Push underway to extend commercial hours at Wild Horse border

by Derek Clouthier

MEDICINE HAT, Alta.They say ‘patience is a virtue,’ which is something the Wild Horse Border Committee knows all too well.

Formed in June 2004, the group has been advocating for the Wild Horse border crossing between Medicine Hat, Alta. and Havre, Mont. to be opened 24/7 as a commercial port of entry.

“This is important for many reasons,” said Celina Symmonds, a Medicine Hat councillor and co-chairperson of the Wild Horse Border Committee, “but the most important is that we only have one 24-hour port in Alberta that can handle commercial vehicles. If something were to occur at the Sweetgrass/Coutts (port of entry) to cause it to be shut down, there would be no other options for commercial vehicles.”

The committee recently issued a letter to stakeholders informing them that it had obtained the services of Prolog Canada and the Van Horne Institute to conduct research into the Wild Horse border crossing that would be used to “clearly identify the economic and social benefits of the proposed border improvements,” the letter states.

“We have commissioned a cross-border business case, which is currently being researched and put into a succinct document, which can be presented to all levels of government, both in Canada and in the United States,” said Symmonds. “As far as we know, this has never been done before, and it should provide an opportunity to advocate on both sides of the border. In the past, there have been studies done, but on one side or the other and more specific to car and truck counts on the roads. This document will present a real business case that should prove that opening the border for 13 hours and making it a commercial port makes financial sense.”

When the committee was conceived nearly 12 years ago, its immediate goal was to have the US Customs and Border Protection and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) implement a two-year pilot project to open the crossing for commercial use 16 hours a day, seven days a week, something the committee believed would provide “certainty for shippers and the transportation logistics sector to route commercial traffic through the Wild Horse Port of Entry,” and would demonstrate the need to have it opened as a permanent 16- or 24-hour commercial crossing.

At present, the Wild Horse border is open to commercial vehicles Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed Saturdays, Sundays and holidays; nine hours each weekday, or 45 hours every week.

“With more accessible transportation options, we know the impact to both the City of Medicine Hat and Alberta as a whole would be significant,” Symmonds said, adding that the lack of commercial operational hours at the Wild Horse border results in long wait times and extended travel time for those looking to cross the border from Alberta into Montana or vice-versa.

Improvements to the Wild Horse border crossing, and various other small and remote ports of entry (SRPOE), are on the government’s radar and appear to be slated for the near future.

The government posted a tender notice for a project that will see 60 crossings upgraded. The initiative comes following a final report called the ‘Evaluation of Small and Remote Ports of Entry,’ which found that from 2012-13, 196,239, or 2% of all commercial releases, were processed at SRPOEs like Wild Horse. Broken down by regions, the study found that SRPOE commercial traffic at Prairie crossings had increased each year from 2009-12, but then fell in fiscal year 2012/13 to a total of 41,936.

The report does not specify what specific upgrades would be completed at each SRPOE, nor whether these upgrades would result in extended hours of service, but does state, “There are many facility impediments to the consistent delivery of services at the SRPOEs and some will require significant infrastructure investments over the coming years.”

The Wild Horse Border Committee has indicated that the Wild Horse port of entry is closest and most direct route to Alberta’s oil sands and is widely used by agricultural communities in the eastern area of the province, western Saskatchewan and Montana.

It also states that a 24/7 commercial port of entry at Wild Horse had the potential to attract new industry, economic opportunities, cross-border tourism, traffic revenue and various benefits with redistributing heavy trucks to under-utilized highways and off busy thoroughfares like Hwys. 4 and 2, including Calgary’s Deerfoot Trail.

Prolog, a management consulting firm, and the Van Horne Institute, a public policy, education and transportation, supply chain and logistics research centre, will be contacting stakeholders seeking information about their respective firm, its operations and how improved hours of service at the Wild Horse border crossing would impact their business.

Symmonds said the Wild Horse Border Committee hopes the trucking industry comes to the table and helps in the process.

“This is a unique venture and this committee is committed to continuing to be an advocate and voice,” she said.

Symmonds urges those who are interested in getting involved to contact either herself (403-502-4485); fellow Wild Horse Border Committee co-chairperson Tim Solomon (406-265-6719), who is also mayor of the Town of Havre; Paul Tuss (406-659-9226 ext. 21) of the Bear Paw Development Corporation of Northern Montana; or Walter Valentini (403-526-7552) executive director of the Palliser Economic Partnership in Medicine Hat.

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