This guest post was submitted by Mark Jorgensen, a North Dakota resident who lives in rural Antler just south of the Antler Port of Entry
“There will be no net savings to the federal government.” Those were the words uttered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the Antler, ND town hall meeting on November 5, 2019. CBP reasoning for the reduction in service is reduced traffic after 5:00pm, use of personnel at other ports and fiscal responsibility. Worth noting, the federal government recently spent $14 million to build a state of the art port at Antler.
CBP stated they might save up to $80,000 when considering only the annual budget of the Antler port. This “savings” would be quickly diminished because CBP claimed they would staff the port for special events and for farmers/ranchers that need to move oversized loads. There would be a significant expense staffing the port for special requests. Yes, the federal government should seek to save money, but this does not accomplish that goal.
Area residents on both sides of the border rely on these ports of entry as an essential service. The Antler port would lose 1,820 vehicles per year with the proposed reduction in hours. Yes, some people will travel the extra distance to another port, but some won’t. Some will choose to keep their money in Canada and travel to ND less often. Adding 40-60 miles to a 6 mile round trip to Antler for supper or a 100 mile round trip to Minot for shopping will deter travelers. CBP failed to recognize the fact that the Saskatchewan border is one mile west of the Antler port. This is significant because Saskatchewan doesn’t observe Daylight Saving Time. This means 5 o’clock CDT at the Antler port is 4 o’clock CST in Saskatchewan. It’s not reasonable to expect Saskatchewan residents to get through the Antler port by 4pm CST.
There are farmers and ranchers on both sides of the border that operate in both countries. Imagine having to drive slow-moving farm machinery an extra 40-60 miles to get to your destination. Farmers and ranchers don’t operate 9 to 5, Mother Nature controls their schedules. The ag industry has dealt with a down cycle for several years, this would only add more misery to their situation.
CBP stated crossings have steadily declined at Antler, however, the data doesn’t support that statement. USDOT data shows personal vehicle crossings increased from 2017 to 2018. Even more notable is a dramatic rise in truck crossings at Antler, Truck crossings at Antler hit a low of 906 in 2015, increased to 1,123 in 2016, exploded to 2,414 in 2017 and jumped again to 2,895 in 2018. Total crossings at Antler have increased to that of 2014 levels. Adding 40-60 miles to the round trip of commercial trucks will increase shipping costs which, in turn, will be passed on to North Dakota consumers.
CBP also claimed the value of the dollar didn’t affect crossing numbers but the data suggests otherwise. For the period of 2009-2019, the data shows when the value of the U.S. dollar was at its lowest, crossings at Antler, ND were at their highest. ND Tax Dept. data also shows sales tax refunds requested by Canadians were at their peak when the US dollar was the weakest. Economies are cyclical, we are currently in a period of a stronger US dollar which reduces the buying power of the Canadian dollar so Canadians are currently making fewer trips to ND than when their dollar was worth more.
CBP stated a reduction in hours at Antler posed no big inconvenience because people could just travel to Sherwood or Westhope because hours at those ports aren’t being reduced. Less than one year ago CBP made a similar statement to residents near Sarles & Hansboro telling them to use the Maida port. The Maida port is now included in the proposal to reduce hours. If CBP continues their quest to reduce hours across the northern border there will be a much larger negative economic impact.
It seems logical that a port of entry would see a reduction in traffic during the evening. Using annual averages skews the seasonal impacts. The data shows January typically has the least crossings and warmer months have the most crossings. The data shows crossings at Antler in July have averaged 4 vehicles/hour for the past couple of years. This is double the annual hourly average. Reducing crossings by 20 vehicles/day in July will have a negative impact on tourism and commerce in North Dakota. Antler is the closest port to Minot which is host to the North Dakota State Fair and the Norsk Hostfest plus many other events. The economic loss will be multiplied by the number of ports facing reduced hours.
Other victims of reduced port hours include groups like the Antler Outlaws. The Outlaws are a non-profit community service group that has their headquarters less than one mile from the Antler port. The Outlaws host several events throughout the year, many of which revolve around an evening meal. Many Canadians support this group. Quite often these evening gatherings occur with less than the one week notice which CBP will require for special event openings. Plus, CBP provided no details as to what type of special events would warrant opening the port after normal hours.
The proposed reduction in hours would result in a 17% reduction in vehicle crossings at Antler. The end result is no net savings for the federal government while causing an economic burden to residents on both sides of the border. The Canadian ports are not proposing a reduction in hours so it makes sense to keep the hours aligned.
The International Boundary is not a dividing line to those of us that live near it, we have friends and family on both sides of the border. To avoid a negative impact to citizens on both sides of the border, it’s important the U.S. Port of Entry at Antler maintains its current hours of 9:00a.m. to 10:00 p.m. to continue to provide essential services in their state of the art, multi-million dollar facility.