Canada will extend port hours
July 14, 2009
Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]
A rather small step in the goal of extending the border port north of Havre into Canada to a 24-hour commercial port was taken this week. Havre Mayor Bob Rice said the Canadian government has agreed to match the U.S. extended summer hours at Wild Horse on a trial basis. “This is essentially all I had asked for, is to give it a shot,” Rice said this morning. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced last fall it was extending the summer hours at the port, which local and state residents and officials have asked to be upgraded to a fulltime commercial port. The Canadian government originally said it would not match those hours, citing a low traffic flow. The port, which allows commercial traffic to cross the border only with a special permit, is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. over the winter. In previous years, summer hours of 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. ran from May 15 to Sept. 30, but the U.S. side now uses those hours from March 1 through Oct. 31. Legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., which directs the Department of Homeland Security to upgrade Wild Horse to a 24-hour commercial port, is still awaiting a hearing in the Senate Committee on Finance. Rice provided the Havre Daily News with a copy of a letter, from Canada's Minister of Public Safety Peter Van Loan, sent to him and former Medicine Hat, Alberta, Mayor Garth Vallely. Rice and Vallely co-chair the Wild Horse Border Committee which is pushing for the upgrade to the port. In the letter, Van Loan wrote that Canada will match the hours through Oct. 1, which will allow U.S. Customs and Border Protection and its counterpart, Canada Border Services Agency, “to monitor and evaluate traffic volumes, in particular for the commercial stream. This pilot program will allow a determination of whether this crossing generates the traffic flows to justify longer hours,” he wrote. “If so, they will continue. If not, the crossing will revert to the previous schedule.” The proponents of upgrading the port argue that its limited hours and permit-only commercial traffic are what keeps the traffic at the port low. The Port of Sweetgrass, north of Shelby on U.S Interstate 15, is the only 24-hour commercial port between Montana and Alberta. Proponents of the upgrade say that if Wild Horse were upgraded, traffic from the clogged Port of Sweetgrass would shift to the other port. The upgrade could benefit the economies of both Alberta and Montana and the United States by providing more access to the booming commerce in Alberta, including development in the oil sands near Fort Macleod, the proponents say. Van Loan also addressed concerns Rice has previously raised about signage. Canada had not upgraded its signs at the port telling travelers about the extended U.S. hours. Van Loan wrote that it is the responsibility of the U.S. government to provide signs about U.S. hours, but that Customs and Border Protection can contract with the appropriate Canadian agency to set the signage up north of the border. Van Loan also commented in his letter on plans to upgrade the facilities at Wild Horse. Money has been allocated through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to upgrade the facilities, along with other U.S. border facilities in Montana. Van Loan wrote that the Canadian government also has identified Wild Horse as an area for replacement. “The CBSA and Customs and Border Protection have briefly discussed a possible joint Canada-U.S. inspection facility at this location; however, the accelerated timeframes associated with the Economic Stimulus Package in the U.S. may not allow for a coordinated approach,” he wrote.