In a reversal from its position just a few weeks ago, the agency that oversees Canada’s side of the U.S.-Canadian border has said it will mirror a U.S. extension of summer hours at the Port of Wild Horse north of Havre.
The announcement has pleased supporters of upgrading the port to 24-hour commercial status.
“It’s what we were hoping to work through,” said Havre Mayor Tim Solomon, who co-chairs the Wild Horse Border Committee with Medicine Hat, Alberta, Mayor Norm Boucher.
That committee, formerly chaired by Havre Mayor Bob Rice and Medicine Hat Mayor Garth Vallely, has worked for much of the decade to upgrade the port. The supporters say increasing the hours and upgrading it to commercial status — commercial trucks now only can use the port with special permits — will increase ties to the strong economy in Alberta, benefiting both that province and north-central Montana, as well as the Canadian and U.S. economies in general.
When U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection Alan Bersin were in Havre in September, they announced a trial extension of the summer hours at Wild Horse would be repeated this year and next year.
Normally, the port is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Oct. 1 to May 15, and open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the summer.
In a repeat of a trial conducted last year, the summer hours were held through Sept. 30 this year, and will be used from March 1 through Sept. 30 next year.
In 2009, Canada did not match the extended hours in the spring, but did in the fall. This year, it did not match the hours in the fall, and originally said that traffic numbers from the 2009 trial did not merit extending the hours.
In an e-mail sent to the Havre Daily News Tuesday afternoon, a Canada Border Services Agency representative said the agency would match the extended hours next year.
The change came after a meeting with elected Canadian representatives, Border Services Agency Representatives, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials on Nov. 10.
Len Mitzel, a member of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly representing Cypress and Medicine Hat, said the argument that numbers did not justify the extension was wrong. Due to the recession, traffic numbers were down along the entire border, he said.
“I think there was enough pressure, letters and calls, leading them to decide to (mirror the extension),” he said.
He and LaVar Payne, who represents Medicine Hat in the Canadian Parliament, both said the change is good news.
“It was kind of an interesting surprise on our meeting here on the 10th,” Payne said. “I was quite delighted.”
Montana’s U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, advocates for expanding the Wild Horse hours and upgrading it to commercial status, applauded the Canadian decision.
“More traffic through the Port of Wild Horse means more good-paying jobs for the Hi-Line and across Montana,” Baucus said Wednesday. “It’s also a boon to business to have Canadians staying longer and spending money in our communities. I’m pleased to see the CBSA responding to our requests to work with local community members who have been asking for extended hours at the Port of Wild Horse.”
“Folks in Havre and across north-central Montana appreciate Canada being a good neighbor and making the right call on the Port of Wild Horse,” Tester said. “These extended hours will mean better opportunities for jobs, commerce, Montana small businesses, and farmers and ranchers. When we’re talking about more job opportunities for Montanans, that’s a win in my book.”
Mitzel said that the decision is a victory for the expansion’s advocates, but that it doesn’t mean the work will stop. One goal is to use the extended summer hours for more than one additional year, he said.
“We’re going to keep moving toward that goal of 24-hour operations,” Mitzel said.
Payne said he is continuing to work, arranging meetings between officials and pushing for additional expansion.
“We keep trying, and we just don’t want to give up on this thing, because we think it is the right thing to do,” he said.
Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp. in Havre, said that now that the mirror of hours is confirmed, the committee will work to make sure travelers — and businesses importing and exporting between the two countries — know about the expansion.
“Now that we have this news, I think that its really important that we do whatever we can do to promote these hours,” he said.
He said Canada’s mirroring the expansion is crucial to having an accurate test. If only ones side uses the hours, that would not increase traffic, he said.
“Half a solution is no solution at all,” Tuss said.