There will be no 24-hour port of entry from Canada into eastern Montana starting a month from now, if the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol carries out changes announced Thursday.
The CBP website says it will reduce its hours of operation at four ports of entry on the Canada border beginning on April 14:
- The Port of Raymond north of Plentywood, which is now Montana's only 24-port into Saskatchewan, would be closed midnight to 6 a.m.
- The ports of Scobey, Opheim and Morgan (north of Malta) will operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. year round, eliminating their longer summertime hours that had extended to 9 p.m.
The operating hours at each of these ports currently are the same as their Canadian counterparts, which means two-way travel is convenient and readily available. With the changes effective on April 14, there will be times when there's only one-way traffic. People will be able to enter Canada, but not the United States.
The problem is most concerning at Raymond. The CBP points out that travelers will still be able to enter the United States by driving east 108 miles to Portal, North Dakota, the nearest remaining 24-hour port of entry. That's the problem: The CBP is directing traffic and commerce away from Montana.
Local residents who have business on both sides of the border will be greatly inconvenienced. Shippers and travelers may well reroute their trips to take advantage of the always-open North Dakota port.
Montana Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte protested the changes in a letter sent last week to Kevin K. McAleenan, commissioner of the CBP, saying "forcing shippers to significantly alter their routes and schedules to get their goods to market presents a substantial burden." Daines and Gianforte noted that Montana exported $685 million worth of goods to Canada in 2019, which was 42 percent of all our state's exports.
"A significant reduction in port hours during the high season of June through September would also have a negative impact on commerce in my state," Sen. Jon Tester told the CBP commissioner in a letter on March 5. "This abrupt decision and lack of feedback from farmers and ranchers, shippers, local communities and our neighbors in Canada represent a a deep misunderstanding of the needs of agricultural producers in rural states like Montana."
This isn't the first time the federal government has moved to curtail Montana port of entry services. In November 2015, CBP said it would cut hours at the Port of Raymond to 8 a.m. to midnight daily. The entire Montana congressional delegation at the time (Daines, Tester and Ryan Zinke) opposed the cut, as did a regional trade group and the Sheridan County Commission.
Montanans must rally again to keep our border ports staffed. If hours are cut at Raymond, the nearest 24-hour port will be in North Dakota; the nearest 24-hour port in Montana will be 300 miles west at Sweetgrass, which is north of Shelby.
Most attention on U.S. borders is riveted on the southern border, but the border with Canada requires attention, too. The northern border must be secure and function to promote the flow of goods and people, including agriculture and tourism.
Montana shares a 550-mile border with our friendly northern neighbors. Farmers work on both sides of the border. The ports are vital for moving agricultural commodities and equipment. It's ridiculous for the United States to reduce its work hours, forcing local and international business to conform to schedules and long detours that don't make sense for them. The changes would be a big headache for people who depend on these ports, and relatively small "savings" to the federal government.
Keep the Montana ports open the hours they are now.