In the August issue of the Triangle News, it was reported that the Canada Customs Port of Entry at Big Beaver was scheduled for closure on April 1, 2011.
Citing low traffic - 5 travellers a day and no commercial traffic - as the reason, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) made the decision to close what they call the “under-used” port.
For farmers like Lee Cook, who farms in Bengough, Saskatchewan and Flaxville, Montana this was not welcome news.
“I farm on both sides of the line, have done so since 1973. (I) found out here a month and a half ago Canadian Customs was planning on closing the port of Big Beaver, while U.S. Customs was in the process of doing an 8.65 million dollar customs upgrade on the U.S. side.”
According to Cook, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection have since put their upgrade plans on hold.
Cook reported that the matter is before the U.S. Congress and in as little as 150 days, United States can have their port closed down.
Cook is part of a group, calling themselves N.O.P.E. (Not our Border Entry). N.O.P.E. is planning a public supper meeting with free food and entertainment to rally support to keep the border open.
Cook, who laives in the US, regularly crosses at the Big Beaver port to tend to his farm. “I farm a section and a half of land seven miles north east of Bengough. Right now I have got about 3,000 bales there that I normally move into the U.S.”
Cook estimates that having to go through the Coronach port, an extra 30 miles, would cost his farm an extra $15,000. Cook added, “Let alone the amount of trips that I make a year up to my farm to make hay and do business, probably another 150 days a year.”
Cook believes that the savings in closing the port will be minimal as the staff will be transfered. “They are going to be transfered anyways so the only cost to keeping that port open is $100,000 a year. Heat, lights, water and somebody to mop the floors. And I don’t think it is worth the cross border relations to close that thing up for $100.000 dollars
“I think our polititians are dropping the ball here by not standing up to them, that’s why we’re having this public informational meeting and that’s why we are creating a petition. It only requires 25 signatures to put the petition in front of Parliament and we hope to have hundreds of signatures to go on that petition and in front of Parliament.”
Cook also feels the timing is off with the present development in the Bakken oil field. He feels the border will be used in the future to move oil, equipment and manpower over the border that the timing is poor to close a border crossing. “it just seems to make no economic sense, for me, to close that port, for so few dollars and for the extra expense.
Cook sees the closure affecting his farm equipment and repair purchase decisions. “People in this area, we are fairly sparsely populated. Myself and a lot of other farmers really rely on Assiniboia, Avonlea, Ogema, Radville for parts to keep our machines operating.” Cook feels that farmers like him will make their purchases in the U.S. rather than make the extra miles to the ports of Coronach/Scobey or Regway.
Garry Nelson is the General Manager of the John Deere Nelson Motors and Equipment dealership, that has stores in Avonlea, and Radville as well as other Southern Saskatchewan location. Nelson believes the closure will affect his business. “We’ve always done some business with farmers that live along the border. I’m certain it would affect our US customers. I’m positive that (the closure) would have a detrimental effect on our business as it they have to go to the Scobey or Regway ports, they are apt to go to a different store.”
Jeff West, store manager of E. Bourassa and Sons in Pangman doesn’t want to see the border close but was surprised by the feelings of one of his U.S. customers that lives near Flaxville. “His opinion was that they should close it if there is only 6 cars a day.” According to West, this customer was willing to use the ports on either side, depending which was he was headed. West said that the customer felt the money that the U.S. Customs planned to spend at the under-used port was a waste of money and should be used somewhere else.
Cook doesn’t agree and added that closing the port also closes off a historic route, known as the RY Trail “the road that runs from Regina down to Miles city follows highway 34. . . (it was used) when they were doing cattle drives and things back in the day, but it’s also used by our Native Americans to come up to the turtle effigy that’s located just south east of Big Beaver, that’s a holy sight for them and they come there and they have a sweat lodge there every once in awhile and they use the port of Big Beaver.” said Cook.
To drum up support for his cause, Cook blanketed the area with posters advertising their upcoming event as well the petition, in hopes of attracting people to the event as well as filling up the petitions with signatures.
The supper meeting will be in Big Beaver on October 13, check out the ad in this issue for details.