Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The results of a study of the potential effects to convert the Port of Wild Horse on the Canadian border north of Havre to a 24-hour commercial port are set to be unveiled Thursday afternoon. Havre Mayor Bob Rice, a co-chair of a committee looking to expand the hours and status of the port, said the results could be very helpful in that effort, especially to back a bill in the U.S. Congress aiming to upgrade the port. “I’m pretty excited about it. The numbers turned out pretty good,” Rice said. “They were fantastic. It’s what we’ve been waiting on.” The study was commissioned to determine the possible economic impacts in north-central Montana if the hours and status of the port are upgraded, providing another connection to the booming economy in Alberta. The Wild Horse Border Committee, which Rice cochairs with former Medicine Hat Mayor Garth Vallely, has been pushing to have the port upgraded in the interest of increasing traffic and improving both Montana and Alberta’s economies. Sen. Jon Tester, D- Mont., introduced legislation last fall directing U.S. Customs and Border Protection section of the Department of Homeland Security to designate the Port of Wild Horse a commercial port and to operate it 24 hours a day. The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. Customs and Border Protection has previously said the amount of traffic through the port does not justify upgrading it, even if limited to extending its hours without a 24-hour status or commercial designation. The Canadian Border Services Agency has said the same. The committee’s response has been that the traffic will not increase significantly unless the status and hours of the port are changed. The study mirrors a study being done in Alberta. The purpose of both studies is to see if a change in status is likely to increase traffic and the impact that would have in north-central Montana and in Alberta. Bear Paw Development Corp. Deputy Director Craig Erickson, a member of the Wild Horse Border Committee, said the study’s results could help Montana’s and Alberta’s federal representatives in their efforts to pass the legislation to upgrade the Port, although the impact it will have in Congress and and the Canadian federal government remains to be seen. “This discussion, quite frankly, will go to Washington, D.C., and Ottawa,” he said. “Whether the numbers are enough to persuade the powers-that-be that they justify the investment to upgrade that port remains to be seen.” Havre businesses joined the City of Havre and the Hill County Commission in providing matching funds for a $15,000 Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund grant from the state Department of Commerce to pay for the study. The study was commissioned to examine likely economic impacts if the Port of Wild Horse is upgraded. The study was conducted by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana in Missoula, with Patrick Barkey, Ph.D., the lead investigator. Barkey will present the results of the study Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at Room 203 in Brockmann Center on the Montana State University-Northern campus. The route directly from Havre to Medicine Hat and to the oil sands near Fort MacMurray runs through Wild Horse. The port 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. Commercial traffic from the oil sands and from eastern Alberta the economy of which is largely driven by development of one of the largest oil reserves in the world typically detours west to the Port of Sweet Grass/Coutts north of Shelby, the only 24-hour commercial port in operation between Montana and Alberta. Businesses from the Medicine Hat area are also interested in expanding into Montana, members of the committee have said.