The world has changed since terrorists attacked major U. S. targets on Sept. 11, 2001, and north-central Montana has changed with it.
Some of the changes are obvious — more people in federal uniforms in towns and patrolling the region, higher security in place at Havre’s airport — and some are more subtle.
Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp. in Havre, said one effect is a change in attitudes.
“Our pysche has changed a little bit, I think, ” Tuss said. “We are all a little bit more aware that our country is now just as vulnerable as other countries that have experienced these catastrophies in the past. ”
Tuss said he believes that, prior to 9/11, Americans tended to think the country was immune to the attacks other countries experienced regularly. All of that has changed, and the generation growing up after the attacks never will know what that feeling was like. His daughter was 1 year old on Sept. 11, 2001.
“She will grow up in a world that’s totally different than the generation that came before, and she won’t know any different, ” he said.
Changes in attitude, security
Havre Mayor Tim Solomon said he doesn’t believe things have changed that much for the day-to-day lives of the public in north-central Montana, but behind-the-scenes, particularly for law enforcement, there is a major change.
“Everyone is using a little more caution, ” he added, including the public.
“There hasn’t been a big impact on the public, but they are more aware, and need to be aware, of things going on around them, that they need to report any suspicious activity they see, ” Solomon said.
Montana’s U. S. Rep. Denny Rehberg said the attacks have changed the entire country.
“I can't imagine a place in our lives that has not been impacted by the tragedy that forever marks September 11, 2001 in America. In north-central Montana, the threat of terrorist attacks has directly impacted travel and border security across our northern border, with increased travel security measures and U. S. Border Patrol facility upgrades, ” Rehberg said. “It has also had an indirect impact on agribusinesses and our domestic energy production. We'll remain united and vigilant against terrorists whose seek to replace freedom with tyranny. Preventing that from happening today and for our children's future is a cause worth defending. ”
Montana’s senior U. S. Sen. Max Baucus said the attacks brought a renewed attitude of concern and patriotism.
“September 11, 2001, delivered a disturbing wakeup call on the need for increased vigilance and security along our northern border, ” he said this morning. “In the last 10 years, Montanans have worked hard to answer that call, adding nearly seven times the number of Border Patrol agents we had before the attacks — that means a safer America and more good-paying jobs in Montana. ”
He added that the rate of Montanans stepping up to serve in the military following the attacks is higher than any other state.
“We owe it to these brave Montanans to follow their example and answer the call to face today’s great challenges by once again uniting as Americans around a common goal of a brighter, stronger future, ” Baucus said.
Not everyone is happy with all the changes. Hill County Sanitarian and Planner Clay Vincent said he recently took a flight to Florida, going through endless scanning, searches and having his bags rummaged through.
“Nobody trusts anybody, ” he said.
Even locally, he sees the effects, ranging from the new requirements for crossing the border into Canada to the equipment at the Havre City-County Airport.
“How much does that cost? ” he asked.
“So it has affected us, that’s for sure, ” Vincent added.
But U. S. Sen. Jon Tester said in a telephone press conference Thursday that the security is worth the difficulty.
“If you fly these days, you know what you go through, ” Tester said. “It often is not pleasant. It’s kind of a pain in the neck to be honest … but, on other hand, I want to get on a plane that will land how it regularly lands, so I am OK with that. ”
Tester said the Senate now is dealing with the Homeland Security budget, and a main question is how much should the nation spend on the issue.
“I think we’re more secure mainly because people are more aware of it, ” Tester said.
Increased federal presence, money, security
The most obvious change in the Havre area is the presence of the U. S. Department of Homeland Security.
With increased attention on border security, the presence of the U. S. Border Patrol has nearly quintupled, and a new multi-million-dolar patrol station was built in Havre and a new station at the Wild Horse border crossing north of Havre nearly is complete, with a grand opening planned in the next few weeks.
Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Craig Duff said all of the stations in Montana have been or are being upgraded, along with the construction of the new patrol stations in Havre and at Sweetgrass.
“That’s a huge facility. That’s a first-class facility, ” he said about the Havre station.
Tuss said the local economy has changed significantly, primarily due to the location, next to the border, and the increased presence of Customs and Border Protection and the investment in new facilities, equipment and technology.
“It is noticeable by everybody, ” he said, adding that when the ramp-up first started, the parking lots of local hotels were filled with Border Patrol vehicles used by agents who had not yet found homes.
So far, the federal government has spent $77 million in Montana upgrading northern border facilities and equipment, Tuss said.
Duff said the economic impact is much more than just new construction and money coming in — agents and support staff members moving to Havre also are bringing families, with more children in the schools, spouses working at jobs, and more spending in the real estate markets and in local stores and businesses.
Solomon said the affect on the economy has been immense, both from bringing in so many new families to live in the area and from the work for local contractors.
“It’s been a big boom for Havre, in the long run, ” he said.
Tuss said the boom is more than economic — the families moving to Havre with CBP also have become active, productive members of the community.
Duff said that is encouraged.
“They have a desire to be a part of the community, ” he said.
New roles for Border Patrol
Duff said the role of the Border Patrol has changed, although its central mission has not — to guard the borders against illegal narcotics and illegal entry.
“The way we go about it has changed, ” he said.
Part of that is integration. Customs and Border Protection works much more closely with other entities — other federal agencies and state, local and tribal law enforcement and emergency personnel, as well as community groups and organizations.
That includes projects like Operation Stonegarden, which meshes local law enforcement with CBP. That project also has provided funding for local law enforcement to buy equipment and pay overtime for work with CBP on the border.
The assistance goes both ways — Duff said the Border Patrol agents often assist the local law enforcement as well, such as helping extricate the victim of a motorcycle crash north of Havre and helping in a search for a missing child in eastern Montana.
“We’re always wiling to help out in any way we can, ” he said.
Tuss said not all of the impacts were in areas people might expect.
One was a push to upgrade the growth plan for Havre — and eventually the entire Bear Paw Development region.
Tuss said that when the new patrol station was in the planning stages, the location had to be rezoned. That required pushing forward plans for upgrading the local growth plan to new state standards.
Tuss said Krystal Steinmetz, who just had started working for Bear Paw, had to set aside most of her other work to get the plan done so the area could be rezoned and the station constructed.
Another change he hopes will happen is the increased presence and the investments meshing with the local push to upgrade the Port of Wild Horse north of Havre to a 24-hour commercial port.
He said he has repeatedly been assured that the new station being finished at the port could, with a few minor adjustments, be used in a 24-hour commercial operation.
With the increased number of agents and customs officials, and the higher focus on the northern border, he said he believes it could become easier to justify the upgrade. That especially is true with President Barack Obama’s goal of doubling U. S. exports by 2012.
“I think that we can look at it as a potential opportunity …, ” Tuss said. “So long as their mission of security meshes with the understanding that our borders were also made to accomodate trade and traffic between two very friendly countries, America and Canada, I think we’re in good shape. ”