Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
More than 40 area residents attended a meeting Thursday night to hear about an attempt to extend the hours of the Port of Wild Horse north of Havre to be open 16-hours-a-day to pave the way to eventually open the port 24-hoursa- day after traffic numbers increase. “We’ve got the only proposal existing that’s going to get us where we want to go,” which is a 24-hour port, said Bob Sivertsen, who is leading the drive with Jim Treperinas and Bob Kaul. Sivertsen said another proposal being advanced by an international committee co-chaired by Havre Mayor Bob Rice and former Medicine Hat, Alberta, Mayor Garth Vallely, to give the U.S. Customs and Border Protection division of the Department Of Homeland Security studies showing that if the port is open 24-hours as a commercial port, a large amount of traffic would use the port, cannot work. Sivertsen said Customs and Border Protection has said the number of vehicles using Wild Horse do not justify extending the hours. “What part of no don’t (the members of the Wild Horse Port Committee) understand?” Sivertsen asked. Members of that committee have asked about the same question of Sivertsen’s group. Customs and Border Protection has also told Rice, and Sivertsen, that the numbers don’t justify any increase in the port’s hours, including to a 16-hour status. Siversten said the Wild Horse committee is not willing to work with him to alter their proposal. He said he wants to meet with the committee and find some common ground, adding that their ideas are not so far apart. Vallely said last week that it is not just the committee that wants a 24-hour port or nothing, it is the members of the booming oil and gas industry in Alberta who are asking for that. Oil and gas has been a major part of the Medicine Hat economy for years, and in recent years extraction of petroleum in the oil sands in northern Alberta has exploded. Vallely said the members of that industry want the Wild Horse port now a limited-hours port requiring commercial vehicles to have permits before they can cross the border there open full-time with commercial status. “If you’re going to make it a well-used port of entry, it needs to be on a 24-hour basis. (The oil and gas businesses) never shut down,” Vallely said. “It makes no sense to just do a partial. You’re really not solving their problem.” The Albertans are waiting for the final draft of a study they have commissioned to project how much commercial and private traffic would divert to the Port of Wild Horse if its status is changed. The committee received an initial draft last month, and expect the final draft soon. On the Montana side, the Wild Horse Port Committee has contracted with The University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research to project the impacts on this side of the border. The Canadian study will be used in making the U.S. projections. The committee is meeting with the team leader for that study next week. Craig Erickson of the Wild Horse Port Committee said last week that more than 2,000 trucks now go to and from the oil fields every day, generally diverting in a detour to go to the 24-hour commercial port of Sweetgrass north of Shelby. One part of the studies will project how much of that traffic would take the straight shot from the oil fields to Wild Horse if it is made a 24-hour port, as well as the economic impact that traffic and increased private traffic would have in Havre and in Montana. Once the studies are complete, they will be given to Montana’s congressional delegation and their Canadian counterparts to use to persuade the federal governments that the border crossing should be made a 24-hour commercial port. Sivertsen said his plan is more realistic. Although Customs and Border Protection say the numbers don’t justify a 16-hour port, he said in an interview last week, it will be easier to persuade them to make that change, which will be much less expensive, than to try to get 24-hour commercial status without increasing traffic first. Sivertsen’s group is circulating petitions it intends to forward to Congress showing support for the extended hours.