Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The international committee pushing to convert the Wild Horse Port of Entry north of Havre to a 24-hour commercial port is one step further along in their plan of action, with money in the bank to pay for a study of the economic impact of converting the port, a study expected to be complete by the end of the year. “The commercial status is the key,” said Wild Horse Border Committee Co- Chair Bob Rice, mayor of Havre. Rice said creating a commercial 24-hour port would have a tremendous impact for Havre and for Montana by connecting north-central Montana to the booming economy in Alberta, largely driven by the tapping of one of the world’s largest petroleum reserves. The hours Wild Horse is open are 8 a. m. to 9 p.m. in the summer and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Oct. 1 to May 14. The port is open to commercial use by permit only. A different committee pushing to extend hours at the border crossing to 24-hours a day has a different method to achieve the goal. Bob Sivertsen, Bob Kaul and Jim Treperinas of the Citizens for a 24 Hour Port met with Hill County Commission Chair Mike Anderson Wednesday to sell their idea of initially expanding the hours of the port to 16- hours-a-day year-round. Sivertsen told Anderson that the numbers of vehicles crossing at Wild Horse will not justify the expense of creating a 24-hour port. With much less expense, it could be converted to a 16-hour port, and once the traffic increases, an effort to expand it to 24- hours-a-day could be made, he said. After the meeting, Sivertsen said Customs and Border Protection says the numbers also do not justify a 16-hour port, but it would be easier to convince them to make that change first. Rice said in an interview Wednesday that he tried about three years ago to get expanded hours at the port without going to 24-hours-a-day, without success. “We tried to get that initially and that was denied too,” he said. Rice and Bear Paw Development deputy director Craig Erickson, a member of the Wild Horse Border Committee, both said that their Canadian partners in the effort will not settle for anything less than a 24-hour port, with good reason. “If you’re going to have unfettered trade you need commercial, 24-hour status,” Erickson said. “Nothing else makes sense.” The impact of changing the port will be giving a straight shot to the oilfields in eastern Alberta, said Harold Wilson of the Eastern Alberta Economic Alliance, a member of the Wild Horse committee. Trucks now have to divert to the only 24-hour commercial port in Montana, the port of Coutts/Sweetgrass north of Shelby, to reach the oilfields or to travel into the United States from the fields. Wilson said the key is to show the economic impact and impact on traffic if the hours are changed the key is to look at it as an investment rather than an expenditure, Wilson said. Erickson said the hope on both sides of the border is that once an alternate 24-hour port is opened, traffic will divert from the overloaded and delay-ridden Coutts-Sweetgrass port to Wild Horse. That is what the study will examine. Erickson said the timing seems to be perfect for the effort. The Montana and Alberta governments both support the effort, as do businessmen on both sides of the border. He said Havre’s state Rep. John Musgrove, a member of the Wild Horse committee, sponsored in December a joint House-Senate resolution which mirrored a resolution sponsored by Legislative Assembly Member Leonart Mitzel in the Alberta provincial government. Musgrove’s resolution urged the state government and the congressional delegation to support upgrading the Wild Horse port to 24- hour status. The Alberta resolution passed unanimously. Musgrove’s resolution passed 93-6 in the House and 47-2 in the Senate, according to the Legislature’s Web site. “In Montana, that’s nearly a mandate,” Erickson said, adding that Gov. Brian Schweitzer has come out in strong support of the effort. With the state and provincial governments supporting the effort and Montana’s congressional delegation indicating they support it as well, the timing seems to be right, Erickson said. He added that having Montana’s U. S. Sen. Max Baucus working for the effort will help. Baucus is chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which sets the budget of the Department of Homeland Security. “Now is the time. The stars seem to be aligned,” Erickson said. The key to changing the port is convincing the federal governments on both sides of the border that it is justified, Erickson said. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection branch of the Department of Homeland Security and its Canadian equivalent, the Canadian Border Services Agency both say the number of vehicles traveling through Wild Horse don’t justify increasing its hours, he said. Correspondence from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to Rice says Wild Horse averages about 30 vehicles a day crossing the border, which does not justify an increase in hours. “Our response is, of course they don’t,” Erickson said, because the limited hours and the fact that commercial traffic is limited to permit use only causes businesses to go to the port north of Shelby, the Sweetgrass- Coutts port. Montana Department of Commerce Director Tony Preite returned to Havre, his home town, last week to present Bear Paw Development Corp. with a $15,000 check to help pay for a study on the economic impact changing Wild Horse to a 24-hour commercial port will have. The City of Havre, the Hill County Commission and local businesses have contributed the matching $15,000 needed for the grant from the Department of Commerce’s Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund. The committee, comprising seven Montanans and seven Albertans, with both public officials and business people on both sides of the border, hopes the study will show enough benefits from the change that Montana’s U.S. senators and representative and Alberta’s federal legislators can use the information to push the change through. “Basically, what we’re doing is giving our congressional delegation the best information possible when they are talking to the (presidential) administration and (the Department of) Homeland Security,” Erickson said. He said that Bear Paw Development is in the process of finding a consultant to do the study, which has already had a framework laid out for the committee by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana in Missoula. One of the requirements of the study will be to work closely with a consultant already conducting a similar study in Alberta, he said. Erickson said he expects the Montana study to be completed before the end of the year. Wilson said a draft of the results of the Canadian study should be available in mid- to late-September.