COUTTS, Alta. – If you’re crossing between Coutts, Alta. and Sweetgrass, Mont., make sure you have your customs paperwork in order before you get there, because there could be a big price to pay if you don’t.
Truck News recently received a tip from a Saskatchewan owner/operator who got slapped with a $1,000 fine for showing up on the U.S. side of the crossing less than totally prepared. The trucker, who prefers to remain anonymous, was unaware that the fine was so steep. He also says he has been through the crossing before but had always had his paperwork in order. The fine, he suspects, was part of some new U.S. Customs blitz on Canadian truckers.
“Sorry, no crack down,” says Jean McDermott, an official at the Port of Sweetgrass. McDermott, who says that the fine has been on the books for 20 years, thinks its “more like a case of an individual trucker not knowing the rules.”
McDermott says that Customs officials have consistently handed out fines to disorganized truckers since 1996, when long lines of trucks started to become a fact of life at the crossing at Sweetgrass. The problem, she says, is that while truck traffic has grown considerably there, the border facilities have not.
Unlike at some of the bigger ports of entry, like Buffalo, N.Y. and Blaine, Wash., there are no parking facilities where truckers can pull out of line to get their paperwork straight before reaching the kiosk.
“We don’t have anywhere to put the trucks while the drivers go off to get this done,” she explains. “In some places, drivers have the ability to park and go to their broker first. We don’t have that luxury. I would just as soon not be issuing these fines, because I know how hard it is on the truckers. But we have to keep things moving.”
Contrary to the Saskatchewan trucker’s story, McDermott says first-time offenders get a warning; second offenders get the fine.
On top of that, U.S. Customs has made an effort to inform carriers that use the facility about the regulations, she says.
“I don’t know if it’s the trucking companies’ fault or what, but we still get truckers crying, ‘Nobody told me,'” McDermott says. o
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