By Tim Leeds 

Wild Horse port hours back to winter schedule


With the hours at the Port of Wild Horse returning to a winter schedule today, the advocates of upgrading the border crossing to a 24-hour commercial operation are pushing for a second year of testing next year.

Havre Mayor Tim Solomon sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano requesting the test of extending the summer hours from March through October be run again in 2012.

"To give us a true picture of what can be done, " Solomon said this morning.

Groups on both sides of the border have been pushing to upgrade the port for most of the last decade.

The port now is open 8 a. m. to 5 p. m. in the winter, with the hours stretching from 8 a. m. to 9 p. m. for passenger vehicles in the summer and a permit required for commercial traffic all year.

The standard time for the summer hours is from May 15 through Sept. 30.

Problems have beset trying an extension of the summer hours in three different attempts in the last three years.

In 2009, The U. S. Department of Homeland Security agreed to extend the summer hours, starting March 1 and running through Oct. 31.

But the Canadian Border Services Agency did not match those early spring hours. The summer hours started May 15, 2009, although the Canadian side mirrored the hours through Oct. 31 that year.

While at a town hall meeting in Havre in the fall of 2010, Napolitano and Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin announced the trial would be conducted again, with the hours running through Oct. 31 and starting again March 1.

But the Canadian side didn't match the fall side, and another problem arose in March.

While the Canadian agency was matching the summer hours March 1, it was not extending the hours for commercial traffic, as the U. S. side was.

That was resolved by May, but the advocates for upgrading the port say it means the numbers are not accurate for a true test.

"The study was good after (the hours were matched), because you had an apples-to-apples comparison, but you didn't have that early in the spring, " Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp. said this morning.

Both Tuss and Solomon said the numbers — which were not yet available from Customs and Border Protection for the months after May, looked good.

Tuss said the last report on numbers he saw was a month ago.

"The numbers were up, and they seem to be up on both commercial traffic and passenger vehicles …, " he said. "For as flawed as I think this study was, because of the snafu early on with the hours, what we did see is an increase, which is exactly what we wanted to see to justify our goal, which is a 24-hour commercial port. "

Solomon also said the efforts to get the test, and promote it, worked, although it could have been better.

"They went good, once we were able to get some of the glitches worked out. A committee worked hard advertising for us, " he said. "(The numbers) were up some. The commercial numbers weren't up as much as we were hoping.

"I don't think we got a true picture and, especially, I think that affected the commercial (vehicles) as far as them having trust or doubts as far as our advertising the hours, " he added.

Numbers provided by CBP and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics show that the numbers of passenger vehicles steadily increased over last year's in the test period, although the commercial numbers were up and down. In March, passengers vehicles went from 1,039 last year to 852 this year, but in April jumped from 1,132 to 1,671. That continued in succeeding months, with the 2010 and 2011 numbers 1,283 versus 2,006 in May, 1,631 to 1,679 in June, 2,470 to 2,728 in July, 2,408 to 3,018 in August and 1.983 to 2,535 in September.

For trucks, the numbers from 2010 to 2011 in March were 154 to 119, 320 to 274 in April, 127 to 253 in May, 108 to 69 in June, 228 to 112 in July, with the numbers picking up for 2011 in August and September, 179 to 284 and 300 to 417.

Solomon said he hadn't heard back as of this morning from Napolitano, Bersin, Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, or Rep. Denny Rehberg, to all of whom he sent a copy of the letter.

He said he is hopeful the request will be approved and another test — with both sides running the same extension — will happen next year.


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