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Dayton: Border crossing changes will hurt Minnesota

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton

ST. PAUL — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has asked a federal agency to not reduce border crossing hours at Lancaster and Roseau, saying it would "cause significant health, safety, and economic harm" to Minnesotans in those areas.

Dayton strongly opposed the move by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to cut back hours at the two Minnesota ports, the governor wrote Tuesday, Nov. 7, in a letter to CBP Director Jason Schmelz. The agency proposed moving up the closing time at Roseau from midnight to 8 p.m. and moving Lancaster's closing time from 10 p.m. to 4 p.m.

"Those changes will ... have negative impacts on businesses along the Canadian border and the ability for residents to travel easily back and forth for shopping, work, and tourism," he wrote. "Closing the Lancaster port of entry at 4 p.m., rather than 10 p.m., will make it extremely difficult for people who cross the border for employment purposes or recreational activities."

Border crossings from Canada into the U.S. at the two ports have declined since fiscal year 2013, according to the CBP. Two informational town hall meetings — one each in Lancaster and Roseau — were held this month.

"Our analysis of traffic data from the past five fiscal years shows that the ports of Roseau and Lancaster would be minimally impacted by an adjustment of hours," Michele James, a CBP director of field operations in Seattle, said last week in a statement. The move would allow the service to improve border security by shifting resources to higher-traffic ports, she wrote.

The CBP would make the changes effective Jan. 7.

Dayton cited a number of arguments against the proposal, including forcing drivers to travel 20 to 30 miles to other ports. Driving additional miles in hazardous weather conditions could put travelers at risk, he wrote.

"For example, residents living in the Minnesota Northwest Angle must cross back into the United States through the port of Roseau to access the Roseau Lifecare Medical Center," Dayton wrote. "If they have medical emergencies outside of the new, more limited hours, they will have to travel an additional 21 miles to the port of Warroad and an additional 27 miles to get back to the Roseau Lifecare Medical Center to seek medical care, which could put these Minnesotans' health at far greater risk."

The CBP said it has protocols in place to give emergency personnel access to ports of entry when the ports are closed.

"The ports already close for several hours at night, and the system in place has worked very well for many years with no issues or concerns from emergency services personnel," the CBP said in its release last week.

Dayton noted Roseau's importance as an economic center for the region, adding reducing hours would "virtually eliminate the ability for Canadian residents to cross for dinner, entertainment, or work, which will negatively impact the local economies." He also wrote reducing the hours would send the wrong message to Canada, which is "Minnesota's largest trading partner," as the U.S. considers renegotiating NAFTA.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Collin Peterson, two Minnesota Democrats, shared similar concerns in a joint letter to the CBP.

"The crossings at Lancaster and Roseau are the primary path for many Northwest Angle residents to access hospitals and emergency services within the United States," they wrote in the Nov. 1 letter. "It is unacceptable for these changes to adversely affect access to these critical services."

Peterson said the meetings should have been held long before the decision was made to cut hours, adding his office has received "a flood of messages from folks who believe this is a real bad idea."

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

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