Controversy erupts over hours of border crossings

(By Brandon Hansen/Chewelah Independent)

The Danville and Metaline Falls US-Canada border crossings might cut hours which could affect those communities.

Locals fear shortened hours could impact towns on both sides of the border…

Emotional stories from people on both sides of the US-Canada border were shared with officials of U.S. Customs and Border Protection after the agency proposed to slash the hours of the border crossing ports at Danville and Metaline Falls.

Currently, the Port of Danville and the Port of Metaline Falls have hours of 8 a.m. to midnight. New changes would reduce those hours at Danville from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the summer. The CBP recommended that people could use the Laurier Port 19 miles away once the Danville crossing closes.

The Metaline Falls entry would be reduced to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the CBP recommended the 24-hour port access at Port Hill, Idaho – 55 miles to the east – if people need to cross after hours.

This comes after the CBP studied crossing statistics and saw a dropping of crossings in these areas. The CBP said that only 2-3 cars crossing on average a day would be affected with the hour changes at the Danville port. They said the changes are to properly align staffing with workloads and would save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At a meeting last week in Colville, many locals from Curlew, Danville, Metaline Falls and Grand Forks, British Columbia voiced their frustrations with the proposed change.
One resident pointed out that border crossings have dropped because it’s harder to get across the border since 9/11 with additional security measures and requirements put into place – so the drop is artificial in nature.

Another resident, Alan Walker of Curlew, pointed out health concerns for elderly people who travel up to nearby Grand Forks for various rehabilitation and therapy sessions. A Canadian who is a permanent resident of Republic says that her split-custody kids go to school in Grand Forks and the reduction in hours would reduce her time with her children – while also pointing out that flooding and hazardous winter driving make using other crossings difficult.

“You’re going to ruin my life and my children’s life,” she said.

People erupted in yells when Boulder Pass was suggested, citing that there is no cell reception over the pass, it’s not plowed as often and would be extremely hazardous driving for many people.

The CBP did say that in emergency responder situations, they would be able to ensure that those responders could use the crossings.

Economic concerns came from residents in Curlew who said they depend on the 10-20 Canadian customers a day, and if they go away, then their businesses will go under. Events like Curlew Prospectors Days depend on the Canadians crossing the border and that won’t work if they have to be back by 8 p.m.

Another emotional response came from the crowd when the CBP said the stats did not factor in busses and they were counted as a car in the numbers. Many said that vehicles have many people in them, as do busses.

Teachers in Ferry County also travel to Grand Forks for field trips and many other uses. Grand Forks is a town of 4,049 in British Columbia, where as bordering Ferry County has just 7,551 residents total so it is somewhat a defacto destination for some people looking for the resources of a larger town.

Cynthia Larson of Republic said “I’m from the city and have lived in New York and Los Angeles and I understand the mentality of looking at rural America. Ferry County is very rural and a tight community. We are cohesive with Grand Forks and we need it to survive. You’re just using statistics and numbers to base your decision. You’re overlooking life and it’s not right. We need Grand Forks and they need us.”

Republic Brewing Company’s owner said that they based their business model on Canadians being able to cross back over at midnight.

“Fifteen percent of our business are from Canadians,” they said. “The border reduction in hours will take away $51,000 in money a year. That’s an employee-and-a-half for us in the business of seven employees, and we’re one of the few places in Ferry County adding jobs. This is going to have a huge impact.”

Ferry County has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 12 percent and that is trending two to three percent higher than in the previous three years.

One US resident said that they have four kids and that Grand Forks matters as that’s where they go to get groceries and other items. “We need to have access on both sides,” the resident said.”

The Canadian mother said that the move would ruin her life and many pointed out the 19 miles to the next crossing is not accurate in terms of actual road a person would have to drive. Citizens were also very dubious as to why the meeting was held in Colville and not in the communities that would be directly affected and they demanded meetings be held in those small communities. Despite the distances and short notice, 75 people attended.

“If you had told the people of Grand Forks, you could fill an auditorium full of people,” one Canadian said.

They also heavily questioned the numbers used and bemoaned that Washington DC was making the decision of the border hours. While the CBP maintained that these were averages, some said they have been backed up by five cars in the winter.

“They have Drivers Ed for Curlew in Grand Forks because it’s the only place they can go to drive in the city where they have traffic lights,” one resident said. “You have church groups cross the border, you have Sunday night services, all of that goes down the drain and that doesn’t matter if you live in Washington, DC”

Another said the hours will have serious social and economic impacts that go beyond just dollar signs. Seventh District State Senator candidate Karen Hardy had the last comment of the night and pointed out that the CBP shouldn’t make the decision on numbers.

“Rural will never have enough of anything because we’re rural and proud of it,” Hardy said. “You should keep that three percent of the traffic coming across because that’s huge compared to the population.”

Hardy said many businesses expect to lose up to 20 percent of their Canadian patrons, and it will be a big hit for the poorest county in the state.

“You’re looking at your numbers, look at reality that is not on a piece of paper,” Hardy said.

She sent out a press release on Monday asking the CBP not to shorten hours at the border crossing.

7th District State Senator Shelly Short was also in attendance. One resident also said that Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers was monitoring the situation.