Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
An international committee pushing for changing the border crossing north of Havre to a 24-hour commercial port is closer to completing two studies on what impact the change would have. “I’m really excited about this,” said Craig Er i cks on o f Bear Paw Development Corp., a member of the Wild Horse Border Committee. Medicine Hat, Alberta, Mayor Garth Vallely, who co-chairs the Wild Horse Border Committee with Havre Mayor Bob Rice, said the committee wants to use the reports to persuade the U. S. and Canadian governments to change the status of the Wild Horse border port north of Havre and south of Medicine Hat. “Our position is we don’t want you to build a highway, just extend (the port) to 24 hours and see what happens,” Vallely said. “It’s a visionary political decision that needs to be made. Let’s start looking at the good side of things and see what it can do.” Rice could not be reached for comment. Erickson said the positive economic impact of tying into the strong economy in eastern Alberta and to the highly productive oil fields near Medicine Hat and Fort MacMurray, Alberta could be huge, for the region as well as for Havre directly. The committee has selected the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana in Missoula to conduct a study on the impacts changing the port’s status would make in Montana. That selection, which would be funded in part by a grant by the Montana Department of Commerce, is pending approval by the department which Erickson said he expects this week. The Montana study will use information from a similar study being conducted in Alberta, expected to be completed soon. “At this point, we’re pretty much positive that the demand is there,” said Harold Wilson of the Economic Development Alliance of Southeast Alberta. Vallely, who did not run for re-elecMonday, said they hope to have a final draft of the report from the study early in November. “It looks promising. Maybe it’s not as much as we hoped for,” Vallely said. Vallely, who said he will stay active on the committee once he is done as mayor, added that use of the port might be increasing even in its current status. On Oct. 8, Canada’s Thanksgiving, he said, cars were waiting in line for an hour-and-a-half at Wild Horse. “It shows that there’s activity there all of a sudden,” he said. In the Montana study, Patrick Barkey of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research will be the lead investigator for the Montana study, and Paul Polzin, the director of the bureau, will be the project advisor. “Clearly, Dr. Barkey and Dr. Polzin have the credentials and experience to do this,” Erickson said. The project is expected to start in November, with a presentation of the draft of the report scheduled for Feb. 15 and the final report ready by Feb. 28. The report will examine trends in trade, commerce and border crossing activity between Montana and Alberta, and examine likely activity if no change is made and if the crossing is changed. It will then compare the scenarios, showing the impact upgrading the crossing could have in population, income, employment and spending in north-central Montana. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection section of the Department of Homeland Security and its Canadian counterpart, The Canadian Border Services Agency, have both said the number of vehicles using the port do not justify changing its status. The Wild Horse Border Committee hopes that the studies will provide representatives on both sides of the border, including Montana’s Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg, enough information to show the change is justified. The Wild Horse Port north of Havre is now a noncommercial port with limited hours. It closes at 9 p.m. from May 15 to Sept. 30 and at 5 p.m. from Oct. 1 to May 14, and commercial vehicles need a special permit to travel through the border crossing. The committee wants to make it open 24-hours and open to commercial traffic, which the committee says could bring large numbers of trucks coming from and going to the oil fields to the crossing as well as other traffic. Most traffic now travels to the port of Sweetgrass north of Shelby, which often experiences long lines and delays, members of the committee said. Part of the studies will examine how much traffic would be likely to shift from Sweetgrass to Wild Horse. Wild Horse provides a more direct route from the Alberta oil fields into the United States.