Plan to cut hours at Maine border crossing has people on both sides unhappy – CBC.ca

Daniel Beers grew up in Vanceboro, Maine, a border town where he could throw a stone across the St. Croix River and it would land in another country.

The dual citizen has more family on the Canadian side than in the U.S., and says he normally crosses the border almost daily. He says most people in Vanceboro have family tin Canada.

But if plans to cut operating hours in half go ahead, movement between Canada and the United States would only be allowed 12 hours a day. 

Residents of both Vanceboro and nearby McAdam, N.B., say it will hurt families and businesses and leave many vulnerable without some emergency services. 

“We’re neighbours, we’re basically the same community here,” Beers said. “And they’re just drawing a line right down the middle of us.” 

WATCH |  Vanceboro, Maine residents react to border crossing closing for 12 hours each day:

Vanceboro residents say border closures will be ‘devastating’

2 hours ago

Duration 2:16

Friends, family and services will be cut-off 12 hours a day when Vanceboro border crossing cuts its hours according to those who live in border towns of Vanceboro and McAdam.

The crossing is on the St. Croix River, about 10 kilometres west of McAdam. The U.S. Vanceboro Port of Entry plans to reduce its hours of operation to 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Atlantic time in the fall. The crossing now operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

CBC News requested an interview with U.S. Customs and Border Protection about the specifics and the reasoning behind the decision. No one was made available. 

But correspondence between the agency and the area’s elected officials confirm the plan to reduce hours.

And it seems no one who lives in the area is happy about it. 

Community divided by border

The region is just recovering from two years of border closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the border reopened and the two communities were interacting again, things started to feel closer to normal, Beers said. 

But in early spring, construction crews began to build fences and gates at the U.S. border station. Word spread that the crossing would shut down in evenings starting in September. 

“They’re not actually 100 per cent taking it away from us, but they are limiting our access to it,” Beers said. “Just so many things are taken away.” 

Daniel Beers, lifelong resident of Vanceboro and owner/operator of Holly’s store, says closing the border 12 hours a day will cut family members off from each other and reduce access to help in an emergency. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

Beers said it won’t just affect family visits, or going to hockey and basketball games in McAdam or Fredericton. It could also harm his business. 

Beers owns Holly’s, one of two stores in Vanceboro. He sells convenience store goods, hardware and propane. Before the pandemic, half his business came from Canadians crossing the border to pick up packages they had shipped to his store. 

“It’s stuff people can’t find over there or it’s cheaper over here,” said Beers, who said a lot of customers want to avoid the charges and delays that come with shipping packages from the U.S. to Canada. “If you can save $200 on a part, you’re going to do it.” 

Beers charges $3.50 American to hold packages for Canadians who will often drive the hour from Fredericton after work to pick up their deliveries. The pandemic kept Canadians from coming, but since the border reopened business has started to pick up again. 

“I’m really expecting that it will get back to what it used to be,” said Beers. 

If the border starts closing early, it will deter a lot of people from making the trip. 

Surprise decision

Cheryl Long, a Vanceboro select board member, the equivalent of a town councillor, said people only learned of the plan by talking to the staff at the crossing. There was no notice from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

“We don’t want to lose being able to go visit our relatives and people and doctors over there,” said Long. “It’s devastating for a small town.” 

Long said Vanceboro residents rely on the proximity of Horizon’s McAdam Health Centre for emergencies. The clinic is just 10 minutes away and the closest alternative is a 50-minute drive to the St. Croix Regional Family Centre in Princeton, Maine. It’s open fewer hours than the McAdam clinic.

Vanceboro select board member Cheryl Long says the town received no word from U.S. Customs and Border Protection that the crossing was reducing hours. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

The nearest alternative crossing is St. Stephen-Calais, a 164-kilometre detour. 

People in Vanceboro who work in Calais say it’s a 40-minute commute through Canada, as opposed to a 70-minute one  stateside. 

Long has family across the border, too, and said the earlier closing will make evening trips across almost impossible. 

“You wouldn’t be able to go to graduations, or soccer games, or basketball games, or Christmas programs,” said Long. 

Canadian side

The village of McAdam is a bigger community than Vanceboro, but McAdam residents often shop across the border, especially for gas.  Mayor Ken Stannix said access to lower-priced items just across the border has always kept costs competitive in McAdam.

He was shocked when he heard about the plans.

“A lot of times [our responders] will go across the river if there’s a fire, if there’s a medical emergency,” said Stannix. “So, what happens then if the gate’s closed and that community needs our assistance, how do we get there?” 

Ken Stannex, mayor of McAdam, says any reduction in hours is going to have a negative affect on his community and Vanceboro. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

Officials respond

State legislator Jeffery Evangelos, an independent in Maine’s house of representatives, is vowing to fight the plan. 

“This was intentionally swept under the rug so the public wouldn’t find out about it,” said Evangelos. 

He said he learned about the reduction of hours from upset Vanceboro residents. After talking with border-crossing officials, he started pressing U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

He shared a June 9 email response from port director Herm Gadway with CBC News.

It reads, in part: “CBP will be holding a town hall meeting in Vanceboro sometime in the near future to discuss reduction of hours plans and to hear public feedback.” 

CBC News also requested an interview with Gadway but did not receive a response.

The Canadian Border Services Agency has not made anyone available for an interview to give details on how any changes on the U.S. side would affect the St. Croix border station.

“The Canada Border Services Agency can confirm that it is aware of the proposed reduction of hours at the Vanceboro, Maine border crossing by the US Customs and Border Protection,” the agency said in an email. “We continue to monitor this closely for any impacts to our operations.”

Mayor Stannex suspects that any changes at the U.S. border will have to be copied by the St. Croix border crossing in Canada. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

Stannix assumes the Canadian border crossing will be forced to mimic the U.S. closure.

Evangelos has been helping to organize a public meeting for July 5 at the Vanceboro Community Centre at 5 p.m. ET. He said U.S. Customs and Border Protection have told him they will attend.

And Beers suspects that once residents from both sides of the border come together to voice their thoughts, things could get heated.

“We’re all one family and they’re dividing us,” said Beers.

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