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Problems with border hours again

Once again the international committee trying to upgrade operations at a border port north of Havre is faced with an hours problem — each side of the port is running different hours of operation.

"It was a surprise to me," Havre Mayor Tim Solomon, who co-chairs the Wild Horse Border Committee with Medicine Hat, Alberta, Mayor Norm Boucher, said Wednesday.

After Canada not mirroring U.S. expanded summer hours at the port in each of several years, this year Canada is extending the time frame of the summer hours and the U.S. side is not.

The committee has been pushing for some 10 years to have the operation at the Port of Wild Horse north of Havre on the U.S-Canadian border upgraded, and has tried for the last several years to have the summer hours, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., run from March 1 through Oct. 31 instead of the normal summer hours from May 15 through Sept. 30.

The port operates on the part-time hours and also runs as a permit port. Commercial drivers must have a permit before they can transport goods through the port.

Bob Sivertsen, president of the Highway 2 Association and an advocate for expanding the hours, said in a press release that the lack of cooperation was frustrating.

"We have urged (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) to mirror (Canada Border Service Agency's) summer hours to demonstrate goodwill and cooperation," he said in the release.

Over the last few years, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has agreed to extend the summer hours, but on several occasions the Canadian Border Services Agency would not initially mirror the hours. That led to people being able to cross from Canada into the United States after 5 p.m. — the closing time during winter hours — but not into Canada.

The border committee — and Montana's congressional delegation — have pushed Canada to mirror the hours, usually eventually reaching their goal.

This year CBP has announced it will not extend the summer hours. Solomon said federal budget cuts including sequestration appear to be part of the reason for denying extended hours.

Then, the Canadian service announced it was extending its hours. The 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. hours started April 29 and will run through Oct. 31.

Now, during the mismatch, people will be able to get into Canada after 5 p.m. — but not into the United States.

Solomon said he understands the budget issues Customs and Border Protection is facing. He doubts CBP will be willing to extend the hours through Oct. 31, he said.

"Hopefully, we can convince them otherwise," he added.

Bear Paw Development Executive Director Paul Tuss, a member of the committee, and Solomon each said a major goal of the committee, at this point, is to push for a three-year pilot program with extended summer hours, giving travellers and commercial drivers some certainty in the hours.

Tuss said never knowing when the hours will be extended, and not having the hours the same on both sides, creates confusion and doesn't enhance the free flow of traffic.

He said he is hopeful that the committee can persuade CBP to mirror the Canadian extension in the fall, although it is likely too late to do anything before the normal May 15 change of hours.

Extending the fall period would give the agencies and groups involved enough time to advertise that the port would be open, Tuss said.

Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, Montana Democrats who both support upgrading the port, wrote a letter Tuesday to acting CBP Commissioner Thomas S. Winkowski expressing their concern about the lack of coordination between the U.S. and Canadian agencies.

"We are disappointed that CBP and CBSA have once again been unable to align summer hours," the senators wrote. "This annual problem is of great concern to communities on both sides of the border."

The lack of coordination also is hurting efforts to compile and study data about the merits of increasing the hours at the port, with the ultimate goal of upgrading the port to a commercial port open 24-hours-a-day, the senators wrote.

"We therefore urge you to extend CBP's extended hours of operation at Wild Horse to match CBSA's extension through Oct. 31," they wrote.

Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, also has included a pilot project for hours extension in his Customs Authorization bill. The bill would expand operations at three ports to 24-hours-a-day. It would not guarantee Wild Horse the expanded hours, but it could be considered for a pilot program.


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