ALASKAN legislators voted unanimously this week to urge the Canadian government to keep the border between Hyder, Alaska and Stewart, B.C. open 24 hours a day.
Canada’s Border Services Agency (CBSA) reduced the hours of the border between the two tiny communities April 1, with a gate now shutting off regular access between the two communities between midnight and 8 a.m.
“The Canadian government made the decision to close the only border crossing between Hyder and Stewart in an effort to save money,” said a release from Representative Dan Ortiz, an independent who represents Ketchikan and area in the state legislature and who sponsored the bill. “That may be a worthy goal but what they have done in reality is negatively impact commerce, tourism and emergency services.”
The vote in the Alaska House of Representatives is the latest in a series of efforts by residents, businesses, and politicians on both sides of the border to push CBSA to rethink its decision. Opponents of the reduced hours tout safety – Hyder relies on Stewart’s health care centre and the road is the only evacuation route – as well as tourism and economic concerns. The two communities promote themselves as one destination and in the summer months travel between the border late at night and early in the morning is common.
“Closing a border in the middle of the night may seem like a small thing but the road between these two communities is a lifeline and I don’t believe it wise to jeopardize the local economy and public safety just to save a few dollars,” said Ortiz.
For its part, the CBSA said it has implemented a series of measures to allow emergency access 24 hours a day.
“There are procedures in place to ensure access for emergency services and industrial stakeholders in the event of a situation such as a medical emergency, natural disaster, or if there is risk to critical infrastructure. Procedures have been developed in consultation with, and have been agreed to, by all local emergency service providers,” said CBSA spokesperson Stefanie Wudel in a statement earlier this month.
Emergency vehicles have been given 24-hour access, she said, and noted that there is a telephone installed at the border services building that residents can use to speak with a CBSA officer and gain access to the gates if medical services are needed. That could include something like a broken arm or a similar situation where an ambulance isn’t necessary but immediate medical attention is needed, CBSA confirmed.
The Alaska House of Representatives Joint Resolution 22 will now be sent to the US Senate for consideration and copies of the resolution have been sent to Canada’s minister of public safety Steven Blaney and Luc Portelance, CBSA president.