Billings Gazette: Daines, Tester, Zinke oppose reduced hours for Canadian border crossing

Montana’s only 24-hour port of entry with Saskatchewan plans to cut its overnight hours, but politicians are urging officials to reconsider.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced in November that operations at the Raymond border station would not be continuously open by late December.

The new hours will be 8 a.m. to midnight, according to a release from U.S. Customs, reducing the operation by eight hours.

Under the plan, the next nearest 24-hour entry point would be at Portal, N.D., which is 111 miles from Raymond. The closest 24-hour crossing in Montana would be at Sweetgrass, which is more than 300 miles away and leads to Alberta.

The Raymond crossing sits just north of Plentywood. The next two entry points to the west are at Scobey and Ophiem, both of which operate on a daytime basis.

Across the border, the Regway entry point is still listed as a 24-hour facility by the Canada Border Services Agency.

Soon after the announcement, politicians expressed their opposition and urged U.S. Customs to keep the Raymond facility open 24 hours. 

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Ryan Zinke, both Republicans, penned a joint letter to Gil Kerlikowske, commissioner of U.S. Customs. They said that the port sits on an important commerce route known as the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway. The multi-highway route connects Rapid City, S.D., Williston, N.D., and the Raymond entry point.

“Terminating the Port of Raymond’s 24-hour status would create costly route diversions and impair the flow of goods in an important economic corridor,” the letter stated.

In announcing the letter, Daines and Zinke enlisted support from all three Sheridan County commissioners, as well as Republican state Rep. John Brenden from Scobey.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester issued his own letter to Kerlikowske. He also highlighted the economic impact and lengthy diversions that would result for overnight commerce. He noted that with shorter hours for the Raymond port, a 550-mile gap would exist between 24-hour entry points.

“I strongly believe a reduction in hours at this facility harms the United States’ potential to maximize economic growth through increased trade with Canada,” Tester wrote. “This proposal fails to recognize the importance of 24-hour ports in rural areas.”

In a release, U.S. Customs said that it studied “potential security implications,” as well as the traffic through the Raymond port. It found that an average of just 3.39 vehicles passed through during those overnight hours in 2014. The figure for 2015 was an average of three.

If the plan goes through, the port would close at midnight on Dec. 27 and reopen at 8 a.m.