Push is on to advertise longer port hours
Local Customs and Border Protection officials are working to let people know summer has been extended, at least for the Port of Wild Horse north of Havre.
“We want to reach out,” Area Port Director Daniel Escobedo said Friday.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin told people at a town hall meeting in Havre Aug. 25 that the summer hours at the port would be extended through Oct. 31 this year, and run from March 1 through Oct. 31 next year.
During the summer hours, the crossing between the United States and Canada is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. During the winter, itt is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The summer hours, which normally run from May 15 through Sept. 30, were extended last summer. Lack of advertising, the Canadian side not opening at the same time and problems with signage announcing the extension of hours led to a lower-than expected increase, supporters of upgrading the port have said.
Ross Lyle, assistant area port director, said there wasn’t a significant increase in traffic, particularly commercial truck traffic, but the later hours were used significantly by the vehicles that did pass through the port.
The extended hours in 2009 was the first step the U.S. Department of Homeland Security took in response to a long-standing push from the Havre area and Alberta to upgrade the port to 24-hour commercial status.
Supporters say upgrading the port will give a better connection to the strong Albertan economy, including a direct shot to oil and gas exploration and development near Medicine Hat and in the oil sands in northeastern Alberta.
The winter hours restrict traffic coming to the Havre area for tourism and business, supporters say. Commercial truckers tend to avoid the port and detour to the 24-hour commercial Port of Sweetgrass north of Shelby to avoid any chance of missing entry, they add.
Escobedo said Customs and Border Protection is making a strong effort to promote the extended period of summer hours.
He said the agency is sending mailers to business brokers and trucking firms, as well as handing out fliers at Montana ports to announce the extension and working with the media.
An effort is being made to reach across to Alberta, especially Medicine Hat, to promote the extended hours there as well.
Lyle said another issue they need to clear up is how to obtain permits for commercial traffic.
As a non-commercial port, Wild Horse only allows commercial traffic through if the company sending the freight has a permit.
Lyle said he can work with businesses to help them obtain or upgrade permits to travel through Wild Horse. Businesses applying for new permits to take advantage of last year’s extended summer hours didn’t happen, he said.
“We didn't issue any additional permits last year,” he said.
Once a permit is issued — Lyle said that permits would be issued for most cargoes, although the Wild Horse facilities are not set up to examine some freight such as a truckload of smaller boxes — the permit can be used any time freight is sent to the same destination.
“You don’t need a new permit each time,” said Lynn Shozda, public affairs liaison for Customs and Border Protection.
Lyle said that if a permit-holder needs to take a cargo to a different destination — he used hay as an example, with a shipper adding a new customer to the shipping — than can be done by upgrading an existing permit.
Escobedo said people with questions about that — or any other issue about the ports — should contact Customs and Border Protection.
For information about permits, Lyle said, people can contact him at trade operations extension at the Great Falls port, (406) 453-7631, ext: 203.