Compromise could be coming to Stewart, B.C./ Hyder, Alaska border battle

Canada's border services agency says it is looking at alternative services options for the northwest B.C. border crossing

A compromise may be in the works to restore 24-hour access between the communities of Stewart, B.C. and Hyder, Alaska with Canada’s border services agency confirming it has been looking at alternative service options for the border crossing.

“We have been consulting with stakeholders in and around Stewart, B.C., as well as with first responders and law enforcement partners to explore additional alternative service options,” said Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) spokesperson Robin Barcham in an email this morning. Barcham said the agency didn’t have anything specific to report, but “we look forward to further engagement at the community level.”

Speaking today, Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP Nathan Cullen said he spoke with CBSA officials last night and indicated that the solution could come by way of a 24-hour access phone that would allow residents, tourists, and workers to cross during the overnight hours. There is currently a phone at the crossing that is for emergency access only.

“It would only work if tourists, locals, people coming in from Hyder itself and to Stewart were able to get through that border as well,” said Cullen. “It’s a very unique situation.”

The border connecting the two tiny communities has been closed overnight since April 1 – an open road manned by a border guard replaced with a locked gate and an emergency access phone.

The move has been panned by residents, businesses, and politicians on both side of the border, as well as the union representing Canada’s border guards, but CBSA says the amount of people using the crossing overnight didn’t justify keeping it open and staffed, so it reduced the border’s hours from open 24 hours a day to closed between midnight and 8 a.m.

RELATED: In pictures: Stewart, B.C. and Hyder, Alaska residents protest border closure

The timeline should be “sooner than later and we are hopefully talking days, not months,” said Cullen. “I don’t think there’s a huge technological change we have to do it’s just a matter of changing some of the protocols.”

As for the border services agency, “talking to them last night they are fully engaged and I get the sense they feel the urgency of this – to not leaving these communities feeling so uncertain,” said Cullen.

“The responsiveness of government is important in all of this. When the government makes a decision that upsets people are they able to respond and adapt and realize a mistake was made and how can they correct it?”

Earlier this month, Cullen recently released a statement challenging minister of public safety Stephen Blaney, the minister in charge of the file, to visit Stewart and Hyder so he could better understand the connection between the two communities – the two towns market themselves as a package and the residents of Hyder rely on Stewart for medical and other services. That was after questioning the Conservatives in the House of Commons recently about the situation.

That’s when, for the first time, the minister’s office spoke publicly to the issue, with parliamentary secretary Roxanne James responding on behalf of the government.

“It is simply not feasible to pay a highly trained border services officer to stand at an unused border crossing,” said James April 24, noting that fewer than 10 travellers cross the border at non-peak times.

Expanding on that statement, CBSA’s Barcham said that the amount of cars that cross the border varies between winter and summer months, with an average of 10 vehicles processed overnight in the summer and an average of three vehicles processed overnight in the winter for a yearly average of five vehicles crossing overnight during those hours.

“The balance, representing 94 per cent of our traffic volume, cross during the hours of 8 a.m. to midnight,” said Barcham. Those are the hours the border is now open.

Meanwhile, a bill sponsored by Alaskan house representative Dan Ortiz has been making its way through the Alaskan house of representatives and senate, urging Canadian officials to reopen the border.

US Republican Senator for Alaska Lisa Murkowski has also been actively pushing for the border to be reopened – or, at the very least, for a compromise that sees the border open early during the summer months to accommodate the bear viewing platform in Hyder. The US Forest Service staffs a wildlife viewing platform from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“For such a small border crossing it’s got a lot of attention,” said Cullen. “The very senior levels of the Canadian and US government. These borders matter and when government makes a decision that can hurt a community it is good to see so many people who want to engage and try to make things right.”

With files from Josh Massey

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Posted

Kitsumkalum Walk for Health raises $17,500 for new hospital microscope

The 5 km walk is a new take on a 10-year old fundraiser for Mills Memorial

PHOTO GALLERY: Malicous Monster Truck Tour

The Malicious Monster Truck Tour sold out to crowds of 2,500 people… Continue reading

CMTN First Nations Fine Arts program offers new advanced diploma

The 10-month program will focus on enhancing jewellery, sculpture and marketing skills

Terrace spawns new salmon art festival

This week’s featured artist: Casey Braam

Back in business: former Sears franchisees go it alone

Boota and Diljit Uppal’s new store opens in same location

VIDEO: Trudeau shuffles familiar faces, adds new ones to expanded cabinet

Justin Trudeau shuffles his front bench Wednesday to install the roster of ministers that will be entrusted with leading the Liberal team into next year’s election.

‘Amazing Race Canada’ competitors face B.C. challenge

They drove Corvettes, mastered falconry basics, and ate blueberry pie in the Cowichan Valley

Grizzly bear jumps in river, chases B.C. kayaker

The bear got a bit too close for comfort along the Elaho River near Squamish

Evacuation alert issued due to Dog Creek Trail Wildfire

An evacuation alert has been issued by the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako… Continue reading

Parks Canada looks to shine light on cloudy future for historic sites

A plan is in place to produce 10-year plans designed to turn around sagging attendance figures

B.C. poet shines a bright light on struggle with homelessness

Book launch for John La Greca’s Homeless Memorial is at Vernon’s Gallery Vertigo July 21.

Ontario police say attack on Muslim man was motivated by hate

Two men, aged 27 and 19, have been charged with assault in the incident

Canadian Tire delivers toys to ease kids’ street play pain in B.C. neighbourhood

It’s like Christmas for 11 kids who are supposed to be confined to their yards by strata bylaw

City orders largest Kinder Morgan protest camp to leave

Residents of Camp Cloud near the Trans Mountain work site have 72 hours to leave

Most Read