With advocates of upgrading the border port north of Havre still waiting to see what will happen this year, Montana’s senior U.S. senator said today he is looking at all options to increase trade across the Canadian border.
Members of an international committee pushing to upgrade the Port of Wild Horse north of Havre on the Canadian border have requested at least one more year of extending the summer hours to an earlier start and later end date, but have not heard an answer.
U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he supports the extension, but it is just one of several options.
“There’s no question that more traffic through the Port of Wild Horse means more good-paying jobs for Montana, and this pilot program has been a good step in our efforts to keep ramping up Montana trade,” he said this morning. “Still, it’s important not to keep all our eggs in one basket, so I’m asking Montanans for their input on how we can do better and will continue looking for every opportunity to increase Montana’s exports.”
A main topic at a meeting in Havre Wednesday of the Wild Horse Border Committee, the group pushing to have the Port of Wild Horse upgraded to a 24-hour, commercial port, was that the group still hadn’t heard a reply to committee Co-Chair and Havre Mayor Tim Solomon’s request made in October to again extend the longer, summer hours from March 1 through Oct. 31.
Solomon said this morning that the committee members still haven’t heard what will happen with his request, but he hopes to know by later today.
“We’d like to advertise either way,” Solomon said this morning, adding that whether the extended hours occur or not, people need to know. He wants to avoid having people drive to Wild Horse only to find out the extended hours are not in place, he said, as well as letting people know if they can use the longer hours.
The standard operation of Wild Horse, which allows commercial traffic through only with a special permit, uses winter hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The summer hours, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., normally run May 15 through Sept. 30.
The advocates of the extension hope it will lead to data supporting the complete upgrade of the port. They say problems in the extensions in the last few years — including low advertising at first and the Canadian side not mirroring the hours — require more time with extended hours to get an accurate reading of the impacts.
Representatives of Baucus’ office said this morning that the senator is working on several avenues to try to increase trade and traffic.
Several months ago, Baucus sent a survey to Montana business owners asking them for ideas on how to improve trade opportunities with Canada. As chair of the Senate Finance Committee that has jurisdiction over trade and Customs and Border Protection, Baucus is using some of those ideas in crafting a new Customs authorization bill.
One of the ideas he is looking to include in that bill is using pilot programs to open some small ports, like Wild Horse, 24-hours-a-day, his office reports.
With the resignation effective Dec. 30 of Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin, Baucus’ office staff members said, the senator also will play a key role in selecting Bersin’s replacement.
Because the finance committee must approve the nominee, Baucus will use his position as chair to emphasize how critical northern border ports are for Montana trade during the hearings, his office staff members said.