The hours at the crossing into Canada north of Havre switch back to the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. winter schedule Friday. What will happen in 2104 — again — is uncertain.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Canada Border Services Agency this year stretched the summer hours at the Port of Wild Horse to a few extra months, again, though only after uncertainty whether that would be done again.
Havre Mayor Tim Solomon, co-chair of the Wild Horse Border Committee, said this morning that the committee will again try to get an extension of summer hours in 2014, but with the impact of the federal shutdown and the effort to reduce the federal deficit underway, he doesn’t know what will happen in that effort.
“We’re going to try for it again,” he said.
The hours of operation at the port, which requires truckers to have a permit to transport commercial goods across the border, are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the summer.
For several years now, the border agencies have agreed to extend the period of summer hours, which normally run from May 15 to Sept. 30, but neither side has exactly matched what the other side did.
The Wild Horse Border Committee, co-chaired by the mayors of Havre and Medicine Hat, Alberta, has been pushing for a decade to have the port upgraded to a 24-hour commercial port. That will increase 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. Those increased connections will help the economies of Montana and the entire United States as well as the Alberta economy, they say.
The summer hours have been extended for the last five years, giving truckers and travellers more months to use the 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. times, 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.
This year, CBP originally said it would not extend the summer hours.
April 26, the Canada Border Services Agency announced it would extend the hours from April 26 through Oct. 31. CBP announced in May it would match the longer fun of summer hours.
Montana’s Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester have supported both the push to extend the summer hours and to upgrade the port to a 24-hour commercial port. The senators have pushed CBP, including last spring when the agency originally was not matching the Canadian decision, to use matching extended summer hours on the Canadian and U.S. side of the port.
Baucus also has proposed a pilot project upgrading three U.S.-Canadian ports to 24-hour commercial status, which could use Wild Horse as one of the pilots.
Jennifer Donohue, Baucus’ communications director, said the topic will come up today when the senator meets with Homeland Security director nominee Jeh Johnson.
“Max will press him on the importance of trade along the northern border and making sure the northern border isn't forgotten as we beef up security along the southern border,” Donohoe said.
The Wild Horse Border Committee also is pushing for a three-year pilot project where the extended summer hours would be guaranteed for a longer period, giving more certainty to truckers and travellers that the port would be open the longer hours.
Solomon said this morning that the committee members will continue to lobby for that pilot.
“That’s definitely what our main focus is,” he said.