Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Havre-area people who have been pushing to change the status of the Montana-Canadian border crossing north of Havre to a 24-hour port seemed elated to hear that U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., has proposed legislation to do just that. “I think that’s absolutely wonderful,” said Havre Mayor Bob Rice, who co-chairs the Wild Horse Border Committee with former Medicine Hat, Alberta, Mayor Garth Vallely. Monday Tester proposed legislation that would direct the Department of Homeland Security, the federal agency that administers the U.S. Customs and Border Protection which oversees the operation of the ports, to maintain Wild Horse as a commercial port open 24-hours-a-day. The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who said he supports the bill and hopes to push it through the committee quickly and then will support in the full Senate. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., said he supports increasing the hours at the port. “The Port of Wild Horse is a key gateway between the U.S. and Canada and 24-hour status would add value to the port's already critical role,” Rehberg said. “I look forward to examining the provisions in Senator Tester's legislation and doing all that I can to bring additional resources to the Havre community.” The Wild Horse committee, comprising seven Montanans and seven Albertans, has been pushing to get the hours at the port, now open limited hours in the winter with slightly longer hours in the summer and open to commercial traffic by permit only, to the status proposed by Tester. One of the main drivers for the initiative is the booming oil and gas industry in Alberta. Using the port of entry north of Havre would give the businesses working the oil fields near Medicine Hat and the oil sands near Fort McMurray in northeastern Alberta a straight shot into the United States. Trucks now detour west to go to the 24-hour commercial Port of Sweetgrass on Interstate 15 north of Shelby, the only commercial 24-hour port on the Montana-Alberta border. Bob Sivertsen, a member of a group that has been pushing to start with extending the hours at the border crossing to 16-hours-a-day until traffic numbers increase, said Tester’s sponsoring the bill is great news. “This is really a great step forward,” Sivertsen said. “ Tester has said that he wants to get the process moving and that's just really great news. “The stars are aligned and with the economic conditions, especially north of the border, the time is just right,” Sivertsen added. His group has been circulating a petition to show support for extended hours and Sivertsen said they will continue with the petition drive to support Tester’s bill. The Wild Horse Border Committee has commissioned studies to project the economic impacts of making Wild Horse a 24-hour commercial port. Patrick Barkey, an economist with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana in Missoula, was scheduled to meet with members of the committee in Havre this morning in the kickoff of the Montana study, expected to be completed by the end of February. A similar study under way in Alberta is expected to be released this month. Tester’s office said those studies could be very valuable to pushing the bill through. “Jon believes any study that further demonstrates his belief in the future value of the Port of Wild Horse will be a welcome tool in trying to get this done,” said Aaron Murphy of Tester’s office. Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp., which helped the committee apply for and is admistering the $15,000 grant from the Department of Commerce's Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund that is helping pay for the study, said the timing of Tester’s bill is excellent. The Senate is likely to be starting to discuss the bill about the same time the Montana study is complete, he said. “It will dovetail very nicely with our timeline,” Tuss said. Tuss said he expects Tester’s bill is in reaction both to personal experience, as a Big Sandy farmer who has probably had to deal with the limited hours at Wild Horse, and with public reaction to the proposal locally and statewide. A bill supporting 24-hour commercial status proposed by Montana Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre, a member of the Wild Horse Border Committee, passed 93-6 in the House and 47-2 in the Senate. Gov. Brian Schweitzer has also come out in support of the initiative.