrounding communities that are too small to have their own passport office. Postal employees visited 13 colonies last week and plan to go to six more this week. Postal service spokeswoman Jacque Stingley said that if Hutterites had to come to Great Falls for passports it would essentially shut down work on the colony for the day and create long lines at the post office for anyone else seeking a passport. Instead, Stingley and two other employees are traveling from colony to colony, setting up tables and a camera. Processing so many passports would have been impossible if the colonies weren’t so well prepared. The postal service employees handled 44 passport applications in 90 minutes at the Camrose Colony near Ledger. Each applicant came with the required photo identification and had the forms correctly filled out. While the line moved quickly, it was certainly long because in many colonies anyone older than 16 received a passport. “If I had 100 people waiting in line in Great Falls, I guarantee they wouldn’t be that patient,” Stingley said.