HELENA – Citing the need to ensure value for its taxpayers’ money, Canada plans to close its side of a Saskatchewan-Montana border crossing that sees just five travelers per day — even as the U.S. side is undergoing an $8.5 million stimulus-funded upgrade.
Canada’s decision to close the Big Beaver Port of Entry on April 1 underscores the criticism leveled against the U.S. government spending more than $23 million in Recovery Act funding to upgrade that and four other Montana border posts.
The Canada Border Services Agency said Tuesday the decision to close the “underused” border crossing was made after a review to make sure government money was being allocated to high-priority programs, said agency spokeswoman Sabrina Mehes.
The review found that the Big Beaver crossing sees an average of five travelers per day, no commercial vehicles and also noted that there are other crossings just 17 miles and 34 miles away, Mehes said.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the border from the Big Beaver crossing, the Whitetail port of entry is undergoing an $8.5 million renovation that includes a new architectural design, asbestos removal, electrical rewiring, excavation and carpentry work and the installation of fire alarms.
Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, Montana’s only congressman, said the Big Beaver closure just proves that upgrades to the Montana border post are a waste of U.S. taxpayer money. The Whitetail crossing was a main topic of conversation in meetings he had Sunday in Daniels and Sheridan counties, the counties that border Saskatchewan, he said.
“They rightly believe their tax dollars shouldn’t be wasted building a nicer, more modern port for Canadian travelers, Rehberg said.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection released a statement that said there are no plans to close the Whitetail crossing and the upgrades are being done “to address critical post-9/11 infrastructure needs.”
That means travelers from Canada to the U.S. should still be able to cross at Whitetail, even if those headed to Canada from the U.S. won’t be able cross at Big Beaver after April 1, said CPB spokesman Mike Milne.
MCC Construction Corp. of Greenwood Village, Colo., the main contractor in the Whitetail project, said the project is in its early construction phases. About $1.3 million has been received or spent, according to a federal government summary of the project.
“We haven’t heard a thing,” said Art Brazee, MCC vice president, regarding Canada’s plans to close its crossing. “We’re progressing as we were in the beginning.”
But Sen. Jon Tester’s office said that may change. The Montana Democrat plans to talk to Douglas and Sheridan residents along with border officials to see if the Whitetail project needs to be halted or adjusted, said Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy.
Tester also plans to talk to Canadian officials, saying the decision to close Big Beaver came as a surprise.
“Our office reached out to (the Department of Homeland Security) and they were surprised because the decision was made unilaterally by the Canadian government,” Murphy said.
Tester and fellow Montana Democrat Sen. Max Baucus were criticized for touting the border projects when they were announced last year. In April, Tester’s office announced that the five stimulus-funded border projects in Montana had been scaled back from $77 million to $23.5 million.
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