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Tester pushes to restore summer hours at Port of Wild Horse

Sen. Jon Tester has started a push to extend summer hours of operation at the border ports in Montana into Canada, specifically citing the Port of Wild Horse north of Canada in a letter to Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Troy A. Miller sent this week.

"The Port of Wild Horse and travel across the northern border is essential for farmers, ranchers, businesses, and families in north-central Montana," Tester said in the letter. "... For years, the Port of Wild Horse has extended its hours from May to September to account for the warmer weather and increased travel during the summer season. These extended hours are critical for the agricultural sector, tourism, and everyday trade and travel between the U.S. and Canada."

Historically, Wild Horse ran with 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the winter and extended its hours from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the summer.

A push started two decades ago to try to get the U.S. to open Wild Horse 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week, but that effort has failed so far.

During the COVID pandemic, when the U.S.-Canadian border was closed to most traffic, the extended hours stopped. The last time the summer hours were used were in 2019.

"COVID is long past, thank God, and It's time to move forward, and ... there's there's economic opportunities out there that we're potentially losing out on because of the the lack of equality in hours," Tester said in an interview Thursday afternoon. "... It's the right thing to do, from an economic standpoint, for Montana.

He said Canada extended its summer hours this week and the U.S. needs at least to at least match those hours.

"They're both open seven days a week, but it becomes a problem because people ... truthfully, they get confused, and then you end up getting stuck in Canada," Tester said. "Can't get back into the U.S. Or you have to plan your day in such a way that it's not very user-friendly."

He said the same is true on other ports in Montana that need their hours extended, and is true in other states.

Tester said he is pushing for longer hours for ports in Montana and other senators are doing the same in their state.

He added that extending the hours on the northern border will help both countries.

"The bottom line is, Canada is our No. 1 trade partner," he said. "Montana, and the United States, depend on that relationship, on one another in that relationship, and it's a good relationship. Those ports are critically important and user friendliness of those ports are very, very important, so we're just asking to extend the summer hours of operation."

CBP spokesperson Jason Givens said the agency plans to continue with the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. hous, with CBP continuously avaluating workload, staffing, operating costs and traffic volume at all land ports to use resources responsibly.

"Overall, the current operating hours allow CBP to align officer staffing to ports with higher operational demand," he said. "Reducing hours of operation at ports of entry during times where there is little to no traffic enables CBP to provide additional staffing during peak hours to better serve the public and protect our country.

"We are sensitive to the concerns raised by local communities regarding reduced hours of operation," he added. "We will continue to accommodate the agricultural community with longer hours when a stakeholder calls with an individual request for a late harvest or other need."

Tester said Thursday that he understands the issue of staffing, adding that the Senate was to vote to bring a bipartisan bill up for debate that included increased funding that would allow the agency to hire more agents including for the northern border.

The motion to bring the bill up for debate failed later Thursday in a near party-line vote, with 41 Democrats including Tester, one independent and one Republican voting in favor and three Democrats, one independent and 46 Republicans, including Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., voting against and seven not voting.

Tester said in the interview the issue needs to be fixed, with the bipartisan bill that failed today or through approprations, or, "the truth is, the administration could fix this with a stroke of a pen. They need to do it."

 

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