Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
U. S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., today encouraged groups trying to expand the status of the Wild Horse Border Port north of Havre to a 24- hour commercial status to continue their research and provide him with the results so he can make an argument in Washington, D.C. “I’d like to open up every port on the border to 24-hours I think if I start focusing on more than one border crossing nothing will happen,” he said. Tester met with local government officials and business representatives at Bear Paw Development Corp. this morning to hear about work two committees have done to try to change the status of the port. Only one port on the border between Montana and Alberta is now a 24-hour commercial port, the Sweetgrass-Coutts Port north of Shelby on Interstate 15. The committees’ argument is that if Wild Horse is given 24-hour status, it will allow a straight shot from the oil fields in Alberta into the United States, rather than forcing businesses to divert to the crowded and often delay-ridden port on I-15. Tester said he was approached by representatives of Phillips County about trying to change the port in that county to a 24-hour commercial port, but he wants to take one step at a time. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Department of Customs and Border Protection has told both committees working to increase the Wild Horse’s hours that the numbers of private and commercial vehicles using it averaging less than 40 a day does not justify any increase or change of status at the port. It is now open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. from May 15 to Sept. 30 and 8 a.m. to 5 p. m. from Oct. 1 to May 14, and is open to commercial use by permit only. Craig Erickson, deputy director of Bear Paw Development and a member of the Wild Horse committee, said the Albertans want to create a new corridor directly from eastern Alberta into the United States. The limited status of Wild Horse now creates an obstacle, he said, forcing traffic to go to Sweetgrass-Coutts. The study in Alberta will look at how much of that traffic would be shifted if the restriction were removed, he said. Tester recommended the groups, the Wild Horse Border Committee cochaired by Havre Mayor Bob Rice and Medicine Hat, Alberta, Mayor Garth Vallely, and the Citizens for a 24 Hour Port headed by Bob Sivertsen, Bob Kaul and Jim Treperinas, to forward all of their information and who they have contacted to his office. The Wild Horse committee received a $15,000 grant from the Montana Department of Commerce, with matching funds provided by the City of Havre, the Hill County Commission and local businesses, to do a study of the economic impact changing Wild Horse could provide. It will mirror a study already under way in Alberta. Erickson said the Montana study will be completed in December. The Alberta group expects a rough draft of its study to be completed by mid- to late September. Montana Rep. Bob Bergren, D-Havre said having a 24-hour commercial status is key. If a truck breaks down on the way to the port and the delay forces it to reroute to Sweetgrass-Coutts, the business expense would be tremendous. Making the port a 24-hour commercial port will increase the traffic much more than just multiplying the current traffic by a factor of three or four, he said. Bear Paw Development Executive Director Paul Tuss said that is why both Montana and Alberta are conducting studies on the issue. “We want to compare apples to apples,” he said. Both Rice and Kaul told Tester, after he asked about support from the people north of Havre, that the people in the region seem to support it, especially if it means improvements to their roads. “They’re all for it, do it tomorrow,” Kaul said. “Yesterday would have been better.” Tester said that once a study showing the numbers of vehicles would increase if the border is open, that is when Montana’s congressional delegation can really start working on the issue. Havre City Council member Terry Schend said he thinks the Albertans already know about how much traffic will shift, and are documenting that. He said the highway leading from Havre to the port is in serious need of repair and the increased traffic will move it to the top of the priority list for the Montana Department of Transportation to be worked on. Several people at the meeting said they think many other areas will be helped if the port status is changed, including Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Alex Capdeville saying it could bring Canadian students to the university and Hill County Commissioner Mike Wendland saying it could have a major positive impact on the agriculture industry. State Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre, a member of the Wild Horse committee, sponsored a bill last session urging the state to negotiate for 24-hour commercial status for the port. It passed almost unanimously in both the state House and Senate. A similar bill sponsored previously by Alberta Legislative Assembly Member Leonard Mitzel passed the Alberta provincial legislature unanimously. Musgrove said after the meeting that the community is really stepping up to support the idea, which he thinks is crucial. “In some ways this is a oneshot deal,” he said.