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Hours confusion fixed at Port of Wild Horse

Once again — for now, at least — both sides of the border at the Port of Wild Horse north of Havre are planning to stay open the same hours.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Monday it would keep the summer hours at Wild Horse — open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. — running through Oct. 31.

Canada Border Services Agency announced April 26 it would run the summer hours, which normally are used from May 15 to Sept. 30, from April 29 through Oct. 31.

That announcement came not long after CBP said it would not extend the period of summer hours.

Members of an international committee working to upgrade the hours and service at the port — open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter, and requiring commercial truckers to have a permit to use the port — expressed happiness this morning that the hours will be extended, but frustration about the process.

"It just doesn't seem like a good way to run a border," said Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp. and member of the Wild Horse Border Committee.

Five years of confusion

The committee, co-chaired by Havre Mayor Tim Solomon and Medicine Hat, Alberta, Mayor Norm Boucher, has been pushing for close to 10 years to have the port upgraded. That will increase Montana, and U.S., connections with the strong economy in Alberta, including straight shots to the oil and natural gas production near Medicine Hat and at the tar sands near Fort McMurray in northeastern Alberta, the advocates say.

After U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Montana Democrats, brought Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin to Montana, including a town hall meeting in Havre, CBP agreed to run an extension of the summer hours at Wild Horse.

But the hours have never been matched on both sides of the border.

In 2009, CBP agreed to use the summer hours from March 1 through Oct. 31.

That year, the Canadian side didn't mirror the summer hour extension in the spring, although the summer hours ran through October on the Canadian side.

In 2010, the Canadians didn't match the extended hours in the fall, and when they extended the hours in March 2011 originally did not say they would include commercial traffic in the extension.

Last year, both federal governments originally said they would not extend the hours — then, in May, both sides suddenly announced the hours would be extended.

Now, after complete uncoordination of the two sides, the hours will match from Wednesday through the end of the year.

Baucus and Tester sent a letter to the head of CBP May 17 saying they were disappointed in the lack of coordination and urging the agency to match Canada's hours.

This morning, after the change was announced, the senators each said they were pleased CBP would match the hours.

"We've got to do everything we can to promote tourism and trade along the northern border to create jobs here in Montana," Baucus said. "CBP answering my call to mirror the Canadian hours is a good first step. I will keep pushing to collect solid traffic data moving forward and maximize our opportunities along the Hi-Line."

"Expanding hours at Wild Horse strengthens north-central Montana's economy and creates jobs. But the port's hours need to match the Canadian port hours," Tester said. "I appreciate CBP listening to the request Max and I made to extend summer hours, and I look forward to seeing more commercial traffic at the Port."

Pushing for a long-term trial

Solomon, Tuss and Debbie Vandeberg, the Chamber executive director and border committee member, all said they are happy to take the longer period of summer hours this year, and will work to maximize its effect, as well as focus on the next step — getting a longer trial period.

The committee has been pushing for a three-year trial of having extended hours yearlong. Solomon said that along with advertising the extended hours this fall, they will again focus on that.

He said the three-year pilot has been on a back burner while the group tried to get the extension this fall — and Solomon thanked Baucus and Tester for their help on that.

Vandeberg said the Chamber already had most of its Canadian marketing for the year planned, but will add the change in summer hours to that advertising. She said she shot off a mass email to Havre Chamber members this morning letting them know the hours are changed.

CBP has been helpful in advertising the hours change in the last few years, Tuss said, and he expects the agency will do the same this year.

He said the committee will take the extended hours, but having a consistent extension of hours, for a longer period of time, would make it much easier to show the impact on traffic, which is the ultimate goal of having extended hours.

Baucus has included in the Customs reauthorization bill he drafted a pilot program which would upgrade three ports to 24-hour commercial ports for a three-year test period. While it would not specify Wild Horse would be upgraded, the port north of Havre could be considered under his proposal.

Vandeberg said the fall extension could benefit the region — Havre sees quite a bit of Canadian traffic in September and October.

The Chamber and the committee just needs to let people know "the U.S. Border and Havre will be open for Canadian business," she said. "We really need to make sure that message is out there.

"I think we need a three year trial … so we can see the value of those extended hours …," Vandeberg added. "My comment always has been, if the door is closed, nobody is coming, so let's open the door and see what happens."


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