Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The question of the best way to work to extend the hours at the U.S.-Canadian border crossing north of Havre seems to have been answered this morning when U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. D-Mont., introduced legislation directing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to maintain the Port of Wild Horse as a 24-hour port. “This is an issue I’ve been studying for months and after talking to and working with a lot of different folks, keeping the Port of Wild Horse open round-the-clock just makes sense,” Tester said. “The Port of Wild Horse is one of Montana ’s busiest ports, and making it a 24-hour operation will give an economic boost to all of north-central Montana. It literally opens the way to new opportunities for Big Sky Country.” Tester said he has been following the push to extend the hours at the port closely, including studies that have been done on the issue and more that are being done now. In order to be prepared to act on the studies, the legislative process needed to be started now, he said. The issue has become contentious in the last few months as two committees pushed for different methods to get the port to 24-hour status. The Wild Horse Border Committee, co-chaired by Havre Mayor Bob Rice and former Medicine Hat, Alberta, Mayor Garth Vallely, has been working at increasing the hours of the port, now open 13-hours-a-day in the summer and open nine-hoursday in the winter, to 24-hours-a-day. The committee Also wants to change the port, now open to commercial traffic only by permit, to commercial status, which would allow trucks to cross at the port without needing a special permit. Another group headed by Bob Sivertsen, Jim Treperinas and Bob Kaul says that is unrealistic because the number of vehicles using the port don’t justify 24-hour commercial status. That group is pushing for ex t e n d i n g t h e h o u r s t o 16-hours-a-day year-round, then pushing for 24-hour-status and eventually commercial status once the amount of traffic has increased. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection division of the Department of Homeland Secur i ty has told both Sivertsen and Rice that the number of vehicles using the port doesn’t justify any changes in the hours. Sivertsen said at a public meeting held Thursday by his group that Montana’s congressional delegation would not support a 24-hour port because the lack of traffic would create opposition by Homeland Security. Tester told the Havre Daily that the bi l l now wi l l be referred to the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., because the bill deals with trade. Baucus said he supports the bill. “Keeping the Port of Wild Horse open 24 hours a day is a smart move that’ll be good for all of Montana, especially for folks in Havre and across the Hi-Line,” Baucus said. “I look forward to pushing Jon’s legislation through the Finance Committee and putting more muscle behind it when it goes to the full Senate.” Tester said the bill is needed for many reasons, including economic development in the area and to increase security. Expanding operations at the Port of Wild Horse is a key to the future of economic development on the Hi-Line, Tester said. The expanded hours will create more jobs in the area by requiring additional personnel at the Port of Wild Horse, and also will have secondary benefits such as more housing construction jobs, a bigger tax base, and more people benefiting the Havre economy including motels and restaurant. Tester also said having a second 24-hour port on the Montana-Canadian border is vital, as traffic at the port of Sweetgrass north of Shelby, the only 24-hour port in operation in Montana, continues to increase. The likelihood of increased development of the oil and gas industry, which has made the Albertan economy the strongest-growing in Canada, could increase that demand. Advocates of the 24-hour status at Wild Horse say the change in hours is likely to shift traffic from Sweetgrass to the Havre route, which is a direct shot from the oil sands near Fort Macmurray in northeastern Alberta and from the fields near Medicine Hat into the United States. More than 2,000 trucks travel to and from the oil fields now each day, with almost all detouring west to Sweetgrass. The increased hours at Wild Horse would also enhance security, Tester said, by bringing more security agents to the region and improving the ability to keep drugs and terror threats from crossing the border. It would also improve the lives of countless Montanans and Canadians, Tester said, from youth hockey teams to Montana State University- Northern students, by making it easier to travel between Montana and Alberta.