Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
A first step in a years-long push to increase access at the Wild Horse border crossing into Canada has been approved, Montana’s U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said Tuesday. During three and a half months of the year, the operating hours will be extended from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. - 9 p.m. “This is a good first step and I’m encouraged by it,” Tester said in a telephone interview. Tester said U.S. Customs and Border Protection has approved extending the summer season of operations at the port of entry, north of Havre on the U.S.-Canadian border, from late winter through fall. The summer hours of the port, open from 8 a.m. to 9 p. m., will remain the same, but with the former summer operating months of May 15 through Sept. 30 extended to start March 1 and run through Oct. 31. The port, which allows commercial traffic by permit only, is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the winter season, which formerly was Oct. 1 to May 14, and will now be from Nov. 1 to Feb. 28. An international committee with members from Montana and Alberta has been pushing to upgrade the port to a 24-hour commercial border crossing, with no permit required for commercial traffic to be processed through. Last year Tester sponsored a bill in the U.S. Senate to do Just that. The bill is still in the Senate Finance Committee. Havre Mayor Bob Rice, who co-chairs the committee with former Medicine Hat Mayor Garth Vallely, said he is pleased with the extended summer hours. “It’s a step in the right direction,” Rice said. “It’s encouraging.” Rice said he doubts that the extended hours will have a significant activity in the traffic and economic impact, however. The committee has cited studies and comments from businesses and groups stating that the key is commercial status and 24-hour operation of the port, which they say will increase traffic and economic activities between Montana and the United States as a whole and the economy in Alberta. That economy has been running in high gear, driven mainly by oil development especially in the oil sands near Fort Macleod in Alberta. Harold Wilson, executive director of the Economic Development Alliance of Southeast Alberta and a member of the Wild Horse Border Committee, said he also is encouraged by the extended hours, but said it could lead to even more work required by the proponents of the 24-hour commercial status. Wilson said a result could be that U.S. Customs and Border Protection would be unwilling to do more now that the hours have been extended. “An extension of hours is helpful but sometimes you can lose the war through incrementalism ,” Wilson said. “It may require even more rallying of the troops to get where we want.” Tester also said the extended hours is just a first step. He said he plans to reintroduce his bill during the next session of Congress a fairly common event, he added and continue to push for the 24-hour commercial status. “I we can lay out a good case for this being good for border security and for economic development,” Tester said.