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Border checkpoint repairs to cost one-third of estimate

 

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Montana border checkpoint upgrades that were originally slated to cost $77 million could come in at less than a third of that amount after criticism was levied over the expensive repairs for crossings that see as few a s t h r e e people a day. T h e f e d e r a l g o v e r n - m e n t announced in August that it was h a n d i n g out some $720 mi l - l i o n f o r border upgrades, including the $77 million to rebuild or repair five Montana ports of entry with Canada. Between $14.5 million and $16.5 million were allocated for each Montana job. U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana were criticized last summer after they took credit for steering that money to Montana, including $15 million for the checkpoint at Whitetail that sees three travelers a day. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in September she would not start any new border construction projects while the department reviewed how projects were selected. Te s t e r ' s o f f i c e said Monday that the last of the five border contracts had been awarded, a $5.8 million contract to rebuild the Port of Del Bonita checkpoint. That contract is worth considerably less than the $16.5 million originally allocated to the project. Contracts already awarded last fall to rebuild or repair c h e c k p o i n t s a t Scobey, Whitetail, Wild Horse and Morgan cost between $6.6 million and $8.5 million. The total value of the five contracts is $23.5 million, which is more than a third less than the original cost estimates. In announcing the Del Boni ta cont ract Monday, Tester's office emphasized the reduction in cost. But that reduction is not due to the criticism of the original projects, spokesman Aaron Murphy said. "His push for lower costs was a response to his own concerns that the original numbers seemed high, and not based on the realistic cost of such projects in rural Montana," Murphy said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. It was not immediately clear how much traffic passes t h r o u g h the Port of Del Bonita, which i s n o r t h o f Browning o n t h e Blackfeet Indian reservation. U . S . C u s t oms and Border Protection officials did not return calls for comment Monday. Browning-based Willow Creek Construction will build a new 6,000-square-foot border checkpoint and two housing units in a project estimated to last a year and a half, owner Nikki Whitford said.

 
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