A local official has set a meeting with a department head in Helena to talk about a high-profile issue in north-central Montana: increasing access across the border from and into Canada.
Havre City Council member Bob Kaul arranged a meeting for Wednesday with Montana Department of Transportation Director Tim Reardon to talk about the highway that leads to the Port of Wild Horse north of Havre, as a part of the effort to increase the crossings on the border.
“I honestly believe that this is one of the things we need, ” Kaul said.
The port from Montana across the U. S.-Canadian border into Alberta has been a topic of hot discussion in the last 10 years, with advocates of turning the permit-only port into a commercial port open 24-hours a day saying that could help north-central Montana tap into the booming economy of the province.
Albertans also are advocating the upgrade, saying it would help with connections to the oil industry in Alberta and give a straight shot to the oil sands at Fort McMurray in northeastern Alberta.
Albertan businesses also have indicated they would be interested in setting up offices in Havre, if the port could be upgraded.
The only 24-hour commercial port between Montana and Alberta is at Sweetgrass, on U. S. Interstate 15 north of Shelby.
Twice now, tests have been run extending the time the summer hours are in operation at the port — 8 a. m. to 9 p. m. instead of the winter hours of 8 a. m. to 5 p. m. — but in both instances, the extension of hours were not mirrored for the full time. Havre Mayor Tim Solomon, co-chair of the Wild Horse Border Committee leading the charge to upgrade the port, has requested the extension be run again next year.
But two common questions about the upgrade concern the roads — state Secondary Highway 232 from Havre to Wild Horse and its Canadian counterpart, Highway 41. Can the roads stand up to higher use, and will their condition cut back on use.
Kaul said the previous director of MDT, Jim Lynch, had made a verbal commitment that if the port was upgraded, work would be done to improve the highway.
A study already has been done on Canadian Highway 41, Kaul added.
“We’re meeting (with Reardon) and trying to figure out what our next step is …, ” Kaul said. “What do they need from us, and what can we expect from them. ”
Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said the commission intends to make sure at least one county commissioner is there.
“It’s important that we’re part of that discussion, ” Bessette said.
Bessette said the county officials have been actively working to find ways to improve the road to Wild Horse, and also support efforts to upgrade the hours and status of the port.
“We’re for anything that would help our economy, and by extending the hours at that port that would definitely help Hill County and Havre, ” she said.
She added that the holiday shopping over the weekend gives an idea what increasing access across the border could mean, just in visitors shopping in the area.
“This weekend, we had a lot of Canadian people, ” Bessette said. “It was huge. ”