The US border with Mexico draws much of the nation’s attention. But for residents in northeast Montana it’s the border with Saskatchewan that has them concerned.
The Trump Administration wants to cut back the hours at four ports of entry along the Montana Saskatchewan border. They look at it as a way to save money and the number of vehicles do not support the hours.
Former Havre lawmaker Bob Sivertsen said any cutback in port hours is a concern for the economy of the region. He was active back in 2016 when the Obama administration wanted to reduce hours at the ports of entry. And he plans to be just as active now.
“Canada is our biggest trading partner and our friendliest trading partner,” Sivertsen said.
Custom and Border Protection says the traffic does not support having a 24 hour port at Raymond north of Plentywood, or ports open for 13 hours a day at Scobey, Opheim and Morgan, and the numbers corroborate their stance.
Data from Sheridan County, Montana, where the 24 hour port at Raymond is located, show traffic numbers are low. Statistics from last year show an average of 116 vehicles cross the port at Raymond per day: 67.7 passenger vehicles and 48.3 commercial vehicles.
CBP tried to cut back hours in 2016 but dissent from Montanans, Canadians and Montana’s Congressional delegation kept the hours the same.
But some Montanans it is more than the number of cars and trucks travel through the ports.
Jessica Shackelford, Sheridan County Commissioner, it is about the commerce that instead of coming through Montana will be diverted to North Dakota.
“We won’t be seeing the flow of goods and we are not going to get any of that revenue from that commerce through agriculture and tourism,” said Shakelford. The top four items coming from Saskatchewan into Montana are crude oil, fertilizer, farm equipment and cattle.
Montanans also make the trip up north. They go up to golf, boat, fish and shop. Shorter port hours mean longer trips.
“I am personally married to a farmer and we farm and ranch,” commented Skackelford. “And there’s been times when we had to get parts in Canada because we couldn’t find them anywhere else. We come back at 2:30 in the morning because we had to go so far. So what impact is that? I have to drive 108 miles the other way or we have to stay the night somewhere else.”
Montana’s Congressional delegation was active in 2016 to keep the border hours the same. And they are active again.
Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines and Congressman Greg Gianforte have written letters to CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan telling CBP that the plan to slash hours disadvantages rural Montanans and their needs.
“And it’s one of the problems we have in Washington, D.C.,” Tester said.” Folks don’t understand if you don’t have a thousand cars going through a port that does not mean it’s not worth keeping open. The fact is Canada is our biggest trading partner. And by the way we heard the same thing on the Mexican border. It’s critically important that we have these ports able to do the business of commerce. If we don’t we’re shooting ourselves in the foot economically.”
Next week Customs and Border Protection will hold a series of town hall meetings to explain their plans and hear what Montanan and Canadians think.
Raymond Town Hall Meeting: April 1, 2019, at 5:30pm, at the Sheridan County Civic Center, 4262 Hwy 16S, Plentywood, MT. Scobey Town Hall Meeting: April 2, 2019, noon, at the Richardson Theater, 105 First Ave. North, Scobey, MT. Opheim Town Hall Meeting: April 2, 2019, 5:00pm, at the Glasgow Senior Citizens Center, 328 4th St South, Glasgow, MT. Morgan Town Hall Meeting: April 3, 2019, 4:00pm, Great Northern Hotel Conference Room, 2 S 1st S.t E., Malta, MT.