‘United front’ planned to fight Stewart, B.C./Hyder, Alaska border closure

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski joins growing list of officials criticizing the Canadian border agency's move to reduce crossing hours

US Republican Senator for Alaska Lisa Murkowski has added her name to the list of officials criticizing the decision to reduce the hours at the Stewart

The list of officials criticizing the planned reduction of hours at the Stewart, B.C./Hyder, Alaska border crossing now includes one of Alaska’s two representatives in the American Senate, Republican Lisa Murkowski.

“She is concerned and has concerns – she’s working with Alaskans and Canadians in both communities and is really seeking to build the strongest possible case to make the government reconsider this move,” said the senator’s communications representative Karina Petersen March 6.

The senator spent last week reaching out to a number of her colleagues in Canada, said Petersen, and intends to present a “united front” from both sides of the border. “We’re not in a position to demand, but hoping that we can make something happen.”

To that end, Murkowski and others hope to “at least persuade the Harper government to put a pause on this decision so that the (2015) visitor season isn’t lost, while the communities on both sides work together to see what a long-term sustainable solution could be.

“From our perspective, despite the fact that this was a cost-cutting move with cost-cutting motivations, we think this decision could actually harm the economies involved,” said Petersen.

The tourist season for Hyder and Stewart typically starts at the beginning of April – right when the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) plans to launch the new hours that would see the border closed and the road blocked between midnight and 8 a.m. Residents and business owners on both sides have spoken out vocally against the move, touting safety and economic issues, and Canada’s border guard union has said it is a national security issue.

Murkowski is also concerned about the potential for Hyder residents to be isolated from emergency services.

“The people of Hyder have access to the hospital in Stewart, so Hyder might be isolated from emergency services, so that needs to be resolved as soon as possible,” said Petersen.

The border services agency did say, in a statement, that “emergency services to surrounding communities will not be impacted and provisions have been made to ensure emergency vehicles will continue to have access to the roads 24/7.”

Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen’s office is also calling for a united front with Alaskan officials like Murkowski.

“Generally speaking I think the concerns we have are mirrored by the Alaskans as well,” said Cullen’s legislative assistant in Ottawa, Hugh Pouliot.

“I think it needs to be made clear to the Canadian government that this was a bureaucratic decision, taken apparently without any consultation with either Hyder or Stewart, that people were notified after the fact – it’s a much stronger message if it comes from both sides of the border,” he said.